There used to be a time when the Black church was a hub of the Black community. The Black church could be counted on for news, information and as a gathering spot for those seeking political and social awareness. At one time, most notably during the Civil Rights Movement (about 1954 – 1968), the so-called “Black Church” was respected by even Blacks and others who were not directly affiliated with Black Church membership. Even Blacks who did not support the Civil Rights Movement respected the role of the Black Church. Even Blacks who thought “church” was too “churchy” respected the Black Church. Some Black Churches allowed civil rights activities to occur at their churches despite their reluctance to support the Civil Rights movement or some aspects of it. Nowadays, this mutual respect is gone. The Black Church is now seen as a bunch of hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach. Evidence of this hypocrisy is blatant and everywhere, from gospel singers having issues with pornography , folks preaching faith and deliverance than having experiences that dictate otherwise, to murder allegations.
Why Black Christians get no respect
There is an obvious disconnect between what we say we believe and what our lives show.
Our neighborhoods. It is not uncommon to pass by many churches situated on one block or quite a few churches situated within a three or four block radius, in many “Black” communities. The typical neighborhood that features this is one associated with crime, poverty and low-performing schools–all things of which a God with “a house made of many mansions” would be disproving. How are there churches made up of families that have lived generations in “the projects?” Where is the improvement? Many Black Christians brag about their “father in Heaven” being a “king.” Do kings’ children live in squalor?
Sex. Sex is viewed as a rite of passage amongst most “Blacks”–even amongst so-called “Christians.” I want to clarify that the term “Black” references the entire “Black” diaspora, which includes West Indians/Caribbeans and continental Africans. It’s interesting: There used to be a time when Blacks, especially Black Christian females, were considered to be more pious and chaste than other American women. Some evidence that this is no longer the case exists in one of comedian Marlon Wayans’ stand-up comedy routines where he talks about how “fast” Black women are. I was particularly surprised (and disappointed) because Mr. Wayans is “older,” in his forties. I wasn’t expecting this commentary from someone in that age group. I’m also finding that many of the positive attributes that used to be associated with “African-Americans” are now being attributed to other groups of Blacks. But this is another blogpost, for a different day.
If you can’t prove that you are having sex by about age 25, you risk other Blacks–even Christians–questioning your sexuality. Here’s where the confusion lies for a lot of folks: On one hand you’re told to “wait” until marriage, then when you do, you’re ridiculed. When it comes to sex and “Blacks”: You’re damned if you; you’re damned if you don’t. If you take too long to get married, your ability to attract a mate is questioned. And if you rush and marry the wrong person, the same questions abound. And, of course, females get the brunt of this imposed upon them–by other females.
Then there’s the lack of guidance about sex. I once attended a program entitled “Sex and the City” at a popular Black church in Brooklyn, known for boasting a membership of mostly educated middle and upper class Blacks. The program was supposed to be a “real” discussion about how Christians should conduct their sex life. The pastors who facilitated the session seemed to be afraid of even saying the word “sex,” and there was no clear guidance provided, just vague allusions to what pleases God. I think this is because most pastors don’t buy into the no pre-marital sex rule themselves.
A pastor told me that the “no sex before marriage rule” is not bought into by a lot of pastors and is taught to divinity students as a rule that is necessary for keeping order. In other words, divinity students are taught to preach as if they believe that pre-marital sex is a sin because otherwise people will not be able to control themselves. It’s kind of like a rule that is made to be broken. This same pastor also told me that when another elder pastor found out that he revealed this to another person, the elder pastor became upset with him. Apparently, the rule is there is no rule and the other rule is to pretend you believe and just be pious about it. In fact, Christians are the first people to gossip about whose having sex and who is not, and what this means about who and what a person is.
I think sex became a rite of passage in the Black community during the Enslavement Process: We were more valuable as slaves when we were breeding. We were paired up according to chronological and physiological maturity. On some plantations, when slaves’ authentic attraction to other slaves were honored, the expectation was that breeding—more slaves–would be the outcome. Blacks continue to perpetuate a lot of thought processes and behaviors we learned during the Enslavement Process. We will not progress about sex, church or any other topic until we engage a complete de-briefing of the impact of Slavery.
