rev-joaquin-willis_web.jpg“The Black Church is Dead,” says Professor Eddie Glaude Jr., Ph.D., chair of African-American studies at Princeton University.
A firestorm ensued after Glaude’s views appeared on  The storm has gone viral, triggering commentary in no less than The New York Times and The Washington Post’s web-based “The Root.”

I wonder whether Glaude is “kicking against the pricks,” a phrase Christ used when accusing Saul of persecuting Him and His church (Acts 9:5 King James Version). 

Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

Christ replied, “I am Jesus, whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”

Christ’s words were insightful.   

The pricks (or goads) are plowing implements. A goad is a whip used to drive oxen; a prick is the plow blade used to break ground. Christ was sent to drive us and to cut through our sins. Christ asked Saul why he would kick against Him, and suggested he was goading and cutting the wrong people. To honor and show love to the Father, Saul needed to join Jesus.

As a pastor, I regret hearing the sound of truth in Glaude’s belief that, “The idea of this venerable institution [the church] as central to black life and as a repository for the social and moral conscience of the nation has all but disappeared.” And, “The idea of a black church standing at the center of all that takes place in a community has long since passed away.”

Like it or not, the professor is right on.

It is apparent in Acts (9) that Jesus knew Saul was not evil, as I know that Glaude means no harm to the black church.  Jesus knew Saul loved God, and that Saul was misinformed by wayward Pharisees. Many who criticize the black church truly love the church, and seek to bring hope and good news to a hurt people. 

Glaude also quotes from E. Franklin Frazier’s book, The Negro Church in America:  “In a word the Negroes have been forced into a competition with whites in most areas of social life and their church no longer serves as a refuge within the American community.”

In greater numbers, African Americans are attending churches pastored by Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, or Jentzen Franklin, all of whom are white.  But we are also witnessing increasing numbers of white Americans attending black churches pastored by Bishop T. D. Jakes, the Rev. Fred Price and, formerly, the Rev. Howard Thurman.

What is the answer to building strong black churches?  Glaude suggests that “black churches mobilize in public and together call attention to the pressing issues of our day on behalf of those who suffer most.”

I agree.

We find another recommendation in Christ’s command to Ananias in Acts (9:15): “Go! This man (Saul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” 

I believe that Glaude, my brother in Christ, is a servant of Christ, an instrument of change. While Glaude may be “kicking against the pricks” by writing an obituary of the black church, he is provoking us to think, and to act.  If the church had developed as Christ intended, would we need a “black church?” 

Maybe it is time for the real church, colorblind and all-inclusive, to be reborn, and for all of us to stop “kicking against the pricks.” 

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami.  To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at ­