This is not an attempt to proselytize or to shape your thinking regarding religion or spirituality. Rather, this is an attempt to delve into a subject that is often brought up among Black folks and used to separate us instead of bring us together around practical economic/public policy solutions.
By example, in 1843, Christian minister and abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet, gave an inspirational speech that shocked the delegates of the National Negro Convention. Known as the “Call to Rebellion” speech, in which Garnet encouraged slaves to turn against their masters.
“Neither god, nor angels, or just men, command you to suffer for a single moment,” said Garnet. “Therefore it is your solemn and imperative duty to use every means, both moral, intellectual, and physical that promises success.”
In response, Frederick Douglass spoke out against the speech to the convention. Garnet responded to Douglass’ rejoinder, but the convention did not sanction Garnet’s approach to abolition. To misunderstand the message here is to fall into that same trap of divisiveness; this is an attempt to build a bridge between “conscious” Blacks and Black Christians.
Can one be a Christian and also have a Black consciousness? This does not simply mean giving fiery sermons on Black consciousness, but having no track record of doing anything to back up the rhetoric. It means doing the work that comes with being conscious.
Too often, we get so deep into Black Christian/Black Consciousness conversations and fail to get to the work of either. Seems some of us are convinced that it has to be either or. We can choose to be one or the other, but we can also choose to be both. My contention is that we can get the maximum from both camps, not by arguing or putting one another down, but by marshaling our forces for our collective economic and political benefit.
Here is a cross-section of three contemporary “Conscious/Christian” individuals. Father George Clements, the Chicago-based Catholic Priest who founded the One Church-One Child program in the 1980’s and then moved on to become an integral part of the MATAH Network, the only Black-owned and operated distribution network. Father Clements never compromised his Christian beliefs and yet has always stood strong in his own Black consciousness.
Richard A. Rose, a Church of Christ Minister in Cincinnati, Ohio, now retired. I have seen, first-hand, his dedication to Christian principles; and through conversations about his childhood I learned about Rose’s Black consciousness, the most outstanding act of which took place during the planning and construction a new church building. Rose insisted on hiring a Black architect and then a Black builder to do the work. Imagine our collective economic benefit if all contracts to build Black churches were awarded to Black architectural and construction firms.
Then, there is Jonathan Weaver, an A.M.E. Pastor in Bowie, Maryland. Also a Harvard Business School graduate, he has such an extraordinarily high level of Black/Christian consciousness, and he uses it to teach about economic empowerment by inter-weaving relevant economic information into his sermons. Weaver has demonstrated the power of Black Conscious Christianity via establishing and working for twenty years now with the Collective Empowerment Group (CEG).
Other unapologetic Black Conscious Christians, like D.C. Pastor Willie Wilson, stress and do the work of empowerment; they understand that, as Booker T. Washington said, “Not everyone goes to church, but everyone goes to business.”
Likewise, there are many non-Christians with what I call an “active” level of Black consciousness, who far exceed the work of some of our most noted Christian leaders, many of whom are only interested in their own self-aggrandizement and “prosperity.”
Imagine the progress we would make if we combined these groups’ efforts. Howard Thurman said, “What, then, is the word of the religion of Jesus to those who stand with their backs against the wall? … They must recognize fear, deception, and hatred, each for what it is. Once having done this, they must learn how to destroy these or to render themselves immune to their domination.”
“James Cone and the theologians of Black Consciousness in South Africa agreed that White missionaries had preached a form of Christianity that helped to sustain racist and colonialist oppression…But this was not the fault of the Gospel itself; it had resulted rather from an interpretation of it that served the selfish interests and sinful appetites of Europeans.” Black Power to Black Consciousness, University of California Press
Marcus Garvey’s words, referring to the “injunction of Acts 17:26,” said “If Negros are Black, and Negros are created in God’s own image, then God must in some sense be Black.”
It’s time for the “Collection.” Say, “Ashe” or “Amen.”