Update from Acton University: Anthony Bradley on the (black) church and education

I’m at the Acton University through the rest of this week, so most of my blogging will consist of providing reports about the sorts of ideas being thrown around here. The first session I attended today was Anthony Bradley’s lecture on the church and urban education. Bradley has a fascinating take on this issue in significant part due to his experience growing up in a middle class black church in Atlanta.

As we all know, the data shows dramatic differences between white and black students when it comes to education. Yet as Bradley points out, while many scholars (and the media) point to income differences as the key reasons for this divide, the reality is that family stability and church involvement are the number one and two predictors of educational success among black students. Indeed, Bradley says, when black students who are involved in churches are compared to white students, the racial education gap is eliminated entirely. In other words, young blacks who are involved in church life do just as well in school as do white kids.

What do black churches do? They create a culture that counters the poverty and crime of many inner-city and otherwise poor black communities. Just as importantly, they create a culture that expects black children to succeed, counter to the culture of victimization often fostered in public schools and in American society generally. Churches provide moral directives, role models, intergenerational networks, and various life skills to which black children would otherwise not be exposed. Bradley says that in the church in which he grew up, education was the greatest emphasis after Christ himself.

Perhaps the most striking thing Bradley notes is that while the significance of church commitment is massive for black children, for white children it is negligible. Why? Because broader cultural pressures do do well in school are so strong in white communities that there is little need for the church to do anything. Among blacks, on the other hand, the church is essential. Here is an excellent example of how the gospel creates a community that testifies to the love and justice of the coming kingdom of Christ, even as the context for this witness is secular life. We live in two kingdoms, but we do everything as unto the Lord, and in love for our neighbors.

Whatever one might think about how churches should go about promoting educational achievement among their youth, it is clear that the church plays a crucial role in encouraging adults and children to love one another in particular ways, faithful to their vocations, and ultimately in service to Christ. Think of it as a modern example of Paul’s household codes in action.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on June 13, 2012, in Black Church, Education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Update from Acton University: Anthony Bradley on the (black) church and education.

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