Caring for 'The Least of These': An Analysis of Social Justice Activism in the Black Church in the Twenty-First Century
Austin, Deirdre Jonese
During slavery, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Church played a significant role in providing African Americans a platform through which they could fight for freedom and civil rights, and it served as a significant pillar in the community in a segregated society in which anti-black racism excluded black people from receiving what today people would consider citizenship rights. This role, according to Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in Righteous Discontent transformed the Black Church into a “counter-public.” Yet, the role of the Black Church in society today, especially as it relates to being a counter-public, comes into question with such articles as Dr. Eddie Glaude Jr.’s article, “The Black Church is Dead.” So, is the Black Church dead? Has it lost sight of its prophetic call to fight for justice? For this thesis, I examine what the Black Church both preaches and practices as it relates to social justice today through the case study of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, DC. I analyzed sermons, completed ethnographic research, and interviewed twenty members and leaders to gauge their scriptural understanding of social justice, assess the social justice work of the church, and discuss social justice work in their personal lives. Although not as visible and comprehensive as it has been historically, progressive black churches continue to do social justice work. Thus, the Black Church is still alive as some black churches are still serving as a counter-public in society today.
Culture & Politics
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