On Malcolm X, why are the black churches silent?

Andrew Robinson-Gaither

November 25, 1992|By Andrew Robinson-Gaither

AS Spike Lee's epic movie hits theaters across America, why is the bastion of the African-American community silent? As millions of young African-Americans from inner cities embrace the teachings of Malcolm X, where is the voice of the black church?

Is it because the black church has lost touch with the pulse of inner-city youth? Maybe Malcolm X's political ideology is not acceptable because it challenges people and systems "by any means necessary." Malcolm X didn't really belong to the black Christian church as did Martin Luther King Jr., though his parents were strong Christians (his father was a Baptist minister). In fact, the black church's complacency may have been the catalyst for Malcolm X's hunger for Islam.

Why is the church silent on Malcolm X?

For many, the African-American church has been the most profound institution for social change in America. Without question, Malcolm X's contributions to the civil-rights movement are well documented, but few mainstream African-Americans remember and celebrate him as a major contributor to the movement. What would the black church be today if it fully embraced and articulated the teachings of Malcolm X?

Surely, if the church had embraced the social, political, economic and cultural teachings of Malcolm X, it could understand the current generation of African-American youth who quote Malcolm X and wear X's on their clothes, and the rappers who have provided a continued teaching of Malcolm X through their music.

For this reason, black youth from the inner cities are "Malcolm's Kids." They are not passive. Pop culture encourages young people to be radical, aggressive and revolutionary -- that's something the church has no control over.

Why is the African-American church silent on Malcolm X?

The African-American church is male-dominated, an "old boys" hierarchy. Tradition is difficult to reshape. Thus, silence equates with passivity. Malcolm X was an advocate of aggressive self-defense. This is contrary to the passiveness that most churches teach. Isn't it ironic that today, Islam is the fastest-growing faith expression of inner-city African-American males?

Why is the black church silent on Malcolm X?

Malcolm X said, "Power doesn't back up in the face of a smile, or in the face of a threat of some kind of nonviolent loving action. It's not the nature of power to back up in the face of anything but some more power."

Malcolm X was a proponent of Afrocentricity when the church was calling for integration. What has integration given us? Until the African-American church can fully embrace the struggles of Mother Africa, it will be silent.

"You can't hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree," Malcolm X said. "You can't hate Africa and not hate yourself."

Embracing Afrocentricity and making it live in your religious experience, whether Christian or Islamic, will create a new vision of what human rights are.

The church cannot remain silent on Malcolm X or it will find itself out of touch with the young people it's trying to reach, or the baby boomers who embrace Malcolm X quietly because they do not want to offend their elders.

Let us not forget that they are the future of our communities. Young people are embracing Malcolm X with or without the church's permission. Will the church seek to understand "Malcolm's Kids" or will it allow others to define Malcolm X for them?

The church and the community need to redefine empowerment in the context of urban America.

Malcolm X said, "When you hear me say, 'By any means necessary,' I mean exactly that -- political, economic, social, physical, anything that's necessary as long as it's intelligently directed and designed to get results."

Could it be that Malcolm X has made the church uncomfortable because he knew Jesus Christ as a revolutionary? Often, we fail to articulate this position because it challenges us to move our consciousness to another level. This is difficult because, as W.E.B. DuBois said, we have a double consciousness, one wanting to be American and the other wanting to be African.

The Rev. Andrew Robinson-Gaither is pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Los Angeles and founder of the Malcolm X Institute, which facilitates clergy studies.

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