Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise God for African-American Christianity

There are countless reasons why white Christians should praise God for the black church, and we saw some of them today at the stupendous Inaugural ceremony. Speaking for myself, my tears started to flow when Aretha Franklin stood up in her magnificent church-lady hat and spun out her famous voice across the millions in the Mall.

Was she worried about being politically correct? "Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrims' pride..." Her "fathers" owned slaves, and the Pilgrims are derided today by the bien-pensant, but she stood proudly on their legacy this morning and did not disrespect them by altering the words of the familiar patriotic hymn.

Then Joseph Lowery, one of the few Civil Rights lions still alive, closed the ceremony with as classic a Biblical benediction--ending in cross-cultural humor that touched all the bases--as one could ever hope to hear. Not for him any tender-minded scruples about quoting Scripture; he quoted it robustly, extensively, and in full confidence of the universality of its message.

I am not sentimental or romantic about the black church. It has its manifest failings just like every other branch of the people of God. But it should be celebrated gratefully for its generosity in connecting the hopes and fears of their own community to the hopes and fears of all the years, and its pitch-perfect way of incorporating political aspirations into the great sweep of the story of the salvation of our God.