The Words of the McLean Family
What Can the Black Church and Black Theology Contribute to the Unification Movement and Unification Theology?
Roderick M. McLean
Journal of Unification Studies Volume VI - 2004 - 2005
What can the Black Church and Black Theology contribute to the Unification movement and Unification theology? To attempt to grapple with this question with any degree of resourcefulness presupposes, on the one hand, that the Black Church and Black Theology possess certain religious and socio-cultural elements that are universal and/or exportable. On the other hand, it presupposes that the Unification movement and Unification theology are susceptible to incorporating religious and socio-cultural elements of other belief systems. It is evident from the ongoing ecumenical relationship between the Black Churches and the Unification movement that such a process is occurring. This gives validity to these presuppositions and invites us to consider the above question.
In this paper I will contend that the Unification movement, in its effort to provide a link with the Black community of faith, can derive benefit from the historical Black Church as both an "invisible" and a "visible" institution. Likewise, Unification theology can benefit from elements of Black Theology in its "priestly" and "prophetic" formulations/functions. Such contributions on the part of the Black Church and Black theology can enhance the Unification movement's ministry to and with Black people.
The Black Church as "Invisible" and "Visible" Institution
The very presence of the Black Church today bespeaks of the fact that American Christianity never fully faced the issue of race. The early Black Church began as an "invisible" institution in the days of slavery because it was not possible or acceptable to worship in the religious institutions of that day. The Black Church came into being when Euro-American Protestantism denied the inclusive nature of the community of believers, thereby fostering division and separation among the people of God, although they are brothers and sisters of the One God, Our Father.
The Black Church emerged as an invisible institution because the Black slaves felt the compelling need to worship and serve God, not out of a particular revelatory experience / principle that overshadowed their spiritual and physical conditions, but based on the notion of God who was personally involved in His creation. However, He was also understood as being outside of and beyond His creation, hence the Black slaves maintained the balance by creating a body of spirituals that represented an other worldly theological stance. For Black people in that invisible institution, God was thus simultaneously transcendent and immanent.
This balanced view of God, coming out of the historical Black Church as an invisible institution, which is at the core of the African conception of God, can, I submit, add a significant dimension to the doctrine of God as portrayed in Unification theology. The concept of God as Parent in Unification theology also seems also to provide a balanced view of God, and it can be a healthy symbol for dialogue with the Black Church and Black theology.
Nevertheless, Unification theology stresses the fact of polarity as the main clue for understanding the essential nature of God -- belief in the Father-Mother God, and the fact that God reveals Himself in two ways: through nature as a whole and through human beings. Whereas, Black theology, arising out of the invisible institution, held fast to the transcendent quality of God both as a means of survival and solidarity with other races.
Upon this element of transcendence the Black Church pinned its theology of hope. Without claiming any unique revelatory experience or "divine principle," the Black Church as an "invisible" institution drew from the existing heritage of the God of all ages and all peoples. Thus was created a worshipping, serving "church without walls." It was born out of necessity, similar to the birth of the Unification Movement in Korea from a mode of suffering and persecution, rather than from some particular ideational/philosophical stance as seems to be the case of the Unification Movement in the United States.
The Black Church as an invisible institution was a continuation of existing beliefs about God -- the God of Africa whose existence is known almost by instinct. This is summarized in an Ashanti proverb, "No one shows a child the Supreme Being." This belief undergirded the Black Church's existence as an invisible institution. As the Unification Movement also seeks to maintain the tendency of a "church without walls," it can benefit from this understanding.
However, the Unification Movement must know that the concept of the "house church" or "church without walls" which it portends at this time will not be able to gain credibility, effectiveness, and longevity in the Black community if it is conceived as an intentional, structural, strategic base of operation in the community. For the Black Church as invisible institution was born out of necessity. It became "visible" precisely because Euro-American Protestants excluded, segregated, and organized it into being. The Unification Movement can learn from the Black Church as invisible institution that such paradigms are tenuous in a community and society where visible structures, organizations, and institutions provide belonging and self-identity.
