Black People Are the Most Religious People In America, But What Are They Getting Out Of It?

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African-Americans are the most religious group in the United States, but what are they getting in return?

According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of African-Americans identify as Christian, as opposed to 70 percent of whites and 77 percent of Latinos. A majority of Black people belong to historically Black protestant churches, which trace their origins to the late 18th century. Smaller numbers of African Americans are evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants and Muslims. The largest Black churches include the National Baptist Convention USA, Church of God in Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Association Inc.

Pew found that more African-Americans believe in God — 83 percent — than whites and Latinos — 61 percent and 59 percent, respectively. More Black people say religion is very important in their lives — 75 percent versus 49 percent of whites and 59 percent of Hispanics. However, the number of religiously unaffiliated African-Americans is on the increase, and older Black people are more likely to be a part of historically Black Protestant congregations than younger people. These data on African-Americans and religiosity reflect a religious survey Pew conducted a decade ago.

The phenomenon is not limited to Black people in America, as Black people in general tend to be the most devout Christians, and Christianity is the most popular religion among the poor, formerly colonized people in Africa. On the continent, 55 percent of people are Christian, as opposed to 9 percent in 1910.

These statistics on Black religious enthusiasm come amid reports of a Black exodus by those, especially young people, who seek traditional African spirituality, or perhaps are disenchanted with the hypocrisy and sanctimony of Christian evangelicals, and view Christianity as a ”white man’s religion” that will not speak out against institutional racism and is stalling Black liberation. While Black young people and millennials are leaving a “stale, stagnant church” that has not grown with them and has shown hostility towards their movements, as D. Danyelle Thomas, founder and content creator of Unfit Christian wrote last year, this begs the question: What of the many people in the Black community, those who face the greatest challenges in society and continue to be so religious?

Black people generally did not arrive in America as Christians, as most were followers of indigenous traditional faiths and 10 to 15 percent were believers in Islam. Christianity was the religion of the slave master and of white supremacy. And yet, Christianity was the faith of Nat Turner and John Brown, of abolition. Faith has been an important part of Black life for centuries, for people who turned to the Bible for hope and inspiration and created their own form of worship.

Dr. Eboni Marshall-Turman, assistant professor of Theology and African American Religion at Yale Divinity School, is highly critical of the Black church. However, she also readily points out the significance of the Black church and its role in the community. “If we take the premise that African-Americans are the most religious people in America, what are they getting in return presupposes certain kinds of materiality which are at stake for Black people of faith. But I think more integral to a Black Christian project is hope,” Dr. Marshall-Turman, a Christian theologian who served for ten years as assistant minister of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, told Atlanta Black Star. She added that religion historically has oriented Black people to the world, “especially to a world in the U.S. that has denigrated Black life,” and has provided a “breathing space for Black people to survive and thrive” and “think about one’s own life and future outside white hegemony.”

“There is a material aspect beyond the project of hope and possibility that is part of the tradition the church. It is often one of the first places we go and the last place we find ourselves,” Marshall-Turman offered. “We will die, and a person of faith will stand over us and say final words. Whether we see ourselves related to the Black church in terms of membership, there is the lifespan in terms of our community; the Black church bookends from the blessing of babies to the funeralizing of the dead.”

There are tangible ways in which the Black church participates in the life of the Black community, the Black theologian notes. “Black churches feed the hungry, they support the homeless. They support those who may not have the basic necessities of life. They show up at court to support members of our community who have been unjustly incarcerated and find themselves in the throes if the criminal justice system,” she said. “They advocate in terms of basic necessities, housing, jobs, equal-pay services in the communities, very foundational basic matters of one’s right to life,” Marshall-Turman added, noting Black churches and mosques that go beyond offering hope and are “showing up” and serving people outside of their congregation, and handing out food on a regular basis.

D. Danyelle Thomas has a different take on the Black church and why people remain. “I would venture to say that most remain in relationship with the church because of both fear and familiarity. Even those with only a tangential relationship to church/faith, the fear of hellfire and brimstone as an alternative is enough to keep us captive,” Thomas told Atlanta Black Star, noting that hellfire, which she removed from her own theology, is not the dominant philosophy for most Black churches. “There’s also the facet of familiarity, as Black churches are more than places of worship, they offer community within community for us. Some of us still do church because it’s what we’ve always done. Like fear, familiarity has a stronghold on Black folks’ relationship with faith because interrogating the ‘why’ behind our actions isn’t always easy,” she added.

There is no monolithic Black church, and some African-Americans congregations have a long legacy or a present-day track record of fighting for social and racial justice. Black churches have fought on the front lines in resisting racism through slavery and the civil rights movement, and the AME Church was founded in resistance to slavery. A center of community life, the Black church often has been the target of Klan violence and white domestic terror, whether the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, or the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. However, Black religious institutions have also pacified the Black struggle. As beloved as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X are in the Black community, not everyone was with them and what they espoused when they were alive. Some Black churches have internalized white supremacy and have been accused of exploiting their congregations, and in the case of prosperity gospel, have appropriated white notions of capitalism for Black religious spaces.

Prosperity theology is alive and well, Thomas says. “The thing is, we all know we live in a system of capitalism that uses the tools of racism, sexism, classism, and the like to further hegemony. In my experience, I’ve found that the Black church is but a microcosm of the society at large. This is historically not the case, of course, as we know that the Black church was the cornerstone of the Civil Rights Movement and that faith has sustained our ancestors and living elders,” she said. “Logically, we understand that money answers all things so I don’t think people expect churches to operate for free. But, like with music and sports, churches have proved to be a fast-track to financial success with the right sales pitch — and that has, in my observation, elevated the visibility of Prosperity Theology or, as I call it, the business of church,” Thomas added.

According to Thomas, the pitch of prosperity theology is that an endless supply of wealth will be available to those who believe strongly enough. “There’s a bible verse that we’ve gleaned the idea that ‘only what you do for Christ will last’ (II Corinthians 5:9-10), and when you couple that with verses like Luke 6:38 (“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back”), the formula of spiritual gaslighting writes itself. And many folks decide to stay because they’ve been stripped of critical analysis in Jesus’ name,” she said.

Many people, including Black people, are in a relationship of spiritual gaslighting with their churches, Thomas argues, which lays the foundation for why many remain in churches that are not empowering or growing them. “Spiritual gaslighting is feeling like you’re crazy or bad, being taught the inability to trust your own judgment, constantly apologizing, insane levels of guilt and a need to constantly justify your normal, everyday decisions to an implacable and hyper-critical external authority,” she noted, adding that this does not mean the church is inherently abusive, but rather that certain normalized aspects of church culture are at play. “Your reason, conscience, will, emotions, culture, and even your personal relationship with God are all continually under attack by demonic forces that are seeking to deceive you. Therefore, you should be automatically suspicious of anything that comes from either yourself or from a source outside of the ideological bubble,” Thomas said.

“Those of us who stay or, at least, keep a tenuous-at-best relationship with the church WHILE transforming our theology do so because we understand the importance of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. We also stay because we believe in the possibility of building the new community that reflects our hopes,” Thomas said, while acknowledging that some people are fortunate to be in fellowship with ministries that focus on inclusion, mental health, social justice and other pressing concerns. “The latter, creating forward-looking fellowships, is the driver behind my work with Unfit Christian. My goal is to remove all things that restrict corporate access to God, including all the negative -isms and deafening silence on sociopolitical issues.”

“I think nothing is beyond critique. Black churches are not God. They are institutions built by human hands,” Marshall-Turnan believes. “if we want to strengthen the church and pursue the church as relevant to the Black community, we have to continually critique the church. I