Tag Archives: preaching

Black Preaching, the Church, and Civic Life

14 Nov

I can’t say that I’ve even thought of that topic until a two or three weeks ago. Now it’s been much on my mind. What got me thinking about black preaching in the first place, of course, is my recent church visit. But how I got from that visit to this more general issue, black preaching and civic life, that takes a bit of explaining. Where I’m going is that, if we’re going to make substantial changes in how this country, these United States of America, goes about its business, if we’re going to forge a more just and more sustainable union, we’ve got to be grounded in something, something that doesn’t quite exist. Perhaps black preaching has a role to play in that something.

Civics 101: Legitimizing the State

Let’s start with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

As I’ve observed in another post:

In Jefferson’s formulation the government gains its power by grant from the people. The people, in turn, gain their power, their unalienable rights, from their Creator. This reverses the logic of legitimization prevailing in traditional European monarchies. In those governments the rulers got their legitimacy from God and their subjects, in turn, got their rights and obligations through their relationship to the ruler. In that scheme democracy is implausible. Jefferson, and the new nation, emphatically rejected that scheme in favor of a different one.

In this new system the separation of church and state secures two ends, religious freedom and, even more fundamentally, the state itself. The first is obvious, and has occasioned much discussion. The second seems obvious as well, but is somehow more subtle. How can the people legitimize the state unless their authority is itself independent of that state? The only way to guarantee that independence is to guarantee the separation of church and state.

And that, I suggest, may be why religion has been so important in American society. For a large fraction of the population, though not for all, it has been the ground of capital “B” Being on which their sense of themselves-in-the-world depends.

The rest of that post elaborates on that last paragraph and its implications. I assume that argument for the rest of THIS post, but I have something different in mind.

What has happened in this country is that, while we the people retain the nominal power of legitimizing the national government through our votes, both for the President and for congressmen, that power has become only nominal. Whoever we vote for we get a government that’s run by the corporations, for the corporations, and over we the people. Continue reading

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Religion in America, Going Forward

28 Oct

What role will churches play in moving America to a more equitable and sustainable society?

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The other day I made a post about a church service I’d recently attended, remarking both on the power of the pastor’s preaching, its effect on his congregation, and on his responsibility to them. It was clear to me that he was energizing them to go out a face the world in a constructive frame of mind.

A friend of mine, a man I’ve known for almost 40 years, replied by indicating that he’d been lurking on a list of Unitarian ministers that was currently discussing Black Preaching: The Recovery Of A Powerful Tool by Henry H. Mitchell. This paragraph seems to have been particularly provocative:

As has been noted, worship among Whites and Blacks was similar during the Great Awakenings. It might now be asked why audible response or dialogue disappeared from mainline Protestant patterns of worship. One guess is that the preaching material soared beyond the intellectual reach of the congregation. This occurred, perhaps, because Protestant seminaries had engaged in a contest of one-upmanship with the graduate divisions of the liberal arts colleges, creating scholars instead of professionals skilled in reaching people. With such standard conditioning in the theological schools, the preacher might well be expected to be intellectual in concerns rather than interested in the day-to-day issues of ordinary people. It follows that in such a school-conditioned, abstract atmosphere, answering back would soon be considered by the preaching scholar as impolite and disruptive. This attitude would increase the inhibitions of an audience eager to please. Modern-day experiments in the middle-class church, in which dialogue takes place during and after the sermon, seem clearly to support this hypothesis. In the planning of the talk-back after the service, great care is taken to pitch the dialogue within the intellectual reach of the laity involved. It is encouraging to speculate that the middle-class model may now be drifting away from the graduate classroom and back to the pattern once shared by Blacks and Whites in the preaching event.

My friend then went to say: Continue reading