The Power of the Pulpit

by on January 19, 2009

Politics in the Pews

by Eric L. McDaniel | Politics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Churches

When examining the success of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, it becomes apparent that there is a great deal of influence in the Black pulpit. Being the main institution for expressions of Black independence, the Black church has remained the most important place in Black society. Because of this, being the leader of a Black church provides a great deal of authenticity when speaking to the public.

It is no coincidence that the most visible leadership in the Civil Rights Movement was members of the clergy. While there were secular leaders from organizations such as SNCC and CORE, speaking from the Black pulpit garnered the greatest attention. What we saw from Dr. King is not new. The Black pulpit has not just served as a symbol of spirituality; it has also served as a symbol for justice. It has provided a venue for those who wish to speak on behalf of the downtrodden, while also providing authenticity for a speaker attempting to communicate on behalf of the less
fortunate.

Learn more about other Martin Luther King related titles from the UM Press, here.

Also read a message from Nancy Goldstein, author of Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist, on Martin Luther King,Jr. here.

The work of Dr. King and countless others during the Civil Rights Movement exemplify this. Only a member of the clergy could convince Blacks that their acquiescence to the cruelty of Jim Crow was a sin. King and others argued that God will never side with the oppressor or those who aid the oppressor through passive observance. King was able to demonstrate to Blacks and Whites throughout the nation that one cannot truly achieve salvation while allowing the evils of racism go unquestioned.

Today, the Black pulpit continues to wield power; the influence that individuals such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton showcase the relevance of the Black clergyperson. Even Obama, who is not an ordained minister, invoked the power of the Black pulpit. The message he delivered and the style that he used summons memories of a minister speaking to his congregation. This message was not race specific; he was able to mobilize people from all races and religious backgrounds, similar to King.

The enduring presence of the Black pulpit on the national political stage is rooted in its strong grassroots foundation. My own research found that not only do members rely on their clergyperson for spiritual guidance; they also look to their clergy for social guidance as well. Many expected or demanded that their pastor stay attentive to social issues. The legacy of Dr. King and other clergy who have sacrificed to protect the subjugated is not lost on the congregants or clergy of today. Both acknowledge the historical significance of the Black pulpit and the need to maintain its relevance in today’s society. When we celebrate the King Holiday, we also commemorate the institution that allowed him to achieve such great success.

Eric L. McDaniel is the author ofPolitics in the Pews: The Political Mobilization of Black Chruches.He is Assistant Professor in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin.

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