Opinion: The incredible legend of the black church

Michael Harriot, The Root | 2/20/2017, 9:15 a.m.
They were actually important to the black community!

Today, for Black History Month, I’d like to tell you about something that has been long forgotten in the legacy of Africans in America. You may have heard these stories and dismissed them as fabulous folklore or passed-down legends that bloomed into fable over the years, but trust me, this ain’t no Paul Bunyan fairy tale. Everything I’m about to tell you is 100 percent true, with no alternative facts sprinkled in.

You might want to sit down for what I’m about to tell you:

A long time ago, all across this country, there used to be—OK, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but stay with me for a minute. In black communities everywhere, there were preachers, pastors and clergymen who were honest, trustworthy men of God. They were the heads of the most important institution in the entire black universe: the black church. And both the churches and these men were—now, here’s the part that’s going to blow your mind:

They were actually important to the black community!

I heard you gasp. Don’t look at me like that. I know it is hard to believe, but I swear it’s true. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I even visited a few of them, back when I was a young man. Stop laughing. I’m not even kidding.

I knew you wouldn’t believe me, but I understand. You probably roll through black neighborhoods and see churches on every corner and wonder how there can be so many problems in black America when we have these well-attended, amply funded, faith-based institutions sprinkled throughout every place people of color live. I’m sure you’re wondering how we could have trustworthy men and women leading what amounts to community town hall meetings every Sunday, yet fail to produce any real results?

I ask myself that question all the time.

But you should know, I’m not lying when I tell you they used to be very relevant to our struggle. They weren’t always run by con men and gold diggers. I’m not talking about things my grandmother told me, or regurgitating something I once read in a World Book Encyclopedia. I’ve seen black preachers and clergy go from home to home spending time with the disabled. I remember how they prayed with the sick, consoled grieving families and even—why are you laughing so hard?

OK, I know you’ve seen Creflo Dollar’s poker-faced pleas when he explained how he needed a bigger private jet to do the Lord’s work. I thought it was hilarious, too. Well, to be honest, before that video, I had never actually seen Creflo Dollar, so I thought it was an ingenious sketch satirizing the black church. I asked who this new black actor on Saturday Night Live was, until someone informed me that it was real. (Also, most people aren’t aware that during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he, too, asked the Pharisees to upgrade him to a G5. You just can’t expect the son of God to fly commercial. Not with 12 disciples and Mary Magdalene. Do you know how much those tickets would cost?)