This past Saturday while driving to the Carver Public Library in San Antonio, Texas I passed a number of prominent churches. The parking lots were packed, but when I arrived at the library the parking lot was empty, and only a few patrons were inside. It appears that churches now have become their own little fiefdom. Each has its membership, and they seem to carry on a life inside the walls of the sanctuary, separate from the life all around them. Very few people go to the library, but scores of folks find their way to the church. The question can be posed to the many separate fiefdoms, how often do the leaders encourage their members to visit the library? How often do they encourage their members to read a book, other than the Bible? Please don’t misinterpret what I am writing; there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading the Bible. But shouldn’t our ministers encourage their followers to visit the library every once in a while, and not only check out a book, but also read it?
This segues into another concern. Has the Black church effectively changed its mission from what it has been over the past one-hundred-years? The Black church has always taken a leadership role fighting for economic and social justice. The great Dr. Howard Thurman, Chaplain at Howard University in the 1930’s, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and Vernon Johns of Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama respectively, and of course the greatest of them all Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., all made social activism to eradicate bad laws and poverty key to their ministry.
As we watch the growth of the mega-church in the Black community surrounded by poverty, crime and debilitating living conditions for the residents, we must wonder have these churches lost focus. One time while sitting in the barbershop, I heard two men arguing as to whose minister had the biggest Mercedes Benz. It reminded me of a line in Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s book, “The Mis-Education of the Negro.” He writes that we must be somewhat discouraged when “we see a minister driving up to his church on Sunday morning in a Cadillac.” Today the Mercedes Benz and, in some cases the Jaguar, has replaced the Cadillac, but the result is the same. Woodson further writes, “While the people are feeling happy the expensive machine is granted, and the prolonged vacation to use it is easily financed.” Woodson referred to this mentality as a thoughtless drive back toward slavery.
C. Eric Lincoln in his seminal work, “The Black Church in the African-American Experience,” questions whether the church has moved beyond the poor. Mr. Lincoln, thirty years after Woodson asks, “Whether Black middle-class churches will effectively continue to devise programs, provide leadership, and reach out effectively to the truly poor?” In light of Dr. Lincoln’s writing, a final consideration that must be examined is whether we want to continue as a Christian dominated culture, or should its primary source for its sustainability be literature, art and the music. In other words, should our library parking lots be filled to capacity on Saturdays instead of the church parking lots? There is, no doubt, a great deal of knowledge in the Bible, but can’t we also find knowledge in the secular writings of the dynamic thinkers from the past? As you consider tithing to the church, consider pledging time to the library; both are important and are needed for a vibrant and healthy culture.