Acton Institute Powerblog

The Moral Elephant in Black America’s Room

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One has to wonder how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would respond to the state of black America in 2013. From the nonsense that regularly spews from the mouth of rappers like Lil Wayne to the black-on-black violence that continues to plague many black urban and rural neighborhoods, we are moving further away from King’s dream. Did MLK die so that rappers like Lil Wayne could saturate their music with misogyny and materialism? Did MLK die so that young black males could sabotage their lives and the lives of others in their neighborhoods? Moreover, what continues to baffle many of us is the curious absence of a discussion about the promotion of moral values in low-income communities as a way to undermine the mass incarceration epidemic in the black community because of the government’s failed drug policies.

Maria Lloyd, Business Manager for Your Black World Network, recently wrote a column outlining a few of the social consequences of the mass incarceration of African American men resulting from failed federal drug policy including the proliferation of HIV/AIDS, unemployment, and mass incarceration. In fact, a December 2012 recent Justice Department report observes that “nearly half (48%) of inmates in federal prison were serving time for drug offenses in 2011, while slightly more than a third (35%) were incarcerated for public-order crimes.” Lloyd continues,

Among African-Americans who have grown up during the era of mass incarceration, one in four has had a parent locked up at some point during childhood. For black men in their 20s and early 30s without a high school diploma, the incarceration rate is so high — nearly 40 percent nationwide — that they’re more likely to be behind bars than to have a job.

The war on drugs, like the war on poverty, has been lost and many argue that both “wars” need to be called off. The resultant mass incarceration of black males has had a significant impact on cycles of poverty, family breakdown in the black community, and the removal of able bodied men from the labor market. While these issues are true, what also needs to be addressed is state of moral virtue in black America. We have to wonder what would happen if moral virtue hailed supreme in low-income black neighborhoods that were vulnerable to failed drug war policies. Given the known consequences of federal drug policy, what would happen if people chose not to put themselves in positions to get busted on a drug charge? What if black leaders decided to undermine the prison industrial complex by providing a vision for a virtuous black America where incarceration rates plummeted not because laws changed in the short-term, although that needs to happen, but because men and women in black communities across this country protested and resisted the government’s “war” by living more virtuously?

This is what the Bible means by living above reproach (1 Timothy 3:1-7). As legislators work to change federal drug policy, it seems that the best short-term strategy to deal with the mass incarceration of black men is the promotion and practice of a lifestyle where there would be no cause or occasion of criminal activity connected to drug use or distribution. No drugs, no arrests. No arrests, no mass incarceration. This proposal will sound fanciful to some but it only sounds unreasonable if you believe that black men are not capable of virtuous living. This is the moral elephant in the room. It might be time to subvert the inconsistency of federal drug policy by taking the high moral road that is often less traveled. While we call for needed changes in federal drug policy we also need to call black men and women to virtuous living.

Anthony Bradley Anthony Bradley, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at The King's College in New York City and serves as a Research Fellow at the Acton Institute. Dr. Bradley lectures at colleges, universities, business organizations, conferences, and churches throughout the U.S. and abroad. His books include: Liberating Black Theology: The Bible and the Black Experience in America (2010),  Black and Tired: Essays on Race, Politics, Culture, and International Development (2011),  The Political Economy of Liberation: Thomas Sowell and James Cone of the Black Experience (2012), Keep Your Head Up: America's New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation (2012), Aliens in the Promised Land:  Why Minority Leadership Is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions (forthcoming, 2013). Dr. Bradley's writings on religious and cultural issues have been published in a variety of journals, including: the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Detroit News, and World Magazine. Dr. Bradley is called upon by members of the broadcast media for comment on current issues and has appeared C-SPAN, NPR, CNN/Headline News, and Fox News, among others. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery. From 2005-2009, Dr. Bradley was Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO where he also directed the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute.   Dr. Bradley holds Bachelor of Science in biological sciences from Clemson University, a Master of Divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Westminster Theological Seminary.  Dr. Bradley also holds an M.A. in Ethics and Society at Fordham University.


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  • Nicole

    Hmm such a real and powerful article with so much TRUTH in it!!! Wonder where all the commenters are, though….? Maybe Black America doesn’t want to hear this because it actually puts responsibility on them to change their lives instead of blaming nearly all of their troubles on white people and the system. That is not to say that systematic racism and bigotry do not exist…we already know by now how evil and bigoted godless white people are. Instead of trying to introduce more immorality into society, how about we African Americans take the road less traveled, forget about validation from white people, forget about their stupid, irrelevant opinions, and focus on bettering ourselves in spite of their hatred. If whites and other non-blacks in this country continue their path of degenerate racism, they will have their reward, both in this life AND the next. Instead of wanting to get away with the same crimes as easily as white people do under the law (MAN’S LAW), let’s make sure that our spiritual salvation is secure and our communities are better off morally just for the sake of improving our lives. Let’s stop embracing rebellion, promiscuity, sexual irresponsibility, drug abuse, alcoholism, misogyny, violence, anti-intellectualism, and the mockery of religion. As a black woman, I find it interesting that most times during my high school and college years, it was OTHER African- Americans (particularly black women) who often went out of their way to mock and ridicule my religious lifestyle. Nonetheless, I saw the clear effects of obedience and disobedience to God play out, both in my life and their lives. The difference was very clear. The Black “community” cannot keep up the pretense of acting as complete victims while continually labeling white people as “evil” and “devils” if they themselves are not even in obedience to God’s law. A little racial strife on earth does not negate the relevance of the Word of God. In this life, one has to exercise accountability for their own life and transcend beyond the words and actions of men, no matter how powerful a certain group of people may seem (in this brief moment known as life, at least). Yes, it is tempting to get caught up in the tensions, hostility, and strife that are racial relations in America, but when all is said and done, this does not even begin to hold any importance in the grand scheme of eternity. African Americans should just ignore those spiritually deprived whites who, influenced by satanic powers, seek to continue the ignorance of racial division. Yet, the true growing distinction is not between black and white but between children of God and children of the devil. I’ve met white people who lived more righteously than many blacks I knew, because they served God. Likewise, I have met many black people who experienced the blessings of God due to righteous living over many white people who lived for the pleasures of this life. At the end of this life, no one is going to work out your salvation so get your life right so others around you will focus on what truly matters as well.

    • JJ truth

      Well said, there is no substitute for righteousness. Living righteously however, will always lead one to stand up for, support and lovejustice and to defend the weak which are some of God’s own attributes.