Need for Community
THE BLACK CHURCH has provided a place of unity and cohesion for the black community. It is one of the only institutions that we have always had some control over. Even in the slave quarters, religion and the church were instruments God used to maintain a semblance of neighborhood and community.
Though I agree with integration, I also think it is one of the worst things to have happened to the black community. The moment we were able to assemble where we desired, we lost the continuity that made us a community and began to assimilate into the broader culture. In so doing, we lost a lot of what it meant to be African-American and Christian.
The church was the centrifugal force of the black community. In the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, many the individuals who were successful in the music industry had the roots in the black church. Likewise, a number of black athletes also attribute their initial encounters with sports to church—organized athletics.
The only way that the church will be able to recapture its vitality is to reassess its role as the spiritual fountain from which the black community can once again drink freely. We have made significant strides in the arenas of politics, societal acceptance, and the like. But we have lost our edge as the place to build the lives of our people in a holistic manner.
I see so many young blacks who express a limited sense of God consciousness. I remember when I was younger and coming up, there was a certain level of respect that was afforded our elders. If we were playing marbles and were approached by someone coming from church, we immediately made room for them and even stopped what we were doing until they passed by. Not so today. Our youth have a limited understanding of the Spirit and of the place that the church plays in the very survival of the community.
My contention is that the black church must diligently seek to re-emerge as the fuel for the community if it is to be taken seriously in the new millennium.
By Robert L. Stevenson Jr.
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #62 in 1999]Robert L. Stevenson Jr. is director of research for the Los Angeles Black Church History Project at Fuller Seminary.
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