The powerful, painful history of the Black Church has much to teach us as our culture continues to push the church to the margins of society.
By Charles Dates, The Exchange.
At dinner the other night, our family sat in earshot of a group of people discussing presidential politics. They were older, Caucasian, and rather conservative in their political leanings. It was clear that they, like many Americans, are uninspired and—in their words—disheartened by the current party presumptive nominees for this year’s election. Their reflections echoed aged sentiments of prestige, shared beliefs, and religious privilege once represented by the Oval Office.
I mentioned to my wife how nice it must have been for generations past, and cultures unlike ours, to enjoy a political system concerned about their values and attentive to their voices. Our forefathers experienced a rather different portrait of American presidents and politics, one that left them living not in the center, but on the margins of American culture.
This is no bitter slight to American history so much as it is an acknowledgement of the new disequilibrium so many American Evangelicals are feeling in the wake of a cultural shift.
More accurately, it is like an earthquake; the changing political and cultural landscapes of our nation are peaking to new levels on the American Evangelical Richter scale. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching at the National Conference on Preaching in Washington, D.C. The theme of the conference was “Preaching and the Public Square.” One could sense the palpable concern that the American Evangelical pulpit is drifting closer to the margins of societal sway. It is losing political influence and moral capital.
The days of the supposed moral majority are well behind us, and the reality of the mushy middle is clearly upon us. We are learning that America is not that bastion of Christendom we once alleged. Our politics betray us, our values surprise us, and our new cultural norms indict us. In this I see no concern for despair. These may be the Church’s finest days.
My proposition is simple: Evangelical churches in America can benefit from the testimony of other Christians who have long lived on the cultural margins, from a people group who wielded no political influence or economic superiority—a people who functioned largely as a subset, or minority in the larger American Evangelical story. In their history abides a witness; a recipe for thriving ministry, and an illustration of the gospel’s power to make buoyant a church relegated to the periphery of national significance.
My claim is that the gospel of Jesus Christ enables us to live in the world, to prosper therein without being loved by the world.