Yvette Carnell: Why Black Liberals Need to Reclaim The Black Agenda From The Black Church (Cont’d)

by Yvette Carnell

Last week I wrote about how the Black Church has neutralized black politics in America and made the case for the Black Church takingblack-chick-fil-a a back seat to black liberals. I argued this by noting that the Black Church 1) was never central to the Civil Rights movement and 2) is not a useful 21st century model for leadership. This short critique raised some eyebrows that I intend to straighten in a longer critique of the Black Church and its detrimental impact on politics.

Firstly, it may be helpful to understand that I’m not trying to restrict the Black Church’s right to believe whatever it sees fit. The Black Church has every right to adhere to its own doctrine, but when it takes on issues like gay marriage, to the exclusion of other more pressing issues, such as income inequality and the wealth gap,  it does its community a disservice. Also, when it aligns itself with right wing forces, as it did with the Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day, it engages in spectacle activism, where posing actually substitutes for politics.

Think about it: How many blacks are gay? At  most 10 percent? Compare that to the number of blacks who are negatively impacted by income inequality, the non-existent economic recovery, or mass incarceration. See where I’m going?

Adherence to morality politics is a dead end because it lays claim to resolving centuries old disagreements which can never be wholly resolved in the public sphere. Church doctrine casts homos*xuality as a sin, while public opinion is increasingly supportive of gay marriage. There is no middle ground here since Christian literalists are not influenced by polls or rationalism. Nevertheless, the faithful are drawn to moralistic battles because, although their impact on politics is nominal, these skirmishes have an air of spiritual warfare that satisfy the psychic desire of some Christians to suffer as Jesus did, by fighting a battle that cannot be won in the material world.

This desire for spiritual warfare and reward in the afterlife, pushed by the Black Church for decades, is the main reason why the church never took a leadership role in the Civil Rights movement. King himself lamented the “apathy of the Negro ministers” and their interpretation of Christianity, going so far as to accuse the Black Church of leaving blacks “disappointed at midnight.”

But in my estimation, King was too measured in his criticism. Historically it has not only been the case that the Black Church has been unhelpful to black politics, the Black Church has actually been a hindrance to the progression of Black Politics in America. Noted sociologist E.Franklin Frazier observed that the accommodationist and nonconfrontational Black Church’s heavenly focus “offered no threat to the white man’s dominance.”

In The Jesse Jackson Phenomenon, Dr. Adolph Reed assessed the role of the Black Church in the Civil Rights movement: “Of all movement led actions between 1955 and 1960, church based groups were responsible for only 12 percent; student groups, by contrast, led in 31 percent of the total. Between 1961 and 1965, campus and church based groups together accounted for only 13 percent of movement events, steadily declining to a low 6 percent in 1965.”

To play on a phrase from the 2012 presidential election: You didn’t build that. Even though preachers have long laid claim to positions of authority in black politics based on their organic linkage to the Civil Rights movement, it turns out that preachers were never central to the movement.

Furthermore, even though many of our activists and pundits – including Roland Martin, Rev. Al Sharpton and Michael Eric Dyson – derive from the tradition of the Black Church, I don’t see very much that they, or anyone else in that tradition, have done to expedite the maturity of black intellectual political thought or sustain a movement which shows the capability of mobilizing popular support for programs to alter the political structure over time. The only church which even partially fits the bill would be Black Liberation theology, a strand of Christianity not practiced by the majority of black Christians. And if you’re going to make the case that the Black Church has been at all helpful to black politics, then you must make an argument that is under-girded by something more than sentimentalism.

The sad truth is that the only reason the Black Church ever had a starring role in black public life was because, before the Voting Rights Act, we had no political life. Now the presence of culture crusaders, who substitute morality wars for politics, have a demobilizing impact on black movement politics.

Prosperity gospel may’ve taken root at some black mega-churches, but such materialistic gospel is no threat to income inequality. In fact, such nonsense teaches parishioners that they do not need government at all to reach affluence. This sort of neophyte understanding of the role of government in public life helps explain why there is no class agenda in the black community and why black politics is so unfocused. It’s  hard to take an active role in political life when you’re waiting for manna to fall from heaven.

Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Your Black World and Founder of BreakingBrown. You can reach Yvette via Twitter @YvetteDC or on Facebook.

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  8. Yvette Carnell tells it like it is! The proof is in the pudding – the black church (other than taking our money and profiting off our misery) is a waste of time.

    Can ANYONE explain WHY the black church has been so apathetic and turning a blind eye to what is going on in our community?

    This whole idiotic moaning about we just need to go back to the church; or my personal favorite, put your trust in God and it’ll be alright! What utter nonsense and complete drivel.

    If that’s all it took then WHY, after all these years after trying the peaceful way to protest are we still suffering double digit unemployment, mass incarceration, the unbelievable slaughter of unarmed black men/women, the destruction of our neighborhoods etc? WHY?

    WHERE is the black church in all of this? What the hell are they doing besides having their hands out? Well, this proves to me that they were NEVER meant to lead – and shouldn’t lead now.

    Enough of pulpit so-called leaders, it’s time for an intelligent reasonable approach to black leadership. The Dr. Kings of the world have had their turn – it’s now time for something new!

  9. Here is a profound from two cultural apologists, Dr. Carl and Karen Ellis. They NAIL it. Very thorough.


  10. Liberals are the main cause of the downward spiral of morality in this country. Maybe if they find another way of finding inner peace with themselves, we would not have the failure of families and father hood.

  11. Andy young. Abernathy. King. Jessie Jackson. All reverends. Hope gays paid you well for this article.

  12. When was the Black church ever in possession of the Black Agenda? What is the Black agenda? I’d like to know what it is. I actually believe the Black church could be a formidable ally in the pursuit of black liberation if there were some formidable leadership, but unfortunately, many pastors fail to see the big picture. Faith without works is dead so let us do a little more than pray to change our political and economic circumstances for the better. Great post, by the way.

  13. Slaughter, you can’t empower somebody whose desire in life is to stay out all night, get up at noon, eat some Apple Jacks, drink a 40-oz., smoke some weed, play some Spades, get the hookup, make some Kool-Aid, eat some Zaxby’s, take a nap, hit the club, stay out all night, get up at noon, eat some Apple Jacks, drink a 40-oz., smoke some weed, play some Spades, get the hookup, make some Kool-Aid, eat some Zaxby’s, take a nap, hit the club, stay up all night, get up at noon, eat some Apple Jacks, drink a 40-oz., smoke some weed, play some Spade, get the hookup, make some Kool-Aid, eat some Zaxby’s, take a nap, hit the club, stay out all night, get up at noon, eat some Apple Jacks, drink a 40-oz……….

  14. The purpose of the true Christian church is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The church’s agenda has never been about politics. But even as churches seek to educate and hopefully empower their communities, most folk won’t do what it takes to educate and empower themselves. They spend all of their adult lives in disillusion, complaining that the system has derailed them at every turn. It’s evident (even on this site)that many can’t even write as well as a 3rd-grader. Reading comprehension is nil. Math skills are basically unheard of past simple addition. why don’t you help your own damn selves by finishing high school and at least learning a technical skill. But no-o-o-o-o-o-o- that would mean that you’d have to do something for your darn selves. Get used to living a life of lack.

  15. This is an excellent assessment of where we are as a people and why many of our most pressing issues are not being addressed. I agree that the Black “Christian” Church actually been a hindrance to the progression of Black Politics in America. However, the Black Muslim Church has been right on target with their message and their positions. The Black Muslim church has been dealing with the incarseration of many of our black men for years by getting them off of drugs and giving them employment. Now granted some of their positions are a little extreme and hard to swallow but their message is clear. White supremacy and it affects must be dealt with head on without any apologies.
    The Christian Black Church has allowed Republican Black men to convert their church parishes into Charter school, Day No Care institutions with the primary objective to get paid. The could care less about the masses of poor, under employed, black folks struggling to make it our here. There are a few exceptions to this but they are far and in between. Dr. Cornell West is a “Christian” but is fighting the good fight with brother Travis Smiley to address many of our core issues of poverty and unemployment. Yet they are not universally embraced by the Christian leadership. But the bottom line is that we will all have to be accountable for calling out our politicians who are getting paid to do something year are doing very little on our behalf. We must all get involved with organizing and confront the monster from all ends.

