In Oakland, Religious and Civic Leaders Say State of the Black Church Is at a Crossroads

Panelists Hon. Keith Muhammad, Rev. Dr. Martha Tayor, and Marlon McWilson at the Prayer Breakfast in Downtown Oakland (photo by Brad Bailey)
Panelists Hon. Keith Muhammad, Rev. Dr. Martha Tayor, and Marlon McWilson at the Prayer Breakfast in Downtown Oakland (photo by Brad Bailey)

In Oakland, the state of the black church is at a crossroads, local leaders said.

Religious and civic leaders gathered in downtown Oakland last Wednesday for a prayer breakfast to discuss the state of the black church and political participation in the African American community. The event, sponsored by Black Elected Officials & Faith Based Leaders of the East Bay (BEO-FBL), was attended by over 50 people and ranged over issues from policing to gun violence to education. “I felt that it was a good starting point,” said Reverend Doctor Martha Taylor of Allen Temple Baptist Church. “A lot of different points were covered today in reference to the visibility of the black church in the community.”

African American churches were seen as critical players in the success of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In addition to being a place to convene for large gatherings, the church educated voters on civil disobedience and voting rights. Today, church enrollment has dropped, and with it, many feel, so has participation in the political process. This trend is also reflected overall in church-going populations. According to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, from 1965 to 1988, mainline church membership declined from 31 million to 25 million worshippers, then fell to 21 million in 2005.

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SOURCE: Oakland North