Historically, the black church has been at the forefront, serving on the front line, in the American journey for justice, beginning with its opposition to slavery, down to the modern protests of today, including the Black Lives Matter Movement. Speaking out on many issues affecting blacks, the early black church was an important agent for change, helping to maintain racial unity and building an early tradition of self-help, along with a community ethos of hard work and resilience.
As a religious leader, Reverend Richard Allen, founder of the Free African Society and the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church(AME), was considered by many to be the earliest leader of black Americans. Confronting the issues of his day including education, abolition, colonization and the Underground Railroad, Rev. Allen dedicated his life to the betterment of blacks in early America.
While serving as a place of comfort and providing opportunities for spiritual uplift, the black church was the first social institution fully controlled by blacks, giving them an opportunity and place to develop leadership. And it is no surprise that some early black leaders of planned slave revolts were also members of the clergy.
Attesting to the influence of the early black church and the black preacher, some states even passed laws to silence black ministers, in their attempt to silence the message of hope and salvation as well.
As we confront the issues of today, the black church must continue to be a driver of change and hope in our communities, with the black minister still serving a key leadership role, working to have a positive impact on the entire community.
First and foremost, our churches must lend their influence and support in encouraging our young people to value education. And since this starts in the home, the church and the parents must find ways to work together to keep our children inspired to work hard in reaching their full potential. Plus, our churches can be a resource for extended learning by providing after-school tutorials and literacy projects, engaging more children in academic and enrichment activities throughout the year.
As an institution, the black church leaders have to claim a greater involvement in the cause of social reform and change, spreading their influence beyond their local church doors, while taking up the torch for justice. Increasing the reach of the black church is a good place to start.
To be sure, the black church must remain in the forefront for racial equality and social justice, and it needs to be part of the conversation in determining the best way forward. The black church must reclaim its position, speaking out on the issues and moving from the sideline to the front line.
Larry Sutton is a former teacher at Clinton High School.