In Chapter 1 of Unfinished Business, Day challenges the oversimplification of the “Black Church,” arguing that it is more than simply an institution of prophetic social witness. Black churches are diverse, complex and sometimes ambiguous in their theological and sociological positions. While churches in post-Emancipation black communities became hubs for education, empowerment and liberation, some questioned the liberative capacity of a religious institution conceived as a “slave religion.” Prominent black intellectuals of the Reconstruction period like W.E.B. Du Bois critiqued the “Negro church” as a “failed institution that had plunged into political irrelevancy…” (17-19)
Later and even more severe, into the twentieth century many black churches rejected strategies of the American Civil Rights movement. For some, it was “unlawful methods and strategies,” but for others like the Church of God in Christ, political aims were unnecessary and eschatologically-irrelevant. “In the 1960s COGIC interpreted justice issues as issues that would ultimately be resolved by God in the coming eschaton. Because of these core theological convictions, it remained separate from civil rights demonstrations and protests.” (20)
Next, Day explores the prevalent concept of the Black Church as a “surrogate world,” a “world within a world” in which blacks can be safe and authentic in the midst of broader culture. Here, there is economic, cultural, spiritual and political respite for a marginalized people. However, Day articulates the critiques of womanist scholars (since this is a blog… “Womanism is a social theory deeply rooted in the racial and gender oppression of black women.” – Wikipedia) who reject the concept of surrogacy due to the dominant and historical marginalization and oppression perpetuated within black churches. While some may find refuge, there are “many black persons today who live black communities, including previously incarcerated black men, poor black women, black homosexuals, and black lesbians, may not feel welcomed or understood within these ecclesial communities.” (24)
Day does an excellent job of illustrating the ways in which our oversimplification of the Black Church not only dishonors the complex work of generations of religious and cultural leaders, but also stifles the voices of the marginalized from within, to continue that complex work inside the church.