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Black Churches Matter

There is a general awareness that Black people in America are more likely to be Christians than white people. For the readers of the Christian press and attendees at Christian conferences, this does not seem to be the case. Most of the authors and presenters are white. With the turmoil about race following Travon Martin, Ferguson, Freddie Gray and others there has been a larger number of Black faces appearing in Christian media. At first, this seems to be a welcome change; however, there is a disturbing reality. Almost all of the Blacks that are in Christian media are members of white denominations are closely aligned with the white evangelical church. If they are not in a white denomination they are in what I have titled The Black Auxiliary of the White Evangelical Church. Conspicuously missing are members of Black denominations.

If one is unaware of the size and importance of Black denominations, this would not seem to be a problem. After all, most of the predominantly white denominations have significant numbers of Black members. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention has approximately 4,000 Black congregations. However, the Black denominations are a large and virtually invisible portion of American church life. The Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches in 2012 listed the following figures for the numbers of members of the 20 largest protestant denominations in America. The numbers are surprising:

Denomination name White Denominations Black Denominations
(thousands) (thousands)
Southern Baptist Convention 16,136
United Methodist Church, The 7,679
Church of God in Christ, The 5,499
National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc 5,197
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 4,274
National Baptist Convention of America, Inc 3,500
Assemblies of God 3,030
Presbyterian Church (USA) 2,675
African Methodist Episcopal Church 2,500
National Missionary Baptist Convention of America 2,500
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,278
Episcopal Church 1,951
Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc Churches of Christ 1,800
Churches of Christ 1,639
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church 1,400
American Baptist Churches in the USA 1,308
Church of God 1,074
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ 1,071
United Church of Christ 1,058
The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010
TOTAL 45,973 21,606

The Black denominations reflect 32% of the total members of the 20 largest denominations in America even though Black people only constitute 13% of America’s population.

Black churches matter. Especially in these times of racial tension, America needs to hear from the Black church. The perspective of the Black church leaders has always differed from Black members of white organizations. Unshackled from the necessity of considering the political and sometimes financial realities of challenging white church leaders view, authentically Black church leaders have often spoken prophetically about the ills that concerned our land in general and the Black population in particular. Many of the Black leaders who are often looked to for insights are fine Christians. My point is not to put them down but to highlight the fact that they do not reflect the views and insights of most Black Christians and their leadership. In this way, Christian media reflects the secular media. Just as most Black Americans would not identify Al Sharpeton, a media and self-designated Black leader most Black Christians  and pastors would not identify Thabiti M. Anyabwile or Darwin Gray as their leaders. Black churches matter.

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