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Christian Practice and Social Politics

African American news - Life and Religion - Christian Practice and Social PoliticsIn the 2007 text, God and Government in the Ghetto: The Politics of Church-State Collaboration in Black America (University of Chicago Press), Emory University political science professor, Michael Leo Owens, examines the relationship and engagement between African American religious leadership (mainly Christian) and politics.

Suggesting that certain social programs consequently result in some churches positioning themselves as strategic political operatives, Owens' work intimates that these fellowships function in the vein of political pragmatisms (a practical way of dealing with problems by offering solutions).

Moving away from the long standing civil rights tradition of protest politics (evident throughout the history of Black's response to social-civil injustice in larger society: particularly witnessed by protest marches, sit-ins and boycotting), more and more churches and religious leaders are functioning out of a political pragmatist paradigm, especially in light of the Obama presidency.

Recent Faith Based Initiatives provide support and funding for churches (via social and communal programs) to respond to urban social and communal needs. The lack of response to certain needs had led to current issue of nihilism and what Robert Franklin, in his book, calls a 'Crisis in the Village' (see his The Crisis in the Village, Fortress Press, 2007).

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (March 17th), one of Black America's foremost visible political protester, Rev. Al Sharpton, seemed to have successfully made a transition from political protester to political pragmatist. In the article, Sharpton has made no less than five trips to the Obama White House to discuss and advise on such issues as jobs and health care. As "Obama's Ambassador to the Black Community," to borrow from the Journal's heading, Sharpton's political maneuvering has sparked controversy within the Black community, among other voices most notably Tavis Smiley and Cornel West. The point of controversy appears to focus on old-school protest politics and new-school political pragmatisms, especially in the form of building social programs. This, according to Owens, has resulted in some churches (and leaders) as influencing social policy with regard to political domestic policy.

Throughout the Bible, God's people functioned as political pragmatists; from Moses instructing the Pharaoh to free God's people from bondage to actually leading them through the wilderness; Israel's judges judging the nations on behalf of God; to Jesus setting new policy with regard to the current Jewish customs and traditions regarding legislative purification, political pragmatist have a focused biblical model.

[Dr. Jamal-Dominique Hopkins is Scholar-in-Residence at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Atlanta, GA and is a Professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center also in Atlanta. He is the author of "Ecclesiastes" in the African Bible: Reading Israel's Scriptures through Africa and the African Diaspora (Fortress Press), 2009, and "Duty or Responsibility? The African American Evangelical's Identity" in the Journal of African American Christian Thought 1 (2009). Hopkins is available for preaching, lecturing, speaking or conducting workshops or seminars. You may contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .]


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