Do We Need a Eulogy or a Birth Announcement? Like most African-Americans my age and older, I have been touched by the virtue and disturbed by the failures of the African-American church. I have had some of the richest times of celebration and praise in local black churches. And I’ve also experienced some of the most perplexing and discouraging situations in this same institution. It was an African-American preacher who vouched for me when I was facing criminal charges as a rising junior in high school, making all the difference in my future. And it was the membership of a black Baptist congregation that nearly poisoned my love for the church when, as a new Christian, I witnessed the “brawl” of my first church business meeting. The preaching of the church gave me biblical tropes and themes for building a sense of self in the world. But a low level of spiritual living among many African-American Christians tempted me to believe that everything in the Black Church was show-and-tell, a tragic comedy of self-delusion and religious hypocrisy. I left the Black Church of my youth and converted to Islam during college. I became zealous for Islam and a staunch critic of the Black Church. I welcomed much of the criticisms of radicals, Afrocentrists, and groups like the Nation of Islam. I cut my teeth on the writing and speaking of men like Molefi Kete Asante, Na’im Akbar, Wade Noble, and Louis Farrakhan. The institution that helped nurture me I now deem a real enemy to the progress of African-Americans, an opiate and a tool of white supremacy. I had experienced enough of the church’s weakness to reject her altogether. The immature and undiscerning rarely know how to handle the failures of its heroes, to evaluate with nuance and critical appreciation. That was true of me before the Lord saved me. In July 1995, sitting in an African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) church in the Washington, DC, area, a short, square, balding African-American preacher expounded the text of Exodus 32. With passion and insight, he detailed the idolatry of Israel and exposed the idolatry of my heart. As he pressed on, more and more I felt guilty for my sin, estranged from God, and deserving of God’s holy judgment. Then, from the text of Exodus 32, he preached Jesus Christ, the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world and reconciles sinners to God. He proclaimed the cross of Jesus Christ, where my sins had been nailed and the Son of God punished in my place. The preacher announced the resurrection of Christ, proving the Father accepted the Son’s sacrifice. Then the pastor called every sinner to repent and put their trust—not in themselves—but in Jesus Christ alone for righteousness, forgiveness, and eternal life. It was as if he addressed me alone though I sat in a congregation of eight thousand. That morning, under the preaching of the gospel from God’s Word, the Spirit gave me and my wife repentance and faith leading to eternal life. I was a dead man when I walked into that building. But I left a living man, revived by God’s Word and Spirit.
Thabiti M. Anyabwile (Reviving the Black Church)