Power, Politics and Social Justice in the Black Church



I’m unsure why I titled this article the way I did because I’m not going to dig as deeply into this subject as the title suggests. Maybe it’s the first of a series. We’ll see…

REMINDER: Social Work Is Political

I received a video on Instagram of a Cool Soror Podcast interview with Pastor Jamal Bryant of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia. During the interview, he states that his church is the largest land-owning Black Church in America, and he intends to bring in, train, and employ Black men by growing cannabis. Back to that later…

Jamal Bryant is a third-generation pastor. That comes with its own set of issues, privileges, and spotlight. This post isn’t about whether I agree with his morality, religious views, pulpit preaching, or personal brand, it is a look at his current social justice strategy.

We can’t deny Bryant’s activism and social justice emphasis. I agreed wholeheartedly with him sharing his personal views on Herschel Walker from his pulpit. Herschel Walker was not qualified for the position in any manner. Atlanta has the largest income inequality in the country. As a Black pastor in Georgia, part of me thinks it would have been irresponsible for him not to speak up against the blatant deceit and religious scam put on by the Republican party. To those who disagree, I’ve said it before and I will say it again – I would still be sitting in the back of the bus, unable to sit at lunch counters, and entering stores through Black doors were it not for the advocacy, organization, and political will of Black pastors during the Civil Rights Movement.

Bryant is the founder and former pastor at the Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, Maryland. While earning my master’s degree at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, School of Social Work, I attended Empowerment Temple three (3) Sundays in a row before deciding it was not the right spiritual home for me. Many in Bryant’s congregation had turned away from their criminal or violent paths and resources were available to help them stay on the right road. Despite being misaligned for me as a pastor, I often felt like Bryant played a role in my safety for those 3 ½ years of grad school because he reached those others had thrown away. That’s what good social programs do. Empowerment Temple offered acceptance, encouragement, and opportunity to the most vulnerable in the city as well as those living lives of affluence.

Back to the topic at hand…

Does the Bible speak specifically against cannabis? Biblical doctrine is not the focus I’m taking here.

Is cannabis being legalized all over the country? Legality is not the focus I’m taking here.

Can we feed people spiritually, financially, and physically by growing fruits and vegetables at the church? Yes, we can and that is my focus here.

I don’t know if Bryant’s megachurch is a member of The Black Church Food Security Network but I hope that it is. The Black Church Food Security Network is a network of Black churches organized to advance, health, wealth, and power for Black people. They bring together Black churches and show them how to use their assets to establish gardens on their land, host miniature farmer’s markets, and buy wholesale from Black farmers co-creating local Black-owned food systems.

I am a proponent of farming. Farming skills are vocational skills and can lead to employment, better eating, health education and promotion, physical movement, connections to nature, and opportunities for family and community activities.

Kudos to Pastor Bryant for bringing the spotlight to Black agriculture and farming. The interview clip is a great social media promo and media sound bite. Jamal Bryant is a master marketer and in my opinion, this is very on-brand. Cannabis was the bright shiny object that caught our attention but it was not the end goal. Which is a good thing because I’m not ready to ride for weed being grown at the church house yet, LOL! Weed overshadowed the overall vision.

I know program development and management intimately, LOL. With the numerous health disparities, lack of access to healthy food and nutrition education, high rates of trauma, anxiety and depression, and high unemployment and substance use in the Black community in general, growing fruits and vegetables and raising farm animals is not only less controversial than growing cannabis, but I believe it is also more sustainable for the Black family and community in the short-term and the long-term.


12/8/22: Video UPDATE from Jamal Bryant

My update: Cannabis is more lucrative than cows! Business as usual gets us more business as usual, but I’m still not cosigning weed at the church! And I want to remind us again…this is very on-brand.


Nicki Sanders, MSW, ushers high-performing women of color in mid-level social work and human services leadership through promotion to senior leadership. As Founder and CEO of Nicki Sanders Leadership Consulting, her mission is simple – to eliminate toxic workplaces by developing skilled, empathetic, and goal-oriented leaders who have the vision, support, and resources to create a culture where business prospers, and employees thrive individually and collectively. Nicki has an extensive background in nonprofit management leading high-functioning, multi-disciplinary teams. She is an accomplished professor, coach, trainer, and group facilitator who has combined her gift for authentic relationships, Master of Social Work degree, and over 20 years of diverse work experience to create a life and career aligned with her values and purpose. Nicki is a lover of cupcakes, travel, and 80’s hip hop and R&B music.

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