FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Black Churches are Burning Again

Historically, black churches played a unique role in American life. More than any other institution, these houses of worship were where black folks could find comfort, affirmation, and community. Hymns and spirituals gave voice to our cries as they soothed our souls. Loving embraces and words of kindness buttressed us against a culture that communicated hostility toward our lips, hips, and skin pigmentation.

In a sermon given at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Jeremiah Wright once called these churches the only black institutions that remain “unbought and unbossed.” Therefore, it is no surprise that they were ground zero for black movements seeking positive social change and targets of white supremacist violence. What we are seeing is not new, and fire has not been the only weapon used against black churches. The June massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, of nine members of a Bible study group recalls the bombing death of four Sunday School children in September 1963 at the 16thStreet Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama.

“They died between the sacred walls of the church of God,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said, as “they were discussing the eternal meaning of love.” No, fire is not the only way black churches have been attacked, but churches are, indeed, burning again. In the past few days, 7 historically black churches have been targets of suspected arson in north St. Louis. This is an area not far from Ferguson. I don’t find this surprising.

Almost a hundred years ago, as Cameron McWhorter recounts in The Red Summer of 1919 and The Awakening of Black America, black churches were almost always burned during race riots. Between the months of March and September of that infamous summer, more than a hundred churches were damaged or destroyed by fire.

Seventy-five years later, it happened again. From 1995 to 1996, 145 black churches were burned in southern states. Those burnings spurred Congress to pass the Church Arson Prevention Act to address the targeting of places of worship by extremists. In light of this history, the current hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches should be #WhoIsBurningBlackChurchesAgain.

I am an assistant pastor at an historically black church in Oklahoma City. After the shootings in Charleston and the suspicious number of black church fires that followed, our parishioners asked us hard questions. Will we put metal detectors at the entryway? Will we have armed “armor-bearers” (guards) in strategic places around the sanctuary? Will we have “closed” worship services? Should we sacrifice comfort for safety?

In the Gospel according to Mark, the narrative often puts interlocutors in positions where they must choose between faith and fear. If the characters choose faith, they continue on “The Way” (following Jesus). If they choose fear, they deviate from the path. This is that kind of moment for members of black churches. And it is a moment we’ve lived through before.

We did not allow the race riots and church burnings during the red summer of 1919 to keep us from places of worship. Nor did those attacks bully us into silence. Spurred by the work of Ida B. Wells and the NAACP, that summer was a catalyst for the birth of the modern day civil rights movement.

The 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church did not quell the social action of  the Southern Christian Leadership Conference or the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. It bolstered the resolve of the protestors and rallied support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We’ve been here before, and we know how to respond. Yes, the members of my church may feel safer when we have trained armor bearers in place, but black Christians can use this moment as a rallying point around which to build a new civil rights movement. This could be the moment when black places of worship awaken from their complacent slumber and realize that they are not yet to the Promised Land. Although black churches have historically played a major role in black social justice movements, there has been thunderous silence from too many black pastors about the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Now is the time. Black churches, black pastors—it’s time to wake up, and, more important, #StayWoke

More articles by:

Lawrence Ware is a professor of philosophy and diversity coordinator for Oklahoma State University’s Ethics Center. He can be reached at:  Law.writes@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail