A Resurrection of the Black Church in Local Politics


The 2012 presidential election has raised a challenge for several different interest groups regarding the role of faith communities dominated by people of color. But none has been more publicly courted by policy and political initiatives than the Black Church.

Evident is a continued recognition by those in the political community of that historical platform of the African American pulpit. Still there are others that are not all that impressed. Critical to the Nov. 6 Election Day results were the efforts and voice of the Black Church and the Black preacher.

All across America Black churches continue to stand as beacons in the community that help is available. Churches represent an opportunity of renewal for those facing destruction and signal the possibility for hope for communities that suffer from targeted disenfranchisement. I believe it was the latter on Election Day that has so embraced the religious loyalties of Black people. The Black Church undeniably got the vote out.

Here in Maryland the ballot dealt with issues of justice and empowerment. Not to mention that much of the electorate was divided along racial lines. Few interests failed to solicit the support of faith leaders from the Black community. Specifically, Black clergy were courted for their support of ballot issues pertaining to same-sex marriage, expanding gambling and educational opportunities for immigrants.

Many of these interests determined early in their campaigns that the support of the faith community was critical. But over the course of several months only one television ad highlighted the support of an Asian, Hispanic, Islamic, Jewish or Caucasian faith leader. Black preachers from various Protestant denominations, many of whom were overwhelmingly democratic in party affiliation were out front and center.

Interestingly enough at various points after the civil rights movement, there have been those that would ask if the Black Church had any relevance in our society. More specifically they wondered aloud if the power of the Black Church died along with the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I’m reminded that it was during the 1970s, sociologist E. Franklin Frazier asked had the church “died an agonized death in the harsh turmoil” of the 1960s. More recently, Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. suggested that the Black Church, as we know it, was dead. His comments sparked much debate among theologians and seminarians everywhere. 

Such views are likely to be the result of perceived increases in economic and political power of African Americans at-large. Still, from the 1970s through the present, a disproportionate majority number of Black folk continued to grapple with issues related to racial discrimination and concentrated communities of poverty. For many of them the church was the only place to find a word of encouragement and a sense of hope. Most critical to that limited stabilization was the Black preacher. Preachers throughout the country were committed to speaking truth to power and spreading the hope of a just God.

The success of these prophetic voices allowed many in these communities to continue to sing songs with titles such as {Never Would Have Made It} and {Free In Jesus}. Despite the fact that over 48 percent of African-American male students never make it to their high school graduations and many of its poor are incarcerated inside the four walls of their homes, not free enough to walk a city block for fear of harm.

There is no doubt that the Black Church remains a very dynamic and formidable force for change in American society. Much of that influence and power is the recognition of its function to remain under its own control, making it the ultimate social institution in African American history. There is no greater or more powerful institution that exists today for any group of people than that of the Black Church.

If the Black church wants to reap the prize of its political resurrection, two major areas of significance that were raised during the 2012 election must be revisited and addressed immediately. First is the work of establishing a prominent voice in party politics. If you are going to be a true voting block within the Democratic Party the church must demand the absolute resolve of retaining the language of “God” in its platform. The Evangelical church has assured this language in the Republican platform. You may recall the silence of the church when on a Tuesday evening, moments after convention chairman Antonio Villaragosa gaveled in day two of the Democratic Convention, the hall burst into chaos as Democrats voted to amend their party’s platform to include the word “God.” (Apparently someone had mistakenly taken it out)

The Black Church has a responsibility to remind the minority participants in the Democratic Party, all united by stories of their run-ins with oppression and discrimination, that they should never so easily turn their backs on God. Without God there would be no Democratic Party. Without God there would have been no women sitting in the seats of elevated power within the party. Without God there would be no African, Hispanic or Asian speakers at the convention. Without God there certainly would not have been a Black Man awaiting the re-nomination of his party to the highest elected office in the land. The Black Church cannot afford to get to the Promised Land and forget the promise. If the party doesn’t want God, how could it ever respect the man/woman of God.

In doing so, the leaders of the faith will help to identify the comfort of complacency that wreaks havoc on the masses of people of color. This comfort of complacency causes too many of us to struggle against a contagious and aggressive plague of social inferiority, where by the material and aesthetic promises of this world overwhelm our day-to-day reality. This desire to meet the mediocre standards of this fading world seems to be overriding the spiritual and historical calling to uphold high standards and lofty achievement.

Secondly, the Black Church must bring the devastating chaos of Black violence to the forefront of the public square. No longer should they allow the debate of presidential politics to ignore the enormous loss of life in poor urban communities all across this country. Anytime the number of deaths in one city outnumber the amount of deaths by those engaged in actual war, silence cannot be a viable option. The prophetic voice assigned to clergy must take the lead in bending the moral arc toward justice for all of us.

On the hills of such great electoral impact the church must begin the hard work of establishing agendas that speak to the majority of faith principles and denominational similarities within the Black Church. These agendas can and should be inclusive of those predominantly led African American civic organizations. Additionally, the church must develop the political savvy necessary to harness the power of political influence beneath the umbrella of compromise and justice. The Black Church must demand that the political machinery engage beyond the casual visits to worship services by office seekers. To ensure that the Black Church is never accused of being dead to the issues that impact people of color the church must intentionally and methodically perform the following: 1) Engage in community organizing 2) Manage personal influence 3) Establish and solidify coalitions and 4) Employ and deploy lobby groups that work on behalf of the Black Church in policy making halls all across America.

Success in these areas will secure the breathe and longevity of the Black Church for generations to come. If we fail to heed this prophetic call to transform the world, may we be found guilty of treason against James Weldon’s Negro Anthem, whereby too many of us have become drunk with the wine of the world and forgotten Thee. And for those who forget their past there is a strong possibility of repetition.
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Kevin A. Slayton, Sr. is the Associate Minister of Social Justice at the Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore and the Faith-based Liaison to the Mayor of Baltimore. He is also pursuing a doctoral degree in Public Administration at the University of Baltimore

A Resurrection of the Black Church in Local Politics

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