We all know what a central role the Black church had during the civil rights movement of the 20th century, but what role can it have today?

During a discussion about the National Urban League’s 2015 State of Black America report, Onleilove Alston of PICO Faith in New York and Rev. Tony Lee from Community of Hope, AME Church discussed the role of the 21st century church in civil rights activism.

Alston recalled the time when community leaders from Ferguson conducted a training session for more than 100 people of faith on how to engage the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The young local activists told the faith leaders, “We believe in God, we just didn’t go to church,” she said. Some clergy members there “actually repented,” she continued. “They had felt that they had let the younger generation down in a certain way, sometimes being more concerned about sagging pants than the social conditions outside of the church.”

Lee cautioned that it’s important to put the past in context when we look to the Black church for answers. For some leaders to fall short in their support in activism is nothing new and we should not dismiss the Black church as a whole for that, he said. We should not “bring some kind of false glorification of the civil rights movement and the church during the civil rights movement,” said Lee. He added, “Everybody talks as if the church — everybody was marching with King, everybody was arm-in-arm. They talk like they did now, but back then they didn’t march with King and really it was a percentage, it was a portion of the church that really stood there in the midst of it all.”

Watch Alston and Lee discuss how the 21st century church can lead and effectively connect with young activists in the video clip above.

For a more comprehensive look at the State of Black America, go to www.stateofblackamerica.org.

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