Still Challenged by Racism, the Black Church Carries On But With Competition from White Churches and Other Organizations

The Rev. Cheryl J. Sanders (L), professor of Christian Ethics at the Howard University School of Divinity and senior pastor of the Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., believes black churches will no longer be necessary if racism is conquered.

The Rev. Cheryl J. Sanders was studied and direct. “The black church will no longer be needed when the white church puts away its racism. But I haven’t seen that yet,” she said.

Sanders, a professor of Christian Ethics at Howard University School of Divinity and senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., was responding to The Christian Post Thursday about what the black church should be doing today to better serve adherents.

“I think the black church should be trying to nurture black people to thrive and flourish in the present and in the future. I don’t see that as a work that occurs in isolation from the rest of Christianity but there has to be a place where black people can go where they will be accepted in a holistic way,” she said.

While the black church serves “an irreplaceable role in terms of a spiritual center,” Sanders and other black church historians, like Dennis C. Dickerson, the James M. Lawson Jr. professor of History at Vanderbilt University, agree that its hold on the black community has faced competition from white churches and other organizations but racism remains a challenge.

“We live in a society now, where at least legally, African Americans have access to everything and anything they want, including where to live, where to shop, where to congregate, where to seek entertainment, where to pursue their education. And so in view of the fact that people have so many other choices, whereas in a former era, the choices were more limited, the church is still important but it’s up against a lot of other choices,” Sanders said of the black church.

Dickerson, who specializes in African-American religious history, pointed to the growing trend of multicultural megachurches, which many black Christians have found attractive.

“Black Christians are becoming far more diverse in terms of faith commitment, in terms of faith association. You have far more, for example, African-American evangelicals, that is those persons who subscribe to the theological and sociological worldview of white evangelicals, you will find as many black people in Joel Osteen’s church in Houston as there are in some of the major black churches in that city,” he told CP. “So there is a growing diversity in the black religious experience and the [historically] black church is not the only venue where black religious experience is being pursued.”

It was in the late 18th century when the first predominantly black denominations in the U.S. were founded, some by free black people according to PBS. Since then, the historically black church has served as the most important institution for the African-American community even today, Dickerson argued.

While she agreed with the historical place of the church in the black community, Sanders did not immediately have “a gauge to measure the black church as the most important institution (in the black community)” today. She admitted however that it ”certainly remains central and vital.”

“The black church was the only place our ancestors had. It was a critical gathering in a society that so restricted their movement and their joining,” Sanders said.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Leonardo Blair