The Black Church Is Not Dead, but “The Ground Has Shifted”: Boston University MLK Professor Walter Fluke Challenges Dr. Eddie Glaude’s 2010 Essay

In April of 2010, Eddie Glaude wrote “The Black Church is Dead,” an essay that incited conversation and debate about contemporary black Protestantism. [Read RD’s numerous responses, including Glaude’s own response to the responders.] In opposition to entrenched assumptions about the black church, Glaude argued three points: the black church has never been a coherent entity with a unified progressive vision; it is no longer the center of the black community; and the prophetic quality of this institution seems to be waning in the midst of new problems and new ecclesial formations (the rise of megachurches, the prosperity gospel). Most overlooked was Glaude’s concluding exhortation for us to reimagine what it means to be black and Christian. Sounding the death knell on the black church creates opportunities for new life within black churches.

Walter Fluker’s timely and fascinating text, The Ground Has Shifted, is partly a response to Glaude’s challenge and call. While Fluker agrees with the thrust of Glaude’s argument, Fluker riffs on the life/death relationship in ways that are more fluid. In other words, black bodies have always existed on the edge of social life and social death, a position that invokes specters, the experience of being haunted and hunted. For Fluker, the task for black Christians, and blacks more generally, is to explore possibilities in the space of the living dead, that liminal space between past and future, remembrance and hope, and transcendence and immanence.

As he puts it,

We must therefore learn to speak from those spaces inhabited by the living dead as part of our ongoing theological and churchly missions in order to disrupt the categorization and binary symbols of blackness/whiteness and provide a middle way of speaking from this spectral space to the possibilities of our future.

The implications of this middle way are crucial in a moment that is purportedly post-racial. For Fluker, an in-between ethic enables us to see in the post-racial idea a commendable desire for transcendence while acknowledging how the post-racial fantasy denies ongoing forms of racial violence and suffering. Liminality also prompts black Christians to acknowledge the lingering traumas of the past without allowing this backward turn to prohibit the construction of a better future, the making of home in an inhospitable world.

Much of The Ground Has Shifted is dedicated to drawing resources from black literary and religious traditions to provide a vision of black life in the face of both change and stagnation. In response to the kinds of shifts that have occasioned the post-racial fantasy, Fluker encourages us to think beyond the dominant tropes associated with black Christianity—such as Dilemma and Exodus. As the author demonstrates, black writers and activists have often interpreted W.E.B. Du Bois’s double-consciousness as a kind of dilemma or problem.

According to this reading, black Americans are torn between their loyalties to the nation-state and their commitments to other black people. Because the ideal American citizen is often defined against blackness, being both black and American will continue to be a dilemma until blacks are accepted as fully human. But as Fluker points out, this notion of Dilemma is too narrow to respond to contemporary global realities and conditions.

Click here to read more

Source: Religion Dispatches | JOSEPH WINTERS