The Black Church as invisible institution also became visible because of the need to preserve and interpret the rich heritage of Black Americans. It became a visible institution in spite of its other-worldly theology and its expectation of the imminent breaking in of the Kingdom of God to deliver the Black slaves. In its "visible" state the Black Church made its most valuable contribution, namely, the development of Black leadership and the unification of the Black family.
The Unification Movement can benefit from this movement from "invisible" to "visible" in the Black community at the points where it can foster and develop indigenous Black leadership within its "visible" institution, and strengthen and undergird the Black family as a whole. The visibility of Black leadership and Black presence in the Unification Movement and its literature can truly enhance its image as an inclusive church. In the Black community the Black Church is still presently the major visible institution, and the Black preacher is still one of the major creative and dynamic figures. For the Unification Movement to have any impact in that community it must learn from the Black Church the need to create parallel visible institutions with creative and dynamic leadership, or seek to strengthen existing Black churches and other Black institutions in their witness and ministry to the whole community, nation and world -- to the end that we may all become one.
The "invisible" Black Church became "visible" so as to develop, create, support and incorporate other institutions and structures such as schools, economic business ventures, social, civic, cultural and political organizations as well as provide stability for the family. Therefore, the Unification Movement must become a "visible" institution in the community in order to impact the life of the family at all levels, and to develop and create other institutions in the community that will address the spiritual and physical needs of all of the people. The Unification Movement cannot remain an "invisible" institution and expect to develop and attract Black leadership in the Black community, well as absorb the talents and resourcefulness of Blacks from other denominations. It must learn from the "visible," stable setting. In such a context Black people can exercise authority, develop self-identity, and be creative.
The fact that the Unification Movement is becoming established in the community suggests that the need for a ministerial profession and development of lay leadership will arise as an indication of institutionalization. The Black Church can serve as a model for the Unification Movement in the development and equipping of its leaders. As it becomes a "visible" institution such as the Black Church of today, it is developing both lay and professional leadership. By becoming a "visible" institution, the Unification movement can reach both lay and professional leadership, build stronger social and familial ties in the community at large, and be a more authentic force in the process of building the Kingdom of God.
Black Theology in its "Priestly" and "Prophetic" Formulations / Functions From the very outset I would content that Black theology grew out of the Black Church as "invisible" and "visible" institution. Therefore I would see as its major thrust its "priestly" and "prophetic" formulations / functions. These twin foci constitute the norm of Black theology and can offer a contribution to Unification theology. For indeed, the Unification Church in the United States of America needs a creative upsurge with regards to worship.
By "priestly" formulation/function I mean the role of worship – preaching, administering the sacraments, and pastoral care. In the Black Church the Bible is important for the theological task, and therefore preaching at its best is biblical in nature. However, the Black preachers bring a perspective of the community in which they live. Consequently, the entire worship service embraces a variety of elements out of that tradition. Songs, chants, prayers, and communal sharing are all derived from the rich religious, socio-cultural heritage of the community at large. Symbols and memory play a vital part of the ritual of worship. The administration of the sacraments and the rites of passage are constant reminders of our link with the past, and our solidarity with other communities of faith. Healing is still a natural ministry of the Black Church, physically and spiritually, and therefore through its worship the dimension of pastoral care becomes very evident. The elements of ritual all lend themselves to healing, wholeness, and restoration.
Worship enables the celebration of a God who both hears and answers prayers; a God who both challenges and shapes human destiny; a God who is both worthy of praise and seeks the praise and adoration of His people; a God who heals and equips healers; a God who calls us into being and sends us forth to be about our Father's business. Black theology in its "priestly" formulations/functions asserts discipleship through identification with/in a worshipping community, and proclaims the message of redemption and salvation of God who is Father of all.
The centrality of worship in the Black religious experience gives validity to the Black Church as "visible" institution for teaching and learning divine principles, expressing one's gifts and talents, and fostering communal solidarity as the people of God. The "priestly" role embraces both the gathered and scattered community of the Black Church. It stresses the value of memory and symbols as it recaptures the past, creates in the present, and attempts to give shape to the future.
