One of the arguments Fred Harris and Michael Dawson both make in their books about post-Obama era black politics is that the "black church" is in decline, having succumbed to the prosperity gospel. Eddie Glaude went so far as to argue that black church was dead. I don't believe there is one "black church".
There are and have always been substantial differences between black churches in mission, in approach to the gospel, in worship practices.
You can walk into some churches and, if you just ignored the fact you were in the church, swear you were in a house music club replete with people jumping up and down demonstratively as they catch the Holy Spirit. At the same time on the other side of the city you can walk into other churches and see people gently fanning themselves as they listened to a carefully delivered sermon.
These differences reflect differences within black populations, differences that often translate into different political orientations. Acting as if these differences don't exist is I believe part of a broader (understandable) political project that I don't agree with. Along the same lines, acting/writing as if black churches were "naturally" liberal/left is intellectually and politically indefensible. Black churches were only as liberal as their churchgoers MADE them.
With that said though, black churches ARE natural black nationalist institutions. And have the potential to be one a central hub from which to pushback against local, state, and national policies. Because more black people work and meet together within these spaces on any given Sunday, than anywhere else.
In the wake of the election, liberals and leftists alike are wondering how to hold Obama responsible.
I'd argue that any strategy that doesn't BEGIN with local institutions is doomed to failure.
Let's take an issue that is LITERALLY close to home for me–the foreclosure issue.
Although we've seen signs of some progress, on the legislative front we don't have anything like what Ireland is proposing. And although Bank of America is far more responsive than it once was, this appears to be more about image maintenance.
Now when folk talk about "holding Obama accountable" this is one of the issues they're talking about. And one way to do it would be to have your usual suspects organize at the front of the White House to protest and then…go home.
Such a strategy is nothing more than the liberal version of what Bank of America is doing. And it's still too Washington centric–it doesn't build local organizing capital, it doesn't recognize local agency.
How about this instead?
Organize foreclosure defenses from within churches.
Have churchgoers participate in defenses scheduled RIGHT AFTER services. Combine these events with sermons railing against foreclosures as ungodly. Publicize these events. Hold them in tandem with other churches. Expand the foreclosure defenses to Bible Study days. Create foreclosure defense committees. Use the Bible to develop progressive readings of what our mission is to our fellow brothers and sisters. Use the pulpit to allow people to express and wrestle with their shame.
This can't happen overnight. People have to be trained in foreclosure defense. People have to gradually be given the confidence to tell their stories.
But just imagine what would happen if next Easter Sunday, ONE church in each congressional district, stood against foreclosures. And stood FOR debt forgiveness.
We don't need black elites for this. We don't need black intellectuals for this. We don't need Obama for this–indeed I can imagine if this is done right, he'd come to US. And this can work in mega churches, in prosperity gospel churches, in liberation theology churches, in Catholic churches, in Baptist churches.
Doing this transforms people into agents of their own future. And it transforms the foreclosure issue from an economic issue to a progressive MORAL issue. Not moral as in "you are immoral for not paying bills you created" but moral as in "it is immoral to generate economic wealth from pain and suffering."
Recently Tavis Smiley and Cornel West talked about the "prophetic tradition" on Democracy Now.
Unlike Smiley and West I don't believe we have a "prophetic tradition" or to the extent we do I don't believe that tradition to be important, as it's a bit too elitist for me. I don't need a prophet from on high interpreting the Bible or any other text for that matter. I can do it for myself thank you very much.
I DO, however, believe we have an ORGANIZING tradition. That's the tradition we have to get back to. And in as much as black churches are still primary spaces for black organizing, we'd be fools not to use them properly.