    Craig Garner

  16. Peter D. Slaughter

    How about all the top black church people and the top black liberal people come together in a massive meeting private( keep y t out) put together a new Liberation Agenda- paradigm beyond slavery and 1960’s civil rights and put aside all the religous arguing over the bible,scriptures and end of the world talk.
    Then take this and start empowering poor black people in the hood. So they can stop drinking,using drugs, doing crime, being lazy,scared and pathetic to help themselves.

    • The first part of your comment is straightforward, sounds sharp and gets to the point, offering a plausible solution to the problem. The problem is the second part, castigating black people as if they are the only ones doing crime, being lazy, using drugs and alcohol, etc. Keep in mind many of the problems you mentioned were not started by us nor are the a part of our true nature. While I’m not saying we as black people don’t bare some of the blame, we must keep in mind who started this assault and continues to implement policies and programs to keep black down. This is key to improving out situation.

  17. Once again, another attempt at revisionist history. It’s really sad to see so-called black intellectuals, academia, politicians (many of whom the Black Church birthed) are now attempting to discredit and dismantle the role the church played in Civil Rights and the black community today. But then, one must not be surprised. The LGBTQ community and their ilk know all to well that if they can destroy the power and influence of the Black Church they will succeed in furthering their cause. It is very troubling indeed to witness. The war will be more than one that is spiritual. And those who have launched their assault against the Black Church will regret their part in their attack against it.

    • Then how do you refute Dr. King’s comment about how apathetic the black church was to the true progression of African Americans in this country? They receive their biggest payout in black MISERY! Why would they want to mess up their money payout?

      How do you explain during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, SNCC coming into being because of it’s DISILLUSIONMENT with the black church and where/how it was leading the movement?

      Finally, how do you explain the black church’s LACK of involvement now? What is it doing to further the cause of the movement? It is very CLEAR that they (most) are taking a backseat and basking in the glory of days gone by. It certainly explains WHY we haven’t gotten anywhere – lately.

      Lastly, the message from the black church is mainly about money (creep for a dollar and the rest of that ilk); they don’t give a damn about African American’s progression. The photo above is SHAMEFUL and every idiot black person holding a chick filet bag should be bitch slapped – hard. Standing with those conservative ass holes who have done their utmost in ensuring WE don’t get ahead. WHEN are we going to let go of that mammy pappy I sho does luv ya master slave thinking mentality?!

  18. The problem with this post is the assumption that those masquerading as “the church” are indeed the church. Because wolves in sheets clothing have hoodwinked society-at-large and the people into believing they represent the Gospel doesn’t mean the Church (ie. the Body of Christ) is of no social efficacy. Rather, the tables of the money hangers simply need to be overturned and those who turn the House of The Lord into a den of thieves, run out of the Temple. Turning over our fate to Black Liberals (whoever they are) doesn’t seem to be a viable solution as that simply amounts to believing humanity has greater efficacy than God. #HeavenHelpUs

  19. Pontif, also, you can no more prove the world is billions of years old than a doorknob.

  20. Pontificating, please know that not everyone who says they are Christians truly are, and even at our best, we were never meant to be perfect. We get your disdain for us. We love you anyway. It’s funny though, how nonbelievers say they get sick and tired of being preached to, but then you go on to deliver us a sermon about the ridiculousness of our faith. We love you anyway.

