Black Church Clergy Admit Their Sanctuaries Are No Longer Ground Zero for the Civil Rights Movement


The Rev. Delman Coates approached his pulpit on Sunday (Dec. 14) with a straightforward sermon: “Black Lives Matter.”

The Facebook page of his Mount Ennon Baptist Church featured photos of a congregation of thousands, dressed in black, with their hands held up. And the Clinton, Md., church announced plans for a “March on Annapolis” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to push state lawmakers on police brutality, foreclosure and African-American businesses and colleges.

Fifty years after civil rights movement activists marched across the South, the black church is finding new ways for activism. But often, its clergy admit, they are not the leaders, and their sanctuaries are no longer ground zero for the civil rights movement.

On the day some churches dubbed “Black Lives Matter” Sunday, many people in the pews found themselves playing catch-up with the people who had already been on the streets.

Thousands of black churches — prompted initially by leaders of three historically black denominations and later joined by officials of mostly white and Hispanic faith groups — marked the day with black suits and dresses, litanies and prayers to be counted among the throngs of Americans decrying recent grand jury decisions not to indict white police officers in the killings of unarmed black men.

“I hope that we can build the sentiment … to really reclaim this tradition of activism and social justice advocacy, which is really at the heart of the black church,” said Coates, who spearheaded the first conference of the progressive Black Church Center for Justice and Equality earlier this month.

Coates and others say the black church — which he defines as a movement committed to freedom, not just a group of African-American worshippers — is being challenged by a number of factors, including young people who are not drawn to their pews and pro-gay activists who are pushing for more welcoming attitudes in their sanctuaries.

In a statement responding to the “Black Lives Matter” campaign, young adults of the African Methodist Episcopal Church urged its members to “find ways to connect with young adults who are not in our churches” and address their needs.

“Let us not become comfortable in places or spaces of privilege as our privilege is only of worth if it serves as a platform to challenge the status quo,” they wrote.

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Adelle M. Banks

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