Magazine article The Christian Century

Black Churches May No Longer Be at Center of Civil Rights Protest

Magazine article The Christian Century

Black Churches May No Longer Be at Center of Civil Rights Protest

Article excerpt

Half a century after civil rights movement activists marched across the South, the black church is finding new routes for activism. But often, its clergy admit, churches are not leaders, and sanctuaries are no longer ground zero for the civil rights movement.

On December 14, which some churches dubbed "Black Lives Matter" Sunday, many people in the pews found themselves playing catch-up with the people who had already been on the streets.

Thousands of black churches--prompted initially by leaders of three historically black denominations and later joined by officials of mostly white and Hispanic faith groups--marked the day with black suits and dresses, litanies, and prayers to be counted among the throngs of Americans decrying recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men.

Delman Coates, pastor of Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland, spearheaded the first conference of the progressive Black Church Center for Justice and Equality earlier in December.

"I hope that we can build the sentiment," he said, "to really reclaim this tradition of activism and social justice advocacy, which is really at the heart of the black church."

Coates and others say the black church--which he defines as a movement committed to freedom, not just a group of African-American worshipers--is being challenged by a number of factors, including young people who are not drawn to their pews and gay activists who are pushing for more welcoming attitudes from churches.

In a statement responding to the "Black Lives Matter" campaign, young adults of the African Methodist Episcopal Church urged its members to "find ways to connect with young adults who are not in our churches" and address their needs.

"Let us not become comfortable in places or spaces of privilege as our privilege is only of worth if it serves as a platform to challenge the status quo," they wrote.

African-American churches also struggle with whether to focus on only black concerns or on a broader range of issues. When some said they were going to focus specifically on praying for black males on that Sunday, women and gay activists called for greater inclusion.

"Black LGBT bodies must matter, too!" said a statement from Many Voices, an LGBT church group. …

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