  21. Wow. All I can say is Slavery did a real mindf*%$ on our people. The Original Man and Woman have been on this 4.5 Billion year old planet for at least 300,000 years. Earth is not 6 to 10 thousand years old and humans didn’t live with dinosaurs like the Flintstones. The Devil did not plant those dinosaur bones to trick you. All of you Black people that have to believe in some God, I always wonder why you choose the God of your slave master and his book. You have African tribes that go back 100’s of thousands of years but you choose to believe something that was beaten into you after your language, culture and identity were stolen as the truth? I always ask the question of every Black Christian I meet who wants to recruit me into their cult. What was the name of the Black African tribe that got on some slave ship praising Jesus? Why did it take 300 years for their cries of torture, rape, murder and kidnapping to be heard by some all-powerful loving God if he is real? Never have gotten a real answer that wasn’t more magical mental gymnastics. The only solution I can come up with is separation. Trying to convince those who suffer from religious schizophrenia that they believe in fairy tales is a useless act for the delusional. Let them be the hypocrites who call you a leftist communist Yvette and at the same time say they love Jesus Christ who told them to give to the poor and share everything. Let them have children out of wedlock, sex out of wedlock, cheat on their spouses and still condemn others to hell like they aren’t going to the same imaginary place. Give up Yvette, there is no cure for the religious brain disease until these people are dead and the quiet coldness of sitting in that pine box knowing they waisted all of that precious life. Instead of actually doing something, they waited on their invisible man to solve their problems.

    • God is good in us all. Stevie sang it truthfully. Good or God is not delusional. Those who don’t believe in god think they are God – the biggest delusion. Not thinking there is a force greater than you is the basis or narcissistic egotism. That’s why they are called shrinks. If you can create a universe then you prove me wrong. Until you do you will lose your mind THINKIN YOU ARE THE MOST ,BADDEST, POWERFUL THING IN THE UNIVERSE. You make good points otherwise.

    • Say Pontificating, That statement you put out is awesome..

    • Pontificating –

      This comment was DOOOOPE.

      I have LONNNG said the very same things and have asked the same questions. It’s crazy, because as a Black female, I am -expected- to be a Christian woman, and am derided, chided, and looked at suspiciously when I tell them openly and without shame that I am an Atheist. Very Christian-like behaviour, right?

      This entry is going into my quote book. Thanks!

  22. Thanks for speaking truth to power again and again. There are so many black christians and black church refugees who were raised in the church who have been saying what you discussed for years. Its hard to bridge these gaps and have these discussions with family and friends. Thanks for leading the way and helping to move the culture along. As a writer and activists your work continues to challenge me as well as give me strengths. Stand on your words and trust that for all the crazy recations and attacks, there are thousands more of us grateful for the healing your words contribute to.

  23. You Are Right About The Black Church But Your Reasoning Is Not Sound!

    (Sorry for such a long response) I was actually there in the sixties and seventies, and participated in the marches. I marched in Tallahassee, Fl with Rev. C. K Steele who was a co-founder of the SCLC, King’s organization’s through which he raised funds for his campaigns. I was there during the era of “boom, boom, Black Power,” Rap Brown, Stokley Carmichael, and Malcolm X. As a student at Florida A and M University at the time, I can speak with some authority about the role of the black church in the movement. You are absolutely right when you say the black church as a whole did not play a major role in the movement. There was usually one or two, maybe three churches in any given locale that stood up to Jim Crow during those days. However, there were other churches within the same areas that may have had supportive roles, in that sometimes they offered financial support and provided marchers from time to time. But it was the lead churches which did all the heavy lifting; if not for them the movement would have fallen apart. Leadership back than is no differ, than leadership today, there were a few men like Rev. Steele, and Rev. King who were willing to risk their lives and financial well being for righteous causes. Just as they were not in large supply during that era, these type leaders today do not exist in large numbers. Many folks are of the opinion, that the black population participated in the movement in large numbers also, that is an incorrect conclusion. I would say in general it was perhaps 10%, or maybe 15% of the black population was active in movement. They were the young men and women who actually marched and confronted the shotguns carried by white law enforcement. However, as with the church, there were those blacks who supported us verbally and sometimes financially. Here is where I think your reasoning is little off; it is not the churches we should look to for support as such, because the black church today is probably no different than the black churches of sixties or seventies. It is responsible leadership within black churches across the country, that you should focus your attention. We just don’t have a good group of Pastor Leaders who are interested and knowledgeable about the real issues of importance facing the black community today. Because I am actively involved in the movement today for economic equality, what we face firstly is the daunting task of coming up with a solution to our problem. Back in the sixties and seventies, Jim Crow laws and state sanctioned discrimination were obvious objectives we went after and demanded change. But today, leaders from different strata within our community have to come together, and agree on solutions to our problems that will economically set us free. This is not as hard we think. We live in the greatest capitalist country in the world. We as blacks ought to know, the white business power structure knows and can put in place economic measures that can economically establish and free us. Of course they are not going to come to us and say, this is what you should demand or this is what you can do, we have to do that ourselves. I guess what I am really saying is this and this may sound radical to some and logical to others, we as a nation of black folk have to tell White America we want to come to the table and negotiate a peace treaty. We are sick and tire of being disadvantaged and these are our demands, http://www.sslumpsum.com, for peace. And so it goes!

