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For The Love of God, Please Leave the Black Church Alone!


(ThyBlackMan.com) Quick story.  The other day I became short of breath. My heart began to beat erratically, it sounded kind of like when you put a shoe in a clothes drier. Clumpity, clump clump.  Soon after my left arm felt like I had been laying on it all night, prickly and tingly, as if I had a porcupine living under my skin.  Uh oh, I was worried now. I think I am having a heart attack! I hustle into my car and drove as fast as I could.  I was lucky, my mechanic was right down the street! I said, “Earl, I am having a heart attack, check me out quick!” Earl was a damn fine mechanic, one of the best so I just knew I would be ok. He got out the vehicle diagnostic machine, put the plugs on my fingers and ran the diagnostic. 

By this time I am struggling, panicking. My eyes are rolling around in my head, two bowling balls about to strike the pins.  Earl said, “Hey bro, the diagnostic said there was nothing wrong, in fact, it gave me no reading at all.”As my weakened heart slowly stopped like the last drop of water dripping into the drain after the faucet was turned off I saw Earl about to try one more thing.  My last sight was of my wonderful mechanic getting the jumper cables and preparing to jump me to get me going again.  It didn’t work.

This story is obviously fictitious but I often find story works when logic doesn’t.  When you were reading the story did it strike you as ludicrous that a deathly ill individual would go to the auto mechanic? If it did, then you will understand how I feel when I hear the routine criticism of the Black church because they don’t do: economic development, social activism, political activism, psychological counseling, neighborhood cleanup, voter registration, shut down the local liquor store…etc. etc. 

If you wouldn’t go to a mechanic when you are having a heart attack, why would you go to an institution that has an explicit SPIRITUAL mission at its core for all the things mentioned above? As a pro-Black pragmatist so many anti-Black church arguments are not logical or productive so I want to address some of that illogicism (my word) in this piece. By way of disclaimer, I do not attend church but I am a Christian.

There are three counter arguments that I have for folks who I hear most often criticizing the Black church for non-spiritual reasons.  My first counter-argument is that not all pastors are preachers and pimps. In fact a relatively few are. My second counter-argument is that focusing criticism on the church for failing in ‘non-church’ activities is a misdirected focus of criticism.  My third counter-argument is that history has changed and so to should the role of the Black church. So let’s get at it. 

Why does that pastor have a new green Caddy with matching Gators and suite along with a brim hat covering everything but the tips of his Jheri Curl? Yep the good old, pastors be pimping people argument. You have heard it.  Everyone that goes to the church is broke BUT the pastor so they say.  But is this true? The Hartford Institute for Religious Study states that over 59% of all churches in America have between 7-99 folks. An astonishing 94% of ALL CHURCHES have less than 500 members.  Mega churches are defined as churches having more than 2000 folks. This is only .4 percent of all the churches in a nation.

Black churches trend to be smaller and have less folks on average so we can easily estimate that probably 75% plus of all Black churches have 99 or less folks. There are probably less than .1 percent of all Black churches that qualify as mega churches, which means probably less than .05% of all Black churches would be in Bishop Eddie Long status. Now when you factor in that Blacks have much less income on average, then those 75% of Black churches with less than 99 folks are not wealthy and therefore neither is the pastor. You can’t squeeze blood from a rock. 

My personal experience is that most pastors are doing other things to supplement their income. Many work a full or part time job and are putting money back into the church.  So while we see the Jakes &Creflo balling out of control, they are so far the outlier as to not make any sense. The average pastor may be pimping, but he is a broke pimp. He is no Pretty Tony. It is just a bad argument by anti-Black church folks.

The second and most important argument for me is the criticism of the Black church for NOT doing things I don’t think they should be doing in the first place.  Why in the hell should the Black church be responsible for stopping crime? Isn’t that the policeman’s job, the neighborhood watches job and the job other community agencies and folks?  Why in the hell should the church be responsible for building businesses? Isn’t that the Black Chamber of Commerce’s job or the local economic development institutions? We are asking the church to have expertise in an area where they don’t and be swimming in pools where they can’t swim. 

As a result of this misdirected criticism, we give all those folks who should be doing their job and aren’t a pass. Instead of building neighborhood associations and holding them accountable to create neighborhood watches we are like, “Why ain’t the church stopping gangs”…What? As a pro-Black pragmatist I look at this as ludicrous to the core.  I say let the best, most effective institutions to PLAY THEIR ROLE. Let the church do spirit, let the chamber do business.  Arguing that the Black Church should be everything to all people in the community is just a bad argument by the anti-Black church folks.

Finally, I am not ignorant to the history of the Black church in our development as a people.  A great an aged friend of mine who was a hard core civil rights activist in the 70s ran the local NAACP, had a PHD and a was a reverend once told me, “The reason the pastors were so out front in the civil rights movement was because we were the only folks whose income came from the people”.  This was also true in slavery and Jim Crow where so many churches were the only safe place to organize, politicize, philosophize, actionize and get spiritualized. 

So they were all things to all people because they had to be.  This is no longer the case.  Every time we lean on the Black church to do something ‘out of mission’ we are not building organizations that are ‘in mission’ to directly address our need for power and self-determinism in the new millennium.  So anti-Black church folks making the argument about what the church used to do and now not doing are just making a bad argument.

So for the love of God, leave the Black church alone and build organizations to address all the other stuff you are concerned about that the church doesn’t do. 

Remember, to BE different you have to DO different.

Staff Writer; Marcus Vessey




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