ConferencesWhat is it about the prophetic tradition and liberation theology of the Black Church that strikes at the heart of American curiosity, social outrage, and the audacity of hope? To be sure, media coverage concerning the Black Church in recent years has paid more attention to stereotypical sound bites, the commercialization of its singing talent, and the steamy sex scandals of a few of its most visible leaders without lending attention to the ongoing legacy of empowerment and enlightenment for which the Black church was once esteemed. Even prominent scholars of African American religion, thought, and culture like Eddie Glaude, have argued, “The Black Church, as we've known it or imagined it, is dead.” Yet, for many of its faith practitioners, the Black Church still is a necessary institution for Black social uplift and spiritual empowerment that evokes a sense of needed affirmation, peoplehood, and the prospects of social transformation.
While this disparity amplifies the real issue that underlies the rancorous crisis of race, culture and religion illustrated by the oft-quoted statement that 11 o’clock hour on any Sunday is the “most segregated hour of the week,” it also highlights urgent responses to the unaddressed mandates of a nation divided and a people at the crossroads of peril and promise. As the Black Church wrestles with its “eleventh hour” both in terms of the media frenzy of this current political climate and also an internal assessment of it, to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “where do we go from here,” this conference hopes to offer interventions into this critical moment in our nation’s history as one of its greatest institutions of moral conscience and freedom fighting lies in the wake of public ruin and private pain.
When one reflects upon the significance of this year—2013—it marks a particularly bittersweet moment in the history of the African American experience in the United States. On the one hand, this year represents the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom which set the stage for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s legendary "I Have a Dream" speech. On the other hand, however, amidst the celebratory moments to be highlighted this year, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the 1963 bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL that led to the murder of Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley as well as the 45th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination in Memphis, TN on April 4, 1968. Symbolizing some of the great peaks and valleys of African American history, the convergence of these momentous events demands we consider deeply both the promise and price of the Black freedom struggle.
Social justice praxis and ministry formation has been the rubric under which the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Churches has offered conferences, theological seminars and intensive programs for over two decades to address the moral and social complexities of the communities black churches serve. In keeping with this mission, the Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies welcomes you to our installation and inaugural conference “The Black Church’s 11th Hour: The Promise of Our Ideals and the Realities of Our Time” to be held April 3-5, 2013 as we celebrate our newly appointed vision for the Kelly Miller Smith Center for Black Faith and Public Life at Vanderbilt University.