Obesity. Name four prominent Black gospel singers that are not overweight. Isn’t gluttony one of the seven deadly sins? Aren’t our bodies supposed to be our temples? Aren’t Christians supposed to represent God’s kingdom? The obesity rate amongst Black Christians is yet another example of the disconnect between what we say we believe and what we practice.
Christians don’t have trademark behavior. What are muslims known for? Not eating pork. What are Buddhists known for? What are Jews known for? What are Black Christians’ known for? Manipulative preachers who drive big, expensive cars the less fortunate congregants have paid for as they sin and ask for forgiveness.
The so-called “Black Church” is useless because . . .
It continues to be used to keep the unenlightened mentally incarcerated. The Nat Turner movie , about a slave whose preaching ability was used to help placate other slaves, shows the role that Judeo-Christianity played in perpetuating the Enslavement Process. I’m not one of those “throw the baby out with the bath water” type of people: I don’t think that one adverse feature of an idea or practice means that anything associated with it should be discarded as well. I do however, think, that our use of Judeo-Christianity has to be re-evaluated so that we can ensure the most optimal use of it. There are definitely some practices within the Black church that are detrimental and useless to the advancement of Blacks. This re-evaluation should be the focus of the next big conference of preachers.
Punk pastors don’t address real issues for fear of offending people and losing tithes and offerings. The criticism #JasperWilliams received after being HONEST about the state of the Black race is proof positive of this. If we had more Rev. Jasper Williamses, who have the courage to offer a critical analysis of the ills that permeate the Black community, “our” churches and communities would be in a lot better condition. The truth is like kryptonite to ignorant/entitled people. For most Blacks, especially Christians it seems, anytime something isn’t being blamed on “White people,” racism or “the devil,” we pathologize the messenger. Blacks now look to the Black Church for their get out of jail free cards.
There’s no clear guidance. Is pre-marital sex okay or not? Do we wait 90 days like Iyanla Vanzant says or not? If you’re “Black” and over the age of 25, and you have no proof that you’ve been fu–k–g–either through marriage, single parenthood, or serial dating or constantly talking about your personal life–even Black Christians will question your sexuality. The most you can get out of church is some good music and a couple of inspirational quotes. Encouragement goes only so far, though. Telling someone that they are the child of a king and that their situation is going to be alright is not practical. Religion is supposed to offer clear guidance about how to conduct one’s life. There is no application of principle because there are no principles! There used to be preachers that had the courage to tell the truth about his or her observations despite the heathens that would get up and walk out of the sanctuary. He or she knew that the folks who stayed were the real saints. Nowadays, punk pastors are more concerned with their rims and their tims, as the the Lauryn Hill song says, than “saving” people.
By most accounts, Black church membership is down. Preachers are scratching their heads and facing building losses because their churches are losing funding due to decreased attendance. Attendance is down because people aren’t getting anything out of going to church. Church offers no relief. You are likely to encounter the same level of pettiness and jealousy you encounter from so-called “worldly” people, while attending church. A single Black woman who walks into a Black church expecting to be “saved” from worldly assumptions is treated like she’s there to sleep with all of the married men. And can’t nobody gossip better than Black “Christians.” The Black Church is not the safe haven it once was. When my baby boomer mother, who grew up in church and raised me in church declared, “The Black Church is f–ked,” I knew I was onto something with this blogpost.
Empty, basic sermons that are an insult to people’s intelligence has replaced the structure and earnest fervor that once characterized the Black church.
Empty, basic sermons that are an insult to people’s intelligence has replaced the structure and earnest fervor that once characterized the Black church. I sat through a minister make an analogy between a watermelon and God’s grace, once. And this was at a large, celebrated Black church known for welcoming educated middle and upper-classed Blacks.
At its best, the Black Church could be a bastion for mass healing. The Black Church is probably still the only way to get Blacks of all shapes, sizes, beliefs and cultures together at one time. Once per week, Black preachers have an opportunity to effect real change–where it really counts–the mind–yet most use it to placate folks’ egos so as not to lose any offerings and tithes.