Anthony Pinn's The Black Church in the Post-Civil Rights Era is divided into two parts: historical and theological background, and themes in contemporary praxis. Part One lays out the history of Black churches, concentrating on Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal faiths. Early on, these churches are depicted as the best hope for enhancing Black spiritual and material standing (p. 7). The Montgomery bus boycott, Crummell's Back-to-Africa movement, King's peaceful resistance, Powell's public protest, Malcolm X's advocation of violence, and Cone's "becoming Black with God" are all, in one way or another, church-related movements. We learn through Pinn's careful analysis of the anti-woman, anti-gay conservatism with which the Black churches (and all churches, for that matter) struggled. For these reasons, and even more due to prosperity, Blacks fell away from their churches eventually, finding them no longer useful or relevant (p. 34). Martin Luther King's death further contributed to the decline of Black church power in the 1970s-1980s.
Blacks once again returned to their churches in the 1990s, when "full inclusion" was finally realized to not be feasible (p. 35). "The experience of worship... frames activism by building a stronger sense of self -- the individual in connection to community and God" (p. 36). Salvation within the Black church is linked to new conduct/activism. "People are saved to serve" (p. 42-43). Music is described (in depth) as a central component of Black worship. Ministers and members alike finally came to deal with Martin Luther King's death: "evil men may destroy the dreamer, but they cannot destroy the dream (p. 60). Current preachers share their human struggles, which creates a stronger connection to the people in the pews. Some of the best sermon examples ever used are presented here (aptly comparing wildlife to human life, etc.). The link between prayer and social transformation was not made until the 1990s.
With this natural lead-in to Part Two (praxis), economics and politics are demonstrated to be the primary modes of church activism (p. 74). The central premise behind Black church activities (economic development, housing, and education) is control of neighborhoods. While this may depict Black churches as social justice-oriented, they are not much more so than mainstream White churches (p. 82).
The discussion of environmental racism encourages Black churches to develop a better sense of stewardship (eco-justice -- p. 91). It is a fact that "60% of the total Black population lives in communities with one or more uncontrolled toxic-waste sites (p. 83). From here, a focus on lack of health care and silence on drug abuse and any collective response to HIV/AIDS is offered. Justification is given in terms of not wishing to "promote" out-of-marriage and/or gay sex (p. 95). The book starts to lack the strength that it originally exhibited not far into this section. It gets somewhat back on track with the treatment of gender. While Black women compose 60-70% of the Black church's memberships, the paternal/male dominated model is mirrored everywhere in Black life, including all aspects of faith and worship (p. 116-117). For instance, women represent only 5% of the combined clergy in the denominations Pinn pinpoints throughout his book. "Although Black churches promoted liberation with respect to issues of race and racism, they failed to be as forward thinking when it came to the needs of women within the pews" (p. 132).
In closing, there is a discussion of Black "megachurches" (identified as congregations of 3,000+ members). Akin to Calvinism, many of these churches base their teachings on the "material gospel" or the "gospel of prosperity" (p. :135-139). "God desires all Christians to have material comfort and individual salvation," but we are left with the disturbing question -- has religion become a commodity, a product (p. 138)? The positive, multi-service aspect of these modern day churches is unfortunately overlooked. While the first half of Pinn's book is analytical and filled with answers as to how Black churches formed, the second half sets us up with wonder about the future of Black churches in general. This appears to be intentional -- to open the spirit to further discernment.
For scholars of religion and race, and for upper division university courses as well, this book offers an accurate historical and present day account of the struggles of Black churches prior to, during, and since the Civil Rights movement occurred.