Sunday, November 16, 2008

Black Politics Coming of Age?


In the book "New Day Begun", R. Drew Smith, the editor of the essays exploring the past, and prospective future, of the African-American churches in the post-Civil Rights era, writes in the introduction:

"Despite the instrumental value of black churches to black electoral progress the religious content black churches contributed to civil rights movement politics has been less welcomed within post-civil rights movement politics...this has been due in part to an increased black political emphasis on democratic proceduralism rather than on a politics of resistance and moral defiance and increased political emphasis on black elected officials rather than on black clergy as public spokespersons. [Adolph Reed, Jr.] argues that both of these preferences stems, one level, from a 'territorial defensiveness' on the part of black political officeholders. However, the resistance to clergy political leadership may also be connected to the 'classic liberal' underpinnings of American life - liberal underpinnings that have potentially influenced black political elites as much as other American political elites. Classic liberalism pertains to ideas tracing back to James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the U.S. context that stress, among other things, equal rights, individual liberties, and protection of individuals from 'intrusions by government or other groups' - such as religious groups. With black liberal commitments to equal rights having finally gained legal reinforcement through successful civil rights movement activism, black political leaders could more confidently pursue other liberal instincts, including American liberalism's' historical conviction that the nation's formal political affairs should be guided by secular reasoning and not by religious reasoning."

I think this is particularly interesting in light of the fact that the more obvious traditional activities of the African-American church either flew under the radar or were non-existent during the recent presidential election period. Barak Obama (nor McCain for that matter), did not make the round of black churches tramping for votes as one might expect. Neither Obama, nor McCain had highly publicized appearances flanked by notable black clergy.

To be sure voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts took place in countless churches. But most pastors I know, shied away from overt electioneering from the pulpit. Yet, I think among most memberships there was a knowing, most often unexpressed, but a knowing nonetheless, that this was a participation in a history changing moment.

Now all of this could have been my perception. Obviously things must have happened beyond my notice. But these are my perceptions.

The reason why I write this now is because the victory of Barak Obama may well signal a new era of black electoral politics - a political culture come of age, as it were.

Generational differences between younger pastors, who are at least one generation away from segregation and Jim Crow, whose ministerial exposure and political engagement involves not only race, but class, as well as the broad social issues of our day (which are also political in sum and substance).

In short, I don't foresee a day in which the black church is not needed institutionally in black politics, or the black preacher not needed as a prophetic voice to the black community and the nation. I do see the day when we will be needed differently. And I don't think that's a bad thing.

The future of the black church, the future of black politics and the legacy of the civil rights era are going to go through profound changes nationally and locally. I look forward to it. I think it will both challenge our community and our country in significant and healthy ways.

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