St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church    Raleigh, North Carolina

May 2016: Reflections: African-American Pastoral Theology and Care Within A Beloved Community

Reflections: African-American Pastoral Theology and Care Within A Beloved Community

Rev. Ronald L. Ivey

                                                              As it relates to the African-American community at-large and African American Pastoral    

                                                              Theology and Care what immediately comes to mind is Dr. Martin Luther King’s

                                                               question, “Where Do We Go From Here – Chaos or Community?”[1]  Fifty years later King’s

                                                               question still revisits communities of African ancestry and particularly the “Black

                                                               Church”[2] doorsteps. Today depression, suicide, low self-esteem, identity crisis, mental health,

                                                               mass incarceration in the 21st Century threatens to detain the African-American communities

                                                               in a state of perpetual chaos. Due to the rise of the aforementioned daunting challenges, the

                                                               discipline of African-American pastoral theology and care must respond. Increasing the number

                                                               of African-American pastoral counselors is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to fight this

                                                               trend, but it can only be done within the context of a community.

The Old Testament Psalmist supports this claim, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”[3] The psalmist suggests when people work together as a community, only then is unity and problem solving achievable. Only a community can adequately provide answers and implement intentional systemic programs to address their problems within a particular framework. J. R. Burck’s article, “Community, Fellowship, and Care,” within a Christian context states, “the term community refers to the obligations, gifts, or services that persons bring to one another; thus, what they have, they have partly ‘in common…’ The community is similar to a covenant, which suggests is an overcoming of barriers between strangers and identifying of ways in which they can be resources for each other (to love one another)."[4]

However, just any community template isn’t the answer.  The Beloved Community paradigm, I argue, is the correct framework for African American Pastoral Theology and Care to succeed in addressing the challenges confronting African-American communities and the Black Church must play a pivotal role. Iconic African-American theologian, Howard Thurman describes the “Beloved Community” as the following:

“The Beloved Community is created by the quality of the human relations experienced by the people who lived within it. The term itself is an abstraction and becomes concrete in a given time and place in the midst of living human beings. It cannot be brought into being by fiat or by order; it is an achievement of the human spirit as men seek to fulfill their high destiny as children of God…”[5]

Also, this author argues that the African slave militants and heirs were the original chief architects for developing the Beloved Community framework for the Black Church. It is this writer’s contention that the slaves’ struggle against the institution of slavery and “institutional racism” birthed the Beloved Community paradigm for people of African ancestry in America out of the womb of resistance for liberation.[6] The antecedents of that spiritual and psychological battle contributed significantly to the formation of Howard Thurman's and others characterization of the term Beloved Community. Beneath the veneer of physical enslavement, the African slave militants and heirs of this movement waged an inner battle on the spiritual and psychological front against the precepts of “whiteness over blackness.”[7] That is to say that whiteness is superior, and blackness is the embodiment of theodicy.[8] Thus, this “peculiar institution”[9] called slavery, also gave birth to Black self-hatred.

African-American Pastoral Theology and Care has already begun making efforts toward reversing the process of negative black self-worth.  Noted African American pastoral care theologian, E. P. Wimberly, in his article,“Black Identity and Consciousness” said,

“Black identity and consciousness, refers to the effort by black people in the U.S. to affirm their self-worth as whole human beings in the face of negative ascription, behavior, and feelings toward them resulting from white racism…The major implications of this new racial identity and consciousness for pastoral counseling is the need to develop conceptual and therapeutic models of wholeness…Pathological theories have largely focused on the disorganized aspects of a selected population in the black community and have neglected and ignored the  overall strength of the total black community.”[10]

The writer contends that the creation of the Beloved Community paradigm through the early slave black church provided an opportunity to reaffirm their sense of self-worth. Christianity was not an opiate, as some would imply, but it became the spiritual ethos for healing, moving toward wholeness and affirmation within a nurturing community under challenging odds.

The Black Church still stands in the gap as a Beloved Community fighting to reverse the ill effects of black self-hatred by providing informal and formal African-American pastoral care in the area of mental health since its inception. Certainly, the Reverend Floyd Flake at Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Cathedral in New York, located in Jamaica Queens is a sterling example that continues this enterprise of meeting that community’s need for mental health services. Allen Cathedral includes the “Circle of Healing Ministry, Bible Study Pastoral, Grief Share Support Group, Heart to Heart Ministry, Marriage Enrichment, Recovery Through Christ (Freedom from Addictions), Singles Ministry and Single Parents Ministry”[11] to name a few.  

