Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why Social Consciousness Must Be A Part Of The Church

This post was prompted by a combination of observations and reflective thoughts over the last couple of weeks. The reflective piece was actually prompted by an article titled Governor Christie Warned About Visiting Church Location appearing in NJ Pulse, a local newspaper seeking statewide coverage. Within the article an unnamed source made the following commentary: 
"St. Luke's is not a church. It's a political arena to satisfy their (St. Luke's officials) lust for power in the Democratic Party, which I happen to be of."  
As I write this post as a member of St. Luke Baptist Church since birth, I do not write it from a defensive standpoint because I do not have to defend such statements as St. Luke's eighty-six year history in the city of Paterson, NJ and the world speaks for itself. The bulk of her life was pastored by the Rev. Dr. Albert M. Tyler (62 years) and for the last sixteen years has been shepherded by Rev. Kenneth D.R. Clayton. The narrow mindedness of the commentary, however, did make me think in terms of how the many roles of the church are misunderstood.

The church MUST have a social consciousness. We must go beyond the walls of our individual sanctuaries and denominations and address the issues of human beings.Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of this in his speech delivered exactly one year to the date in 1967 prior to his assassination in 1968, titled "Beyond Vietnam"  This address was delivered to the Clergy and Laymen Concerned about Vietnam, at Riverside Church in New York City. An excerpt from the speech appears below: 

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on. 
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
In 2007, NPR as a part of a special series called Religion in Black America included a segment  on Social Consciousness in the Black Church and also expounded upon through interviews with pastors their thoughts on the role of the church.  Show host FARAI CHIDEYA asserts that from the sanctuary to the soup kitchen, religion and civic responsibilities have always been closely linked. An excerpt from Pastor John Hunter of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles during the interview is as follows:

Pastor HUNTER: Absolutely. We believe that our theology is one that, not only ministers to the soul, but to the entire person. Thus, we have a housing for over 3,000 families, economic development, incubator business programs, micro loan programs, all kinds of economic development vehicles that encourage thrift, economic development entrepreneurship, employment, the whole array of needs that low income families face.
So as I walked through St. Luke Baptist Church this morning observing our "Jewels" ministry, a ministry targeting our young girls, and thought about our "Boys Bootcamp," and I spoke with one of the members of the church who was cooking a dinner to be delivered from St. Luke to a prison ministry service this afternoon and as I reflected on all of the ways that St. Luke Baptist Church has helped and continues to help the city of Paterson; the state of New Jersey; the United States of America and the world; I thought back to that statement in that little newspaper made by that narrow minded unnamed source that said "St. Luke is not a church." St. Luke is indeed a church and social consciousness is and has always been a part of her fabric. She has always been about social consciousness from the days of Rev. Tyler providing hot chocolate to the students at Public School Number Six in the 30's to hosting Governor Chris Christie in 2013. St. Luke has always ministered to the "entire person" that  Pastor Hunter refers to in his NPR interview.

There is too much pain, poverty and brokenness for the church not to be socially conscious. The Church is not and ought not just be about "jumpin' and hollin' " as my mother can say. We must be about economics. We must be about politics. We must be about poverty and homelessness. We must be about social consciousness. I welcome your thoughts in the comment section of this blog and you are invited to follow me on Twitter @thinkcritical01.

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