Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, 4 for John had been saying to him: "It is not lawful for you to have her." 5 Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered him a prophet. 6 On Herod's birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for them and pleased Herod so much 7 that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. 8 Prompted by her mother, she said, "Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist." 9 The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John's disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. --Matthew Chapter 14

“When you say, ‘The Black Church,’ what does that

mean?” I’ve been asked this, usually in anger, many times. “When you say, ‘The Black Church,’ what does that mean? What statistics are you using? What guidelines compiled this data? I read what you write and say to myself, ‘That’s not our church, that’s not what we do.’ The so-called ‘Black Church’ is as diverse as any other. How can you paint them all with the same brush?” This is valid point and one worthy of discussion. It never occurred to me that churches who do conduct themselves prayerfully and earnestly along biblical guidelines would assume I am talking to or about them. Looking through the archives, here, I can see the farther back you go (including the essay this message prefaces), the more intolerant and global my remarks seem, and I certainly apologize to anyone offended by an assumption that criticism of unbiblical conduct is being extended to any and all "black" churches. I am, as Paul was, as John The Baptist was, addressing specific behavior which God condemns. it is not my finger-pointing or even my judgment. It is a simple evaluation of behaviors and traditions in light of what the word of God actually says.

If we had a half million dollars to spend on it, we could conduct an in-depth historical and contemporary demographic study of the black church and, half a million dollars later, arrive at conclusions most of us already intrinsically understand. There are, of course, exceptions, and I agree it is inaccurate (if not specifically wrong) to use the blanket term, “The Black Church” as a catchall phrase, but I think grinding away at the term is mostly about splitting hairs. I am 40+ years into this Black Church experience. I know what I’m talking about. The thousands of people who visit the PraiseNet every month—whether they agree with me or not—know what I’m talking about. It is a shared experience.

Progressive and thoughtful black churches do exist of course. Our shared church experience tends to be more about religious culture than truth. we call ourselves Christians but many of us are simply Church Folk. Christians worship Christ. Church Folk worship the church, the literal institution. Sometimes they worship the pastor. But for Church Folk, at least as I reference the term, I am speaking of demagogues and legalists more invested in the church bylaws than the church itself--the people of God.

Truth convicts, and conviction has different effects on different people. To the humble, conviction brings revelation, repentance and change. To the proud, conviction brings anger and resentment, a beheading of the messenger [Matt 14:1-12].

We can split hairs and spend money, but at the end of the day, I believe when I say, “The Black Church,” there are images and sounds that come to mind. It is a known and shared experience, and it is my personal experience to which I am referring. Someone with a Ph.D. has dedicated years of study and erudition to their area of expertise. I've invested four decades in mine. People getting upset with me for falsely accusing them miss the point: you know and God knows whether or not I am talking about you. If I’m not talking about you, there’s no reason to get upset with me.

We shall attempt to move forward with increased clarity as to whom we are addressing, but it is my prayer that all of us will hear with God's heart, think with God's mind, and execute God's will. My calling is to encourage and support black churches, specifically, while also contrasting our values and traditions with what the word of God actually says in an unflinching and uncompromised manner. I do not criticize The Black Church out of personal bias or self-loathing. I do so, first and foremost, because God told me to. Because of its greatness, because of its richness as part of America's great legacy. It is a responsibility we should all take seriously and strive to protect and make great.

Christopher J. Priest
28 August 2011

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