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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Black & Blue: Francis Grimke’ on the Afro-American Pulpit and Race Elevation

Hard to believe that this sermon is from around 1896...

What you will see below is an excerpt from the book, The Faithful Preacher. It is a sermon by an African-American minister, Francis Grimke’, where he deals with the issues that plague the African-American religious experience in terms of Christianity. Amazingly (as well as unfortunately), this message is extremely prophetic and timely. It appears as though the pastor’s warnings have gone largely unheeded by our community, with the rise various forms of religious ideologies that seem to have more traction in the present day climate of Christianity (i.e. Prosperity Gospel, Black Liberation Theology, etc.). I post this with the hope and prayer that all will be challenged and convicted by what they read here, regardless of color or status…

Soli Deo Gloria,

If we turn now and examine carefully the character of the ministrations of the Afro-American pulpit, its three leading characteristics will be found to be emotionalism, levity or frivolity, and a greed for money.

First, it is emotion. The aim seems to be to get up an excitement, to arouse the feelings, to create an audible outburst or emotion, or, in the popular phraseology, to get up a shout to make people “happy.” In many churches where this result is not realized, where the minister is unable by sheer force of lung power and strength of imagination to produce this state of commotion, he is looked upon as a failure. Even where there is an attempt to instruct, in the great majority of cases this idea is almost sure to assert itself and become the dominant one...

 The second characteristic of the Afro-American pulpit is levity, frivolity, a lack of seriousness. There is entirely too much place given to making fun, to joking, to exciting laughter. The minister too often becomes a jester, a buffoon, a clown. Thus all solemnity is destroyed, and the House of God in many cases becomes a mere playhouse for the entertainment or amusement of the people. This has become so prevalent in many of our churches that the people have come to expect it with the same regularity as they expect to hear preaching. If the minister after he has preached before closing does not make a fool of himself and set the people grinning, a sense of disappointment and incompleteness is felt. Again and again I have sat in churches and have been saddened and disgusted by what I have seen in this direction. And the most serious part of it all is that this levity comes at the very time when it is most baneful. If it came before preaching, it would not be quite so bad, though even then it would be a thing to be regretted. But coming as it does after the sermon, the effect is to entirely obliterate whatever good impression has been made and thus to defeat the very purpose for which the church has been organized. Sometimes I have said, what is the use of preaching—why not introduce the buffoon, the clown, at once, and when he is through bring the service to a close? 

The third characteristic of the Afro-American pulpit is a greed for money. Everything seems to be arranged with reference to the collection. The great objective point seems to be to reach the pocketbooks of the people. Here is where the greatest amount of interest is manifested; here is where there is the greatest concentration of energy. However tame the services may be up to this point, here everybody seems to wake up, and new life seems to be infused into everything, as if to say, “Now is the time when the real business for which we have met will begin.” There is no harm, of course, in raising money. The church cannot get along without it. Its just debts must be paid; its obligations must be met. The complaint is not against raising money but against the abuse of this, against the undue prominence that is given to it in the Afro-American pulpit. It overshadows every other interest. The ability to raise money is more highly esteemed than the ability to preach the Word effectively. The greatest financier, the most successful money gatherer, receives the best place and is most highly esteemed by those in authority. The result is, the church is rapidly becoming a mere institution for raising money, with preaching, singing, and praying being only incidental, and the ministry is rapidly degenerating into a mere agency for begging. The perceived problem is not how to elevate the people, how to bring them into the Kingdom of Christ, how to save them from their sins and sanctify them, but how to get their money.

A ministry whose chief characteristics are emotionalism, frivolity, and greed for money is not a ministry to inspire hope and is not a source of strength but of weakness. And this is the charge I make against the Afro-American pulpit today. It is not living up to its opportunities; it is not doing the work that it ought to do. It is not putting the emphasis where it ought to be put. It is frittering away its energies upon things of minor importance, to the neglect of those things that are fundamental and without which we cannot hope for any permanent prosperity. And this is why as a people we have made so little progress morally. The fault is due very largely to the character of our pulpit ministrations. If there had been less effort made at emotional effects and less jesting and less prominence given to finances and more time and attention given to the great fundamental principles of religion and morality (the bedrock upon which character is built) and to the patient, painstaking instruction of the people in the practical duties of life, the outlook would be very much brighter than it is today. The moral plane upon which the masses of our people move is confessedly not very high and in view of their past antecedents could not be expected to be high. But if they had had the proper kind of instruction from the pulpit, there is every reason to believe that they would stand very much higher today than they do. The thing most to be deplored in our condition today is not our poverty, nor our ignorance, but our moral deficiencies, and for these deficiencies the Afro-American pulpit is in a very large measure responsible. The very fact that our people have had a long schooling in slavery, the tendency of which has been to blunt the moral sensibilities and to degrade the whole moral nature, makes it all the more important that special attention should be given to their development in this direction and renders the character of much of our pulpit ministration all the more reprehensible.

In palliation of this it has been said, I know, that the people prefer the noise and excitement that come from ranting and bluster. There may be some truth in this, but the mission of the pulpit is not to cater to the vitiated tastes of the people and is not to give them what they want but what they ought to have—to lift up a standard for them, to set before them right and wrong, whether it accords with their tastes or not. The plea that the people prefer a certain thing can never be an excuse or justification for giving them that thing unless it is good in itself, unless it would be beneficial to them. The problem that the Afro-American pulpit has to solve is not what will be most congenial to the people but what will be most helpful to them; not what kind of preaching they like best but what kind of preaching will be the most effective in developing in them a true manhood and womanhood, in making them good fathers and mothers, good husbands and wives, good citizens and neighbors, what kind of preaching will yield the largest returns in purity, honesty, sobriety, sweetness, gentleness. And the pulpit that has the wisdom to answer this question intelligently and the courage to act out its convictions is the pulpit that we need and that we must have if “on steppingstones of our dead selves” we are “to rise to higher things” [Booker T. Washington].


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