Attorney and political strategist Justin Giboney says that in comparison to the 1960s, the Black Church is now “more performative” around political and social issues, rather than “controlling the narrative.” He adds, “I think the Church is still involved, but it’s not necessarily the prominent voice that people see when it comes to social justice issues… That’s been kind of handed off to, or in some ways taken control of by, more secular groups.”
California Pastor Michael McBride points out, “It’s usually a smaller group of activist clergy, justice-oriented clergy that are really championing these issues.” All pastors, he says, “are having a reckoning about the way they are trained and formed to respond to systemic and structural injustice.”
McBride says “many” Bible colleges in the United States espouse “Evangelical theology, which is at its core very anti-Black,” so “it takes a lot of untangling” for pastors “to be able to show up well.”
Moving Toward a Cultural Consensus
Pastor A.R. Bernard, founder of a Brooklyn megachurch, offers his perspective as a social activist in the ’60s. Back then, he says, “There was a deep divide in American society” and—despite MLK’s work—“there was not a total buy-in.” These days, however, there’s “a national consensus of moral outrage” for the first time in our nation’s history. “We now have this momentum for change within American culture that is being fueled by that consensus.” Bernard’s Christian Cultural Center describes its orthodoxy as a blend of “the sacred, the institutional, and the intellectual.”
Other topics Barna is studying for its full report include spiritual identity and expression, activism and civic engagement, leadership pipelines and pastoral transitions, gentrification, the legacy of historically Black Churches, the flourishing of Black Americans and churchgoers, the impact of COVID-19, women’s roles in the church, and more.
“The story of the Black Church in America is important for our nation and for Christianity,” says Brooke Hempell, senior VP of research at Barna Group. “We have found consistently that Black Americans have a more active faith—in prayer, reading Scripture, and worship—than other racial groups in this country. We are excited to share the story of this legacy with fresh data.”