As I write this, a line from the Prince song “1999” echoes in the recesses of my mind, “I was dreaming when I wrote this, forgive me if I go astray.” And though I’m not actually dreaming as I write this, I was awakened from my sleep with a sense of urgency to broach a subject that is of great concern to me personally. I do so in full awareness that it is a very sensitive topic for many, and it is my earnest prayer that I will not “go astray” in opining on it (Eph. 4:15a).
It could be argued, I believe, that the “black church”—a term which, according to PBS documentarian Marilyn Mellowes, “evolved from the phrase “the Negro church,” the title of a pioneering sociological study of African American Protestant churches at the turn of the [20th] century by W.E.B. Dubois”—was founded on anger; an anger that is entirely justified when understood against the biblical doctrine of the imago Dei (Gen. 1:27, 5:1).
As an institution, the black church came into existence by necessity not choice. It is the ecclesiastical by-product of an evangelicalism which, for decades, lived a lie, having been intoxicated by the moral rotgut of slavery, what Constitutional Convention delegate Gouverner Morris described in 1787 as a “nefarious institution”, as well as other forms of ethnic discrimination against God’s darker skinned image-bearers.
Conversely, abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison said in 1854 that, “If the slaves are not men; if they do not possess human instincts, passions, faculties, and powers; if they are below accountability, and devoid of reason; if for them there is no hope of immortality, no God, no heaven, no hell; if, in short, they are what the slave code declares them to be, rightly” deemed, sold, taken, reputed and adjudged in law to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners and possessors, and their executors, administrators and assigns, to all intents, constructions, and purposes whatsoever”; then, undeniably, I am mad, and can no longer discriminate between a man and a beast. The slave dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.”
It is in light of this discriminatory milieu that the aforementioned Dubois confessed that he regarded the [white] evangelical church as “an institution which defended such evils as slavery, color caste, exploitation of labor and war.” It is that shared perspective of [white] evangelicalism that served in 2008 as the impetus for black liberation theologian and former pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, to pronounce the anathematic “God damn America!” upon this nation because of its history of slavery.
It is an ethos to which I do not subscribe.
In a 2008 article published by The Atlantic, Jeremiah Wright declared, “The prophetic theology of the black church has always seen and still sees all of God’s children as sisters and brothers, equals who need reconciliation, who need to be reconciled as equals in order for us to walk together into the future which God has prepared for us.” There is much in Wright’s theology that I find problematic. But what I find most concerning is that he exalts the need to be reconciled to one another “as equals” above the need to be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:20).
Study closely the landscape of 21st-century evangelical social justice activism or, as I prefer to call it, “social justicism,” and you will find that much of what that agenda advocates ideologically is based on that same order of emphasis: reconciliation with each other over reconciliation to God. But that one point of contention notwithstanding, Wright does touch on something that I fear many black evangelical social justicians are either overlooking or ignoring altogether.
With all due respect to Wright’s utopian visage of humanity, the problem of the human race is that it has been attempting to “walk together” apart from God since the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3). In expressing their collective resentment and indignation over the current state of “racial discord” in America, one question none of these disgruntled black activists seem to be asking is: by whose standard of morality must you and I be reconciled to each other in the first place?
It was the Puritan Richard Baxter who said, “He who is not a son of peace is not a son of God. All other sins destroy the church consequentially; but division and separation demolish it directly.” Conversely, the nineteenth-century preacher and evangelist D.L. Moody said, “I have never yet known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.”
Contrary to the teachings of Scripture, the world would have us believe that we are capable in and of ourselves of bringing to fruition the kind of reconciliation being called for by many evangelical social justicians. But if that were remotely possible, I would not be writing nor, conversely, would you be reading, this commentary.
The Word of God declares immutably that, “the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God (Jas. 1:20).”
Reconciliation that results in fruit that is in keeping with a repentant heart does not happen in a vacuum (Matt. 3:8). It is only as you and I are brought into right relationship with God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ that we are reconciled to one another (2 Cor. 5:18-19). Only as our hearts are made new by the power of the gospel of Christ are the prejudicial attitudes that foster ethnic discord among us are rooted out and crucified at the cross of the One whose life we are to selflessly and consistently model before a lost world (Gal. 2:20; 6:14).
Anger-infused demonstrations and protestations do not accomplish this.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Darrell B. Harrison
 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
 The Autobiography of W.E.B. Dubois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life From the Last Decade of Its First Century
 Mere Christianity