  24. Yeah Yvette you kinda surprised me here. I know. Gays have all black’s scared. They control the media and your livelihood therefore. Interesting that liberals are so intent on tyrranical suppression of free
    speech. I’m into my native history and pride and understand that this political system is an abberration founded on mass murder and
    brutality. Republicans nor Democrats therefore have any legitimate basis for existence. Until you all realize that this fabrication of a society is currently in the throes of natures reckoning and correction of the fabrication, you all have no basis for any real dialogue or debate. If you don’t think this process is happening you are the biggest fool on the planet. The weather. The economy are in disarray. The only thing that matters now is what are we going to do to survive. Is it the same system? Well its being destroyed. That my friend is reality. We must find the best way through this. Those who offer real options are not the problem but the real patriots. Peace.

  25. The African American church was never meant to be a political force. As a matter of fact, should the churches start to take align themselves with politcal entities, they will lose the right to remain tax-free. The last thing we want is churches receiving their mandates from the federal government. Also, for many worshippers, their affiliations with their church homes are the only reprieve from they get from the drudgery they face all week long and for some of them, even their at-home situations are painful and unhealthy.

    The purpose of the Christian church is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In so doing, even the smallest church congregation will usually reach out to the widows and orphans and others who are less fortunate. Parishioners at my church are encouraged, and even admonished, to become aware of civic and social issues and to contribute to the world at large, starting first in our homes. We are encouraged to know the issues in our communities and to find out how the way we vote will impact them. We are further encouraged to know the candidates, pray mightily, and vote our convictions. Just as my political beliefs and practices cannot provide for my spiritual needs, I would be sorely disappointed should my church become a political forum.

    As far a gay liberation, Christian churches are bound by the scriptures. Most of us do not mind that. Progressive congregations have come a long way in trying to accept that people adapt many lifestyles that are not in alignment with what we believe. While we don’t agree with their choices (and we are entitled to do that), true Christians welcome them with open arms and seek to convey Jesus’ message to the disenfranchised, the poor and others who are generally unaccepted and that is, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me,” (John 12:32).

    If you expect that the church will put off Christ’s agenda for a political one, you are out of touch with the church’s reality.


    notice 90% of the people in the picture are women…..

    i forgot i cannot talk about that.

    move on carry on nothing to see here.

  27. You are a raving communist, left wing lunatic who believes everything the Democratic plantation owners tell you. You literally put politics over relationship with Christ, and never in your flaming liberal life have you ever stopped to to ponder, “Is GOD right, or am I right?”. In your mind, it’s so much easier to say GOD and His church should shut up and let you and your perilously liberal friends commandeer the black ship into oblivion.

    You and this entire website only exist to profit off keeping black people angry at the white Republicans and listening to you for your “advice” on how to fix our problems that you helped create yourself. You make excuses for failure and always seek to blame your political opponents than yourselves.

    Your only solution to “black” problems is to elect more Democrats. We give the Democrats 95% of our vote every election and get absolutely nothing in return. This allows the Democrats to take our votes for granted, and allows the Republicans to give up hope trying to outreach us because they don’t think we’ll ever change.


    I can’t wait to hear more stories about how we should all learn from Alinsky, Karl Marx and how much racism is holding us back and how we need to learn from you brilliant scholarly types about how to live our lives. And oh yeah, it’s not that you’re anti-GOD or church, it’s just that they’re not as smart as you.

    I’d willingly debate you on every subject if I ever had the chance, and I prove to any size audience how you’re absolutely wrong.

    Have a blessed day