We tend not to think about religious freedom as an issue with a special connection to the black community and the black church. However, the connection is very close and crucial. In fact, the black church's interaction with the subject offers lessons to the wider Christian community.
Along with many African-American theologians, I believe in the tremendous importance of preserving religious communities not only as centers of difference—that is, places where one grasps the meaning of the world as different from what you find in the dominant culture—but even more so as centers of resistance. These centers of resistance do not simply proclaim
"We don't believe what the rest of you believe," but say, "We are willing and ready to sacrifice, to lose something material for the sake of that difference in which we believe."
One of the tragedies of American history has been that whatever part of the culture has been dominant has always worked hard to domesticate or to destroy religions that seem to be turning into communities of resistance. The black churches have always faced this problem and face it today. Even though sometimes the destruction is through inadvertence or ignorance, it is also sometimes a matter of will.
LOSING ONE'S RELIGION
A few years ago, I was on a panel with a gentleman who had for many years pastored one of the largest inner-city black churches in Connecticut. He described to me a meeting of ministers of several large urban black churches at which they discussed the continuous litigation attempting to strip Roman Catholic bishops of their tax-exempt status. The plaintiffs in the suit claimed that the bishops were violating the tax code by engaging in either lobbying or, more importantly, favoring or ...1