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Is the Black Church Dead?

Is the Black Church Dead?

On February 24, 2010 the Huffington Post published an essay by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. (Professor of Religion and chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University) entitled, "The Black Church is Dead."


In the Professor Eddie Glaude, Jr. takes the position that the Black Church is dead as we have once known it or imagined it.  According to Dr. Glaude, Jr., the venerable institution of the Black Church being central to Black life and a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation has all but vanished.


In summary, Dr. Glaude, Jr. lists three reasons to support his position of the demise of the Black Church:


First, black churches have always been complicated spaces. Our traditional stories about them -- as necessarily prophetic and progressive institutions -- run up against the reality that all too often black churches and those who pastor them have been and continue to be quite conservative


Second, African American communities are much more differentiated. The idea of a black church standing at the center of all that takes place in a community has long since passed away. Instead, different areas of black life have become more distinct and specialized -- flourishing outside of the bounds and gaze of black churches. We are witnessing an increase in the numbers of African Americans attending churches pastored by the likes of Joel Osteen, Rick Warren or Jentzen Franklin.

Thirdly, and this is the most important point, we have witnessed the routinization of black prophetic witness. Too often the prophetic energies of black churches are represented as something inherent to the institution, and we need only point to past deeds for evidence of this fact. Sentences like, "The black church has always stood for..." "The black church was our rock..." "Without the black church, we would have not..." In each instance, a backward glance defines the content of the church's stance in the present -- justifying its continued relevance and authorizing its voice.

In conclusion, Dr. Glaude, Jr. states that the death of the Black Church as we have known it occasions an opportunity to breathe new life into what it means to be Black and Christian. Black churches and preachers must find their prophetic voices in this momentous present. And in doing so, Black churches will rise again and insist that we all assert ourselves on the national stage not as sycophants to a glorious past, but as witnesses to the ongoing revelation of God's love in the here and now as we work on behalf of those who suffer most.

In light of Dr. Glaude’s commentary, what do we as Black Methodists say? Is this article a myth pontificated by some Black elitist scholar or is there some reality to the claim? As we ponder and engage in this debate (if it’s a debate at all), permit us to add to the discussion a two-fold query: 1) What role and witness should the Black Church play in public policy, issues of human sexuality, environmental justice and the economy? and 2) What is the Black Church’s role and responsibility be to neighborhoods that are in economic and social decline; how should Clergy and Congregations respond to violence and crime in the Black Community; and how does the Black Church respond to the strong growth of young Black men in the religion of Islam?

By suggesting that the Black Church is dead, is Dr. Glaude challenging the Black Church to show itself alive?


To help shape our voice in the debate, we would like to raise three questions: 1)“What does it mean to be the Black Church —what is our unique mission?” ; 2) “Why did God put you right there where you are—who has God called you to transform?”; and 3)  “What is the difference between having church and being church?


Let the debate begin and may the Black Church show itself alive and approved.

Read Dr. Glaude's article at