When it’s not being derided as pathological (eg. overly emotional and absent of ethics) or antiquated (eg. hyper-homophobic and anti-women), the black church is just as often taken as the embodiment of a prophetic tradition of Christianity (eg. Martin Luther King, Jr.). Though this might initially seem contradictory, black churches often confound easy categorization, which perhaps fuels a popular fascination all the more. For example, in recent marriage equality contests–and debates about LGBTQ equality, generally–black preachers have figured significantly in the media for their roles on both sides of legislative campaigns. Some might even say that black churches, and the clergy who lead them, have received an undue amount of scrutiny (and celebration), given that African Americans have never comprised more than roughly 10% of the United States population.
Even still, the prophetic is perhaps most commonly understood as a method of critique or community formation that stands in opposition to the powers that be. The prophetic, in short, lives and speaks truth to power. So, to side with the prophetic is to stand in solidarity with, and in service to, “the least of these.” We can find much evidence of this kind of prophetic activism in the contemporary movement for black lives. Preachers such as Traci Blackmon, Starsky Wilson and Osagyefou Sekou–who earlier this month was vindicated in the courts after being guilty of “praying while black”–have each marched and spoken powerful and beautiful truths to the powers of a police state that appears able to discard with black bodies with impunity.
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