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Faithfully Podcast 13: Prosperity Gospel Holding The Black Church Back?

In this episode of Faithfully Podcast, host Nicola Menzie reports on a Black Lives Matter panel discussion featuring an activist and two ministers, one of whom believes the prosperity gospel has been holding black churches back from being prophetic witnesses.

Jesus is black. Sorry to burst your bubble.”

Those were the words uttered by the Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, the Susan D. Morgan Professor of Religion at Goucher College, during a panel discussion at the Religion News Association 2016 conference in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Douglas, who also serves as canon theologian at Washington National Cathedral, was joined at the conference by local pastor the Rev. Kip Banks and activist and writer Ryan Herring for a panel discussion entitled “Race, Religion & #BlackLivesMatter in the Post-Obama Era.”

The panelists were asked, among other things, about the role of the black church in the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If we have to ask ‘where is the black church,’ then there’s a problem within the black church,” Douglas said.

Herring, for his part, suggested that if the church can’t be a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, then it should be an ally. It has to be more sympathetic and have tough conversations with congregants and families, he said.

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The Rev. Kip Banks, pastor of the East Washington Heights Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., said that what’s going on in society today goes back to “the original sin of slavery.” He reminded attendees that “the black church was born out of the desire to say that black lives indeed matter.” And racism isn’t going away, he added, until all of America answers the question: “Am I a man?

I spoke with the Rev Kip Banks about how his church is affected by the Black Lives Matter movement, and why he believes the prosperity gospel has distracted some black churches from their role in prophecy and protest.

Banks is also former general secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, the church convention of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. He explained that East Washington Heights Baptist Church is 132 years old and an African-American church where most of the members come from the community.

Here is an excerpted transcript of Banks’ remarks on Faithfully Podcast (recorded September 23, 2016).

Nicola: Speak a little bit about how the Black Lives Matter movement, and maybe not the movement but the issues at the movement speaks to, has personally affected you and your congregation and your community.

Banks: The Black Lives Matter movement as we discussed today is critical to me as a pastor, to my community in Washington, D.C. and also to our nation. Fundamentally the question is will we treat all of our citizens fairly? It’s a question that we struggled with from the very beginning of our nation, and our nation was founded and the Declaration of Independence was written that we find all men are created equal. However, the irony of that is that in the document and in the Constitution as well, African Americans are not considered fully human. And this week they’re opening the new African American History Museum here in Washington, D.C., and the great thing is that this museum is going to expose the ironies and expose the cracks in the foundations of our democracy.

Nicola: You mentioned that this nation is a nation founded on the principle of religious freedom, right and faith? And Christina still have a pivotal part in the founding of the nation, it terms of the structures that were built and the systems put in place to help keep things going. So I wonder then, what’s going on with the church and Christians with this line that you can draw from our founding up till now where we haven’t really, I don’t want to say put these issues to rest, but we’re still wrestling with these issues. Why do you think we’re still wrestling with these issues?

Banks: I think we’re still wrestling with these issues in particular in the black church because there has been a rise in the prosperity gospel and so — there’s a line from the great hymn, the National Negro Anthem (‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’) written by James Weldon Johnson which says ‘drunk with the wine of the world, Lord we have forgotten Thee.’ So I believe we forgot fundamentally what leads to true satisfaction and joy and that is just being in a relationship with the Lord and serving others. I believe it’s too much of a focus in the church on prosperity and personal advancement and wealth when we really should be concerned about how can we care for the least of our brothers and our sisters.

Listen to Faithfully Podcast 13: Black Lives Matter, The Black Church and The Prosperity Gospel via SoundCloud.


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