Black churches are facing a threat to their very existence.
A few years ago, there were unsubstantiated fears of a campaign of physical destruction by arsonists. There is also the danger every election year of liberal politicians using black pulpits as soapboxes in violation of tax law.
This time, however, the problem comes from within and is more dangerous.
“Black liberation theology” threatens to hijack the character and damage the brand of thousands of respected black churches in the U.S. The Christian messages of love, unity, faith and hope are in danger of being replaced with racial hatred, political rhetoric and victimization. Revered Jeremiah Wright’s 15 minutes of fame gave black liberation theology unmerited attention and made Reverend Wright and his sermons the personification of the black church.
Let’s be clear. The opinions of Reverend Wright are not representative of most black churches. Speaking from many years as a member of black Baptist and Methodist congregations, I’ve never experienced sermons coming close to the political and social commentary he espouses.
Every minister I’ve known has a different style, but their messages about Christian faith are consistent and completely void of politics.
To be honest, I had never heard of black liberation theology before the Wright controversy. I now believe that such rhetoric has no place in any house of worship.
Dating back to the 1960s, black liberation theology asserts the victimization of blacks as a primary theme.
It incites anger and hostility; blames Western capitalism for societal problems among blacks and denies the reality that times have changed since the 1960s and that we have moved on as a society.
Black liberation theology’s radical politics masquerades as religion. It ignores significant advances blacks have made and continue to make. Through hard work, dedication and perseverance, blacks are achieving their aspirations and becoming successful in business, entertainment, sports and politics – proving Reverend Wright wrong.
Reverend Wright risks portraying all black Christians as angry militants, which creates and reinforces negative stereotypes. Such negative branding can only harm race relations by poisoning the minds of millions of Americans.
Anyone who has not experienced a black Christian house of worship should not deem all black churches the same and definitely not in the model of Reverend Wright’s black liberation theology.
Ironically, Reverend Wright’s apparent personal wealth disproves the fundamental principles of his black liberation theology. According to news reports, he’s moving into a million-dollar four-bedroom mansion “complete with an elevator, whirlpool, butler’s pantry, circular driveway and four-car garage” in an exclusive gated community in an overwhelmingly white Chicago suburb. Such a lifestyle would be impossible if the elements of black liberation theology were true.
Reverend Wright’s message of despair and victimization is especially harmful to impressionable youth. Instead of delivering a message of hope, love and opportunity, he feeds the bleakness that often surrounds inner-city children. For those already struggling in dysfunctional households and failing schools, negative messages from authority figures can add to feelings of hopelessness. It also can lead children down the path of self-destruction through alcohol and drug abuse, gang membership and other criminal activities.
Reverend Wright’s views bring enormous harm to the institution of the black church. Many black ministers faced racial difficulties in the past that did not lead them down a destructive, negative path. These ministers positively serve their congregations to the benefit of the entire community, and their efforts go largely unheralded.
A traditional Christian church – black or white – is a place to worship, reflect and grow in the light of God’s love and mercy. Let’s hope Americans will take the time to think about the silent majority of black ministers and not allow black liberation theology to unjustly tarnish their reputation.
Deneen Borelli is a fellow for the Project 21 black leadership network. Comments may be sent to DBorelli@nationalcenter.org. Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.