Unification theology seems to lack an ecclesiology where memory and symbols, on-going spiritual teaching and communal solidarity are developed and nurtured. Maybe this is a harsh statement when one considers that it is a young movement. However, let's not assume that the gifts of the spirit are given only to a select few, or that the fruits of the spirit are fully expressed in our works. We are part of a larger community of faith. Therefore, let us share with others the praise and ecstasy, the hopes and aspirations, the faults and failures of a people seeing the One God Our Father. Let us not seek to withdraw into our cell groups and apart from the larger community. In a gathered community meeting expressly for worship, where we hear and respond to God's dealing with us throughout human history, we have the opportunity to reach out to each other with brotherly and sisterly care, regardless of our status or condition in the community. Worship, where memory and symbols, rites of passage and the needs of the people of God are expressed, can offer healing and provide human solidarity for all who are willing to participate.
Black theology as "priestly" formulation and function show the way for Unification theology to fill the need for a broader base of communal gathering, and develop a Theology of the Church. The worshipping community of the Black Church not only recaptures the past, but acts out the present, and commits itself to the future where divine principles and faith are taught and lived out in company with others. Unification Theology needs to develop a Theology of the Church as "visible" institution where spiritual nurture and growth can take place, and where the gathered community can reflect the diversity of peoples and culture that the Unification Church embraces in its service with and to others. We need each other. God's heart is yearning for us to be one and to unite in the task of building the Kingdom of God.
Black theology in its "prophetic" formulation/function speaks from the womb of the Black Church as "visible" and "invisible" institution where labor pains are felt for freedom, justice, and equality for all. It is the task of Black theology to keep both the historical, biblical and the present day communities in perspective as it seeks to be faithful in its proclamations to speak meaningfully about God in the contemporary situation.
Black theology arises out of an existential situation of oppression and alienation, and therefore is not wedded to universals or abstractions apart from the questions and the yearnings that issue forth from the human community and the Black community in particular. The Korean experience in the early days of the Unification Movement should serve as a reminder that we are brothers and sisters in the struggle. Moreover, Black theology as a "prophetic" formulation / function seeks to address the human condition not from a revelatory mode that occurred at some point and time in history, but from the nature of God and the nature of man/woman. The prophetic voice must be both judgmental and redemptive. As Micah the prophet puts it, "love, justice, and mercy" must be the yardstick. Black theology offers such a perspective because of its willingness and commitment to spell out a God who is both transcendent and immanent, and who chose to manifest Himself in His Son Jesus Christ. Therefore, Jesus is the Liberator, the focus, the essence of the message of salvation and the hope for the Black community of faith and the world. Black theology affirms Jesus as Immanuel, "God with us." Jesus the Christ is at the core of the faith. He came to reveal who God is and what we were meant to be. This reality is the cornerstone of the prophetic formulation/function of Black theology -- in Christ there is no East or West, North or South.
Finally, Black theology challenges Unification theology to re-center its focus on Jesus Christ, not solely in terms of soteriology but ontology, as the incarnational reality of God. Unification theology makes a distinction between Christ and the historical Jesus, and portrays Christ as the Ideal of God. However in addition, Unification theology needs to focus on Jesus Christ as Living Reality and Presence if lives are to be altered in terms that we all come under the Lordship of Christ, and dialogue with the Black Church is to be enriched that "we all may be one." Certainly there is a link for dialogue in the Unification movement's focus on the Word of God, and its assertion that Christ is the center of God's work. However, the divine revelation in Jesus Christ is central in Black theology. This is a span that Unification theology would do well to strengthen. It is prophetic and profound, mystery and manna, principal and principle.
Rev. Dr. Roderick M. McLean is Assistant Professor Ministry and Director of Field Education and at the Unification Theological Seminary. He served as a Pastor and District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church for over 25 years, and held the post of Assistant General Secretary for Mission Education and Leadership Development of The General Board of Global Ministries in New York from 1997-2001.
Download entire page and pages related to it in ZIP format
Table of Contents