Conceived in race and birthed into a struggle for an institutional identity and social space

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The Ground Has Shifted: The Future of the Black Church in Post-Racial America by Walter Earl Fluker, NYU Press, US $35.00, Pp 304, November 2016, ISBN 978-1479810383

From their beginnings, black churches were conceived in race and birthed into a struggle for an institutional identity and social space that was not controlled by the dominant gaze of white authority and legitimacy. In The Ground Has Shifted, Walter Earl Fluker argues that black churches, with few exceptions, still rely upon inherited theological symbols, metaphors, and signs that have been syncretized, recycled, and made usable for their worship and service to god and black communities without critical engagement and interrogation of their contemporary utility. In the United States, our loyalty and allegiance to the nation serves as an eschatological hope in the unrealized dream toward which African Americans continue to aspire: a nonracist society that upholds the fundamental principles of equality and freedom.

The Ground Has Shifted book analyzes the meanings and ramifications of post-racialism for black churches in the United States, highlighting the ways scholars and religious leaders can usually engage and reframe critical questions relating to the historical problems of racialized, sexualized and gendered politics of the church and the larger culture. Fluker says the term post-racial America is presented here as a postulate that is subject to argument and investigation: that the United States is or will be at some time in the future free from preferences, bigotry, discrimination, and prejudices that are based on race. It is put forth in this way because even though it is not a statement of fact, it still functions as if it were or could be true and therefore informs our cultural reasoning and national conversations surrounding race. Fluker also interrogates the functions and assumptions of post-racial reasoning in black theological and ethical discourse and practice by identifying its damaging effects on the questions of institutional memory, vision, and mission. It looks particularly at the influence of the idea of post-racialism on the religious discourse of black churches and its implications for self –identity. If we are in a post-racial era, then what is the future of the black church?”

Fluker argues that the future of black churches in the United States will depend largely on how we minister to the most disproportionately impacted group in our communities, black youth of all sorts including poor and middle class, male, female, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. Fluker writes, “In the shifting and turning metaphors of black churches’ institutional and theological identities, it will be well to remember that without our youth, we no longer have churches nor a reason for their existence. As we engage in hard work of reimagining, discerning and deliberating, repenting, rethinking and refashioning signs, symbols, and metaphors for this time, let us listen for the sound.” He writes, “I am hopeful that this future will yield for us new ways of congregating, conjuring, and conspiring with the Holy Ghost who brings to us the fire, the wind, the noise, and the sound of the genuine in new languages that speak to the diversity of creation and the resurrection of the dead.”

The Ground Has Shifted is a deeply scholarly yet readable study of the black church in America. Fluker has a fresh approach to deal with the subject and provides new insights on the subject. It is meticulously researched and well-referenced. Walter Earl Fluker’s scholarship is unmatchable. It should be required reading for the university students of religion and African Americans. Reviewed by Jonathan T. Rich