I march, you march, he/she/it marches. We march. Y'all been marching. All them over there been done marched.
It astonishes me to hear some people talk about where they marched 30 years ago. Well actually it doesn't. History is history and it must be told truthfully. The question at hand is whether or not marching means something today. The answer is yes, but only for y'all.
The question came up face to face yesterday with a pastor with whom I was engaged in debate. And I basically went out to my litmus test for Christian Fundamenalism which goes a little something like this. If you had a choice between the Constitution and the Bible, which would you choose? If you choose the Bible, I don't want to hear your politics because ultimately you choose Church over State. Now I know this perplexes people because I represent an Old School which reveres both God and Country. But when it comes to the law, there is no debate for me. Secular rules. I don't have any problem with people saying that America is a Christian country, nor do I have anything that disputes the fact that Christian values undergird the Constitution. But they do not supercede the Constitution. If the Constitution says no and the Bible says yes, you need to obey the law. Furthermore if the Bible says no and the Constitution says yes, you need to pipe down and keep your agitation to a low rumble.
When you talk about the history of the Black Church in moving this country forward there are only so many props to give. See, a lot of people, (and now I'm talking about white liberals in general) like to take a great deal of credit for the freedom of the African slaves in America. And sure they played a part, but that's the part of common decency given the opportunity for moral change. But sometimes folks go too far and they make it sound like the Africans didn't even realize they were enslaved and wouldn't have done anything on their own without Abolitionist assistance. That's a load of crap, but it's a convenient load lots of people carry around when they want credit. I think that's the same load of crap a lot of black Churches are carrying around when they invoke their role in the Civil Rights Movement.
Now it's true that they marched. And they also formed the Southern Christian Leadership Council. But any old fool can march and legislation requires a lot more verbiage and intellectual work than what you can fit on a picket sign. The thrust of my argument is this. Civil Rights for African Americans is done, and so is the marching. There is no braintrust, no organization and no agenda to be pursued for the specific benefit of blackfolks that the black Church is capable of managing. Those days are gone. And even if those days were here, marching isn't going to make it happen.
The Broken Negro Church Monopoly
By the mid 1960s, the Negro Church was the primary source of political activism before the dawning of the black power movement. As anyone who has understood the study of racism in American Christianity (especially those informed by Rev. Fred Price) knows, there was direct complicity in racist suppression of the power of black churches by most of the major protestant hierarchs. In other words, when it came to black liberation, too many Negro preachers were bought off. Some even believed in and preached the Curse of Ham as a biblical reason blacks should not press for advancement in American society. The Nation of Islam could not have been formed if this were not self-evident to the common man.
But specifically those who would be leaders into a new political and cultural reality for African Americans, the leaders of the Black Power, Black Arts & Black Consciousness movements where denied access to the Negro Church and also demonized from the pulpit.
Today we still have a legacy of overreaching black ministers doing dirty work that is counter to the well-being of their 'constituents', one need look no further than Al Sharpton, former FBI informant.
The founders of Kwanzaa, as well as a great number of black intellectuals who have formed the institutions of Afro-American studies on our nation's campuses, understood that there needed to be multiple and diverse institutional sources of empowerment for and by African America. And they have succeeded.
I'm sure there are plenty of black Christians who believe that no institution outside of the black Church should have primary influence of the culture, politics and social conventions of African Americans. It's too late for that, and African America has voted with its feet. That Old Time Religion ain't good enough. While some have made foolish use of this liberty, and others have done absolutely nothing, on the whole African America is better off having a diversity of institutions upon which they can depend.
There is nothing so sad and sorry as a Baptist trying to out-Christian a Catholic, and nothing speaks to the indignation over Kwanzaa so much as the argument against Karenga. I could spend a month of Sundays categorizing defrocked priests and jackleg ministries. How many congregants would like to hear that God doesn't hear your prayers if they come from a church whose minister has broken the law?
But let us consider what parts of Black History these fundamentalists would have us discard. The Black Arts Movement. What part did the Negro Church play in it?
African American success is very much like other immigrant groups' success although you don't hear it said very often. We start in ethnic enclaves, and forbidden from mainstreaming we overbuild and over-depend on those enclaves. Doubting the permanence of cross-over, many remain tied to their provincial ways. Sometimes it takes generations but eventually and inevitably the old ways give way to new ways. There was a time not long ago whenI read Ebony Magazine's 100 Most Influetial Blacks, and men and women who led fraternities like the Elks and the Prince Hall Masons were top dogs. Could we have ever imagined that blacks would run Sears, American Express and Time?
We are accepted and involved in a broader variety of institutions in America. Not all of us are moving at the same speed but the trend is forward. Consequently the old Church will become more a center of pure spiritual doings and much less in political and other doings. This is an opportunity for the Black Church to re-focus and re-energize its primary purpose. I hope it does so. But what we know about people in power is that they want most to hold on to that power. So we know that ministers will be sorely tempted to be more than spiritual guides. Every church has a commitment to its community, and communities vary. But on the whole we will see less political production from churches and more mainstreaming by black communities.
If you ask me what today's black church ought to be doing more than anything, the answer is simple. Build schools. There is nothing so abominally embarrassing as a mega-interdenominational (maximal market share, minimal discipline) with thousands of members and a worship-dome. Because just up the street is a modest Catholic church with a school that's superior to public school. On that note, I find the greatest fault. We've been here hundreds of years, how many of our schools are self-funded? Now tell me what you're marching for?