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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

Did affluence, integration weaken black church?
How congregations can get back on track
Published Wednesday, July 24, 2013 7:00 am
by Michaela L. Duckett

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Some say the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case served as a call for the Black church to return to its roots and the fight for social justice. It's a call that ministers and members of North Carolina's NAACP are working to answer.

Is the black church in need of resurrection?

Harvey L. Shropshire, a professor of biblical languages at New Life Theological Seminary in Charlotte, thinks so.

Shropshire said the black church has lost relevance because it has lost touch with the realities of everyday life in black America.

“When I look at homelessness and the lack of affordable homes in Charlotte, when I look at the education problems in Charlotte, the crime, we as a church are not collectively working to address these issues,” he said. 

He uses his former neighborhood off Beatties Ford Road to illustrate his point.

“I’ve seen Beatties Ford transition a lot over the years,” he said. “We have beautiful edifices over there, but the community is still the same… I think our theological perspectives are out of touch… We are building churches, but we are not building communities.”

A turning point

If the black church is dead, what killed it? And when did things begin to go awry? Some point to post-civil rights society.

 “After we got voters’ rights and civil rights, there was a shift,” said Albert M. Moses, pastor at Matthews Murkland Presbyterian Church, one of Charlotte’s oldest black congregations.

“I think a lot of people came into the opinion that the struggle was over. After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. a lot of people started believing that we had arrived. We got comfortable.”

In that comfort, he said the black church lost its focus and stopped fighting for social justice and advocacy in for the black community. He said the 1970s and early '80s marked a shift in the consciousness of the black community as a whole.

“It was a time of prosperity,” he said. “We moved out of the Double Oaks and Fairview Homes and out of the 'hood and moved to Ballantyne and South Charlotte and just forgot that we had a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in the 'hood.”

Back to basics

So, how does the black church get back on track?

Shropshire said the first step is for the church and the community to stop looking to the government to address poverty, unemployment, access to quality education and other social issues.

“The black church needs to work towards one common goal,” he said. “We’ve got to start being forthright and having a certain degree of tenacity in addressing some of the issues that are very prevalent in the black community… We need to help our people. We depend too much on the government to meet our needs.”

Longtime education advocate Earl Leake said the best thing the black church can do for the community is address deficiencies in education.

“I think the church needs to do more as it relates to educating our kids,” he said. “I think that should be a fundamental requirement beyond saving souls. We know that’s why they are in business… But there are too many of our kids that are not getting a quality education. We ought to be up in arms about that and doing whatever we can.”

Leake said addressing education is key because it serves as the basic foundation of a better life. Educated people are more likely to look after their health. They are also less likely to live in poverty because they are more likely to be employed.

“When you have an education, you have opportunities,” he said. “Education is the foundation that can level the playing field. As long as we half-dance around it, we may have some improvements but we will never be at the level we need to be.”

Moses said he sees a subtle shift back to focusing on what’s important.

“The church is moving back in the right direction,” he said. “I think the Trayvon Martin verdict is a call for the black church to become relevant again.”

He said many religious leaders are heeding that call.

“We are recognizing the seriousness of the problems we’re facing,” he said. “The folks sitting in the pews are recognizing that we went to sleep at the wheel and what’s going to be necessary…

“Fortunately, in the state of North Carolina currently with (NAACP President) Rev. William Barber and what’s going on with Moral Mondays, the church’s relevance via the NAACP and pastors of that caliber are now saying the church is relevant and has a purpose in the African-American community.”

Is the Black Church Dead?

The Society of Biblical Research is presenting a lecture by Harvey L. Shropshire titled “Is the Black Church Dead? Does it need to be Resurrected?” at 10 a.m. on July 27 at Greater Providence Baptist Church, 2000 Milton Road. The lecture is free and open to the public.


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