Ebenzer’s Warnock talks about black church and failures of mission


The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock will sign copies of his book “The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness.”

After the 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services Sunday at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 400 Auburn Ave. N.E. Atlanta

The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock has never shied away from tackling tough issues - even about the black church.

He’s was front and center during the debate over the state’s execution of Troy Davis. He donned a hoodie at a Sunday service during the case of George Zimmerman, who was tried and later acquitted in the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. His church recently held a gun buy-back to get weapons off the streets.

“The black church was born fighting for freedom,” said Warnock, 44, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church. “So, to the degree we abandon that work of freedom fighting, we sell our very birthright and reason for being.”

Warnock discusses that mission in his first solo book project, “The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness.”

He will sign copies of his book after 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. services Sunday at Ebenezer, 400 Auburn Ave. N.E.

The son of pastors and the brother of one, Warnock was reared and nurtured within those walls of faith, which helped shape his sense of mission and “the desire to help the least of these.”

Warnock, 44, became pastor of Ebenezer in October 2005 after serving as senior pastor of Baltimore’s Douglas Memorial Community Church, assistant pastor at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church and as associate minister of Birmingham’s Sixth Avenue Baptist Church.

Warnock recently talked with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the role of the black church today and whether, in some ways, it’s lost its footing.

On the book:

The book addresses with what I see as the central tension in black Christianity. Namely, it’s emphasis on personal salvation, which comes from its evangelical roots and its emphasis on social transformation, which emerges from the struggle against slavery. I’m speaking of creative tension. One should inform the other, rather than contradict the other. When one’s spirituality is mature, then it ought to drive one’s struggle for justice in the world. Because justice is what love looks like in public.

On whether the black church has lost its way on social justice:

I’m very concerned that the black church has veered far away from its social justice roots. Too many of our churches are focused on the gospel of personal prosperity without a larger vision of social justice. I’m concerned that the black church has embraced a kind of narcissism and consumerism in the culture. Too many of our preachers have taken the tenets of capitalism and dressed them in the garb of the Gospel. There’s no commitment to what Dr. King called the beloved community. So, if we were committed to the beloved community , we would be fighting for worker rights, against mass incarceration and for a dignified path to citizenship for immigrants. The black church has been shamefully silent on these issues.

On a blueprint to get back on that path:

We need to reexamine our theology. We need to reexamine what it means to be the church. The church needs to reexamine its own sense of mission in the world. We need to take another look at what it means to be Christian and not just Christian, but what it means to be a person of faith. I’m calling the black church back to that rich heritage…what needs to happen is we need to have a serious conversation about personal piety and social justice. We also need to have conversations about the divide between pastors, operating in church and black theologians, who operate primarily in the academy.

On getting young people back in church:

The data is there. Part of what young people are looking for is social relevance. In my own ministry I have engaged issues that young people can relate to. I stood up for Genarlow Wilson when he was incarcerated. I stood up for Troy Davis. Young men who don’t go to church come up to me in our community. They tell me, ‘You know, I don’t really go to church but I watch your broadcast. I listen to you. I want to come to your church.’ They tell me I’m the real deal. When I ask what what do they mean by that, they say ’ I see you standing up for people - standing up for people like me.’ I think that should be the mission, not only of the black church, but every church.

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