Who could argue that Charles Dickens’ poetic and prophetic description of England in 1855, “It was the best of times and the worst of times” in his classic historical novel, The Tale of Two Cities, does not accurately and eloquently capsulize and summarize the current state of affairs in the African American community? The “brighter day ahead” for which our African American forbearers prayed and about which they prophetically sang, is the current reality for most in the African American community.
While the Civil War settled the question of natural slavery for African Americans, the emancipation from physical slavery did not bring emancipation from the enslavement of illiteracy, poverty, and economic injustice for the freedmen. Nearly all Black people were uneducated and lived in poverty coming out of slavery, and many of them chose indentured servitude as the only way to provide for their families. By 2004, however, only 25 percent of African Americans lived in poverty. Homeownership among African Americans has shown a steady increase from 42 percent in 1990 to 48 percent of African Americans owning homes in 2003. The percentage of African Americans investing in the stock market increased drastically between 1998 and 2002, from 57 to 74 percent. The average monthly savings for African Americans increased from $200 per month in 2001 to $237 per month in 2002. In 2002, the number of Black-owned businesses stood at 1.2 million. This represented a 45 percent rise since 1997. In 2005, 1.1 million African Americans over the age twenty-five had advanced degrees—such as master’s, PhD, MD, or JD—compared to about 677,000 in 1995. We’ve witnessed significant and substantial gains in politics, business, education, and household incomes. Even in the field of religion we have witnessed an African American rise to a high profile executive cabinet level position in what was historically a prominent Anglo Pentecostal denomination—the Assemblies of God. Many of the largest and fastest growing churches in America are led by African Americans who erected facilities that comfortably, seat thousands of people and collectively employ thousands. Indeed, these are the best of times.
However, the decay, decline, dysfunction, disconnect, disengagement, and dearth in the African American community is also quite apparent. In contrast to the Assemblies of God, the highest ranking African American employed in the Executive Committee office building for the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, TN, is the head custodian.
Nearly 70 percent of all children born in the African American community today are born into single parent homes. In 1960, 80 percent of the families were two parent families among Blacks in America. In some cities, Black males have high school drop-out rates of more that 50 percent. About one-third of the homeless are Black men. African Americans make up nearly 50 percent of the prison population, although they make up only 12 percent of the general population. Back in 1950, there were twice as many White people in prison as Black. Today, there are more Black people than White in prison. Divorce among African Americans is 50 percent higher than it is among White Americans. Although, we have witnessed the advent of mega-churches in the Black community, we have also seen an increase in crime, drug addiction, and divorce. It’s evident that fornication, adultery, homosexuality, immoral cohabitation, covetousness, greed, gluttony, gossip, bitterness, anger, pride and prayerlessness and a host of other sins are also prevalent in many African American churches from the pulpit to the back door. Indeed, these are the worst of times.
If the African American community is to rise from the moral, spiritual, family, and community decline we find ourselves in, there is only one hope. Our hope cannot be in another Civil Rights movement. Our hope must be in a move of the Holy Spirit. The prophet declared, “Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit saith the Lord of hosts”. The problems of the African American community are so intense, acute and systemic, that nothing short of a Pentecost can restore wholeness, holiness and family restoration to our community once again. God said, “In the last days that He would pour out His Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17). That inevitably includes African American flesh. My prayer is, “Lord, do it again and do it now.” We need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sins and convince us that Jesus Christ is the only hope for our salvation. We need the Holy Spirit to convert us, clean us up, wash us, renew us and fill us once again. Our community is in such dire and desperate straits, we don’t have time to debate the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We need His delivering power, His saving power, His sanctifying power, and His anointing. We need Him to break yokes, lift heavy burdens and set the captives free. We need to embrace the Holy Spirit in His fullness including the fruit of the Holy Spirit so our gifts and anointing will not elevate us to heights where our character is not strong enough to sustain us.
In days gone by, the Lord raised up men and women to lead the Civil Rights movement because in many ways that was our pressing need. What we need now is to pray that God would raise up men and women who can lead us to a fresh encounter with the person, power and presence of the Holy Spirit. We need Him in His fullness. We need Him in His power and that’s when we’ll see a change in the neighbor “hood”.
My prayer is that God would burden the heart of at least three thousand African American believers who will give God one day in prayer at one place at one time (Acts2:1) confessing the sins of our nation (Neh 1:6) and of our race and seeking His face for revival, restoration and joy in the Holy Ghost (Ps. 16:11, Ps. 85:6, Rom 5:5). Exercising the privilege and power of prayer we can pray in the Spirit with words understood, words not understood and even without words to effect change in our community that delivers us from the muck and mire and set us on a street called straight. The only hope for our community is a Holy Spirit revival. We must embrace Him now, “For the effectual and fervent prayers of the righteous availeth much” (James 5:16, I Corin 14:15, Jude 20, Rom 8:26, John 11:33). It is time for the Ethiopians to stretch out their hands to God (Ps 68:31, Ps. 19:14).
May this generation experience the outpouring of God’s Spirit upon our families, communities and nation even in a greater measure than the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings and Azusa St, as we yield our hearts, minds bodies, soul and Spirit to the Living God. May the Spirit of the Living God fall fresh on us.