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Changing Faces of 21st Century Black Churches and Politics


Changing Faces of 21st Century Black Churches and Politics

*This post is part of our online forum with the Pew Research Center. 

Pastors, leaders, and parishioners holding a prayer walk in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, Bronx, NY, June 10, 2020 (Shutterstock)

The February 2021 Pew report, “Faith among Black Americans,” is a 176-page collection of surveys conducted among 8660 Black adults mostly before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020. The report covers various topics such as affiliations, beliefs, practices, race, gender, sexuality, and politics.  It also includes excerpts from interviews with 30 pastors from about seven different denominations and a brief history. This report is the first of a planned series exploring “the rich diversity of Black people in the United States” (14).  The opening gloss, “Most Black worshippers attend predominantly Black congregations and see a role for religion in fighting racial injustices, but generational patterns are changing,” captures the essence of the survey results. The report’s emphasis on racial affiliation anchoring Black churches, political engagement, and generational change highlights some of the limitations of this conception of Black churches as political spaces. While it helpfully gestures to change between generations it overemphasizes a narrative of decline by underestimating the causes of change and misinterpreting the significance of these changes. To better understand the nature of Black faith today, three points should be kept in mind: 1) Black churches change; 2) Black church politics in any given moment is more than electoral engagement; and 3) Black churches are not just or even best visible through the pulpit.

The changing scope of Black churches is an important development to highlight rather than the declension narrative. In their in-depth interviews, several ministers acknowledged their efforts to change some of the services by decreasing the length, incorporating more music styles, and allowing or encouraging more casual dress. They also reported changing the culture of the churches to become more LGBTQ inclusive (145-148). They suggested these changes were made…

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