In conclusion, Robert M. Franklin, in his book Crisis in the Village, concurs with this author’s claim that “the ministry of…community transformation” will only occur when the “congregation becomes a leader or a co-leader in crafting a vision of the beloved community ministry.”[12] I would reframe his quote by stating that all involved in African-American pastoral theology and care and black churches must set the tone and set the “praxis” in motion to retain the Beloved Community paradigm. All must engage as partners in this endeavor, all acting as “agents of change and acts to transform and to be transformed by the reality acted upon.”[13]

Bibliography

Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in

            America. New York: Vintage Books: Random House, 1967.

Cook, Samuel DuBois ed.  Howard Thurman: “Desegregation, Integration, and the Beloved

            Community,” in Benjamin E. Mays: His Life, Contributions, and Legacy. Franklin TN:

            Providence House, 2009.

Chinula, Donald M. Building King's Beloved Community: Foundations for Pastoral Care and

            Counseling with the Oppressed. Cleveland, OH: United Church Press, 1997.

Culbertson, Philip. Caring for God's People: Counseling and Christian Wholeness. Minneapolis:

            Fortress Press, 2000.

Dubois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: New York: Penguin Group, 1995.

Franklin, Robert M. Crisis In The Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities.

            Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

Flake, Reverend Floyd. “Ministries.” The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York.

Accessed January 13, 2016. http://allencathedral.org/home/ministries/.

Haynes III, Frederick D. “From Vision to Action: Principles of Organization a Theologically Grounded and Vision-Driven Church to Effectively Implement Ministries at the Local, National, and Global Levels,” in Blow the Trumpet in Zion: Global Vision and Action for the Twenty-First-Century Black Church. Edited by Iva E. Carruthers, Frederick D. Haynes III, and Jeremiah Wright Jr. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005. Amazon Kindle edition.

Hoover, Herbert. “'Rugged Individualism' Campaign Speech.” Digital History. Accessed January

13, 2016. http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/disp_textbook.cfm?smtlD=3&psid=1334.

Hunter, Rodney J., ed. Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling. Nashville, TN: Abingdon

Press, 1990.

Lincoln, Eric C., and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990.

Stampp, Kenneth M. The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South. New York:

Vintage Books: Random House, 1956.

Thurman, Howard. The Search For Common Ground: An Inquiry Into The Basis of Man’s

            Experience of Community. Indiana: Friends United Press, 1971.

Thurman, Howard. With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman. New York:

            Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.

Walden, Ken J. Practical Theology for Church Diversity: A Guide for Clergy and

Congregations. Eugene, OR: CASCADE Books, 2015.

Washington, James M., ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of

Martin Luther King, Jr., San Francisco: Harper, 1963

Williams, Reverend Cecil. “Glide.” Gilde. Accessed January 13, 2016.

http://gilide.org/Leadership.

 

Footnotes
[1] Washington, James M., ed. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., 555.

[2] C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990), 1; Charles Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya’s “operational definition” for the ‘Black Church’ are “those independent, historic, and totally black controlled denominations, which were founded after the Free African Society of 1787 and which constituted the core of Black Christians.

[3] (Ps. 133:1 [New Revised Standard Version]); all scriptural references are taken from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

                [4] Rodney J. Hunter, ed., Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), s.v. “Community, Fellowship, and Care,” 202.

[5]Howard Thurman, “Desegregation, Integration, and the Beloved Community,” in Benjamin E. Mays: His Life, Contributions, and Legacy, ed. Samuel DuBois Cook (Franklin TN: Providence House, 2009), 205-206. 

[6] Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books: Random House, 1967), 4.

[7] Henry James Young PH.D., “Pluralism in American Christianity” (lecture, Hood Theological Seminary, Salisbury, NC, July 6 - 8).

[8] Young PH.D., “Pluralism in American Christianity” (lecture, Hood Theological Seminary, Salisbury, NC, July 6 - 8).

[9] Kenneth M. Stampp, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (New York: Vintage Books: Random House, 1956), 1.

[10] Hunter, ed., Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1990), s.v. “Community, Fellowship, and Care,” 94-95.

[11] Reverend Floyd Flake, “Ministries,” The Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral of New York, accessed January 13, 2016,http://allencathedral.org/home/ministries/.

[12] Robert M. Franklin, Crisis In The Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 163-4.

[13] Donald M. Chinula, Building King’s Beloved Community: Foundations for Pastoral Care and Counseling with the Oppressed (Cleveland: United Church Press, 1997), xxi.

 

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