Finally, in a more practical vein, there are several challenges with which black churches are currently grappling, to varying degrees of success. Let me conclude by laying out a few, in the form of a question with several smaller prompts.
How will black churches (denominations, leaders, lay) . . . better yet, which black churches will:
- deal with the fact that pastors with TV ministries now often broker significantly more power than traditional denominational leadership (i.e., bishops)?
- engage the ever-increasing prominence of the Prosperity Gospel amidst the sharp decline and steady downturn of the economy in recent years?
- address the fact that black communities are increasingly fractured by a radical class divide that leaves more and more people concentrated on its underside?
- respond to the reality of an increasingly unemployable population, many of whom are/will be disenfranchised, as the government invests in a prison industrial complex disproportionately filled with black and brown bodies?
- find the creative resources to imagine a new, more egalitarian gender and sexual politics, a) more fully including women in the ranks of formal leadership and b) moving toward embracing LGBT persons as moral equals, not just as sinners to be forgiven or ambivalently accepted?
- be able to claim public authority as representatives of richly diverse -- along theological and political lines -- black communities?
- manage to maintain a particular prominence in American public life (or even garner special attention from the White House), especially now that African Americans are no longer the largest minority group in the nation?
Josef Sorett is an assistant professor of Religion and African-American Studies at Columbia University. He is an interdisciplinary historian of religion in America, with a particular focus on black communities and cultures in the United States. His research and teaching interests include American religious history; African American religions; hip hop, popular culture and the arts; gender and sexuality; and the role of religion in public life. He has published essays and reviews in Culture and Religion, Callaloo, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and PNEUMA: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. Josef is currently at work on two book projects: a monograph that offers a religious history of debates regarding racial aesthetics; and an edited volume that explores the sexual politics of black churches.