In Light of Aretha Franklin’s Funeral, Rev. Kevin Johnson Says Black Church Must Ask if it’s Still Relevant

(Photo: Daymon Hartley, Detroit Free Press)
(Photo: Daymon Hartley, Detroit Free Press)

“The Black Church is dead.” –Dr. Eddie Glaude, Jr.

These words first penned by Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr., professor of Religion and Chair of the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, have recently resurfaced a critical debate in the Christian community.

As the world mourned and watched the eight-hour funeral for the “Queen of Soul,” Aretha Franklin, the question that many asked and are still asking post the funeral: Is the Black Church Dead?

On the one hand, the funeral of Aretha highlighted and celebrated the richness of the Black church.

The funeral of Aretha allowed the world to get a glimpse of how music has helped us to not only survive oppression and discrimination, but to rise about it.

As the late James H. Cone argued, the “spirituals and the blues” have helped tell the story of how slaves and children of slaves used music to “affirm their essential humanity in the face of oppression.”

Yes, the Black church was an anchor for Aretha and for many who watched and attended the funeral.

However, the question is: Has the Black church lost its relevancy? Or at the minimum, is the Black church still relevant?

I asked this question because social media was ablaze after the appalling and offensive sermon of the Rev. Jasper Williams and the inappropriate touching of Ariana Grande by Bishop Charles Ellis.

Millennials like, Ashley Janelle, took to Twitter and social media to express their frustration with the Black Church: “So all in one service we’ve seen why people loveeeeee the Black Church and why people leaveeee the Black Church.”

The exodus from the church is a question that many of us, particularly clergy, do not like to discuss, especially publicly.

We tend to blame gentrification as the reason there is an exodus taking place from the Black church. Many claim it’s not just the Black church, but the Protestant faith as a whole is declining.

And while these arguments have merit, it does not excuse the Black church from asking the question: Is it dead?

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SOURCE: The Philadelphia Tribune

Kevin R. Johnson, Ed.D. is a frequent columnist and the lead pastor of Dare to Imagine Church, 6611 Ardleigh St., Philadelphia, PA. Follow him on Twitter @drkrj.