One of my biggest pet peeves has always been that the majority of African-American sociologists of religion, who specifically study the relationship between Black people and Christianity, have not been Christians, members of any faith tradition or were not closely connected to a Black church. I remember telling my advisor, a Du Bois scholar, that it is impossible, despite how significant Du Bois’ contributions were to the study of Black religious life, to divorce the fact that he held such a strong contempt for Blacks who subscribed to any organized expression of faith.
That tradition of holding some level of contempt for organized religion and the Black Church as a whole has continued within the field. While I don’t deny their contributions and much of who I am has depended on what they’ve done, I decided early on that I did not want to be that kind of scholar. The church is flawed. It is really is. But, as my friend always says, it’s the church that Christ died for. Actively working in, both, community and congregation adds a greater depth and more personal value to what I do in the classroom. Staying up all hours of the night, reading and writing, means more when I’m in covenant with a local church. My work has context and a direct impact on those that I love.
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to become even more intentional about my love for and defense of the Black Church. Many people dismiss it. But a place that almost 90% of African-Americans come in contact with is ripe with potential. In every way that matters, I was affirmed in the Black Church tradition. I also bear some of the scars of being hurt by that same tradition. Whether in the classroom or in the pulpit, as scholar or preacher, I will always challenge the church to be the best it can be and work in it to get there.
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