Eddie Glaude, Morehouse class of '89, wrote an article awhile back about the role of the black church in today's black community. We only have to briefly look back to see the importance of the church during the civil rights movement. The church played an important role from the days of reconstruction and through the civil rights movement as a key black institution. It was the first all-black institution after slavery and remained an important place socially, politically, and spiritually. It provided the bases for the building of many black schools, and as a meeting place for the community with an already appointed leader it became a natural fit for political and social activism. We only need to look as far as the master narrative’s heroes, Dr. King and the SCLC to see how engrained the black church is in the civil rights movement. Whether we look at grassroots movements or national ones the church remains relevant throughout the civil rights movement.
Professor Glaude argues that in today’s modern world the black church has lost its role. It is no longer the centrally important black institution that it once was. As he puts it, “The Black Church, as we’ve known it or imagined it, is dead” it is no longer “a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation”. We remember the black church as being a place representative of black conscience. A place that was mindful of the issues affecting its community and with the power and will to address those issues. Glaude says that this aspect of the church is dead, not that churches are abandoned or that attendance is low. Churches have lost much of what was important about them during civil rights. He identifies three main reasons why this is the church has become this way. Firstly, the church as we remember it is very different from its reality. The church has not always been the progressive institution we remember it as and so our collective memory is serving us wrong. Secondly, there has been an enormous outgrowth of black institutions that fulfill these same needs and therefore have sucked some of this power from the church. Thirdly, the things the black church has done have become associated as inherent with the institution. The church no longer lives and conforms to the moment in which it exists. It is stuck on the values and decisions it venerated decades ago. It is no longer progressive and with the times but stagnant in our collective conscience.
Glaude argues that the church needs to become more progressive. It needs to address the issues of the present black community and not venerate only the values of the past. The churches, seeing these current issues, need to gather and mobilize to address them. In this way the church will become the great institution we remember it as and more vital to a community that needs it. Do you think this criticism is warranted? Has the master narrative affected the ways in which we viewed the black church during civil rights? Can you remember examples of such progress in recent memory? Is such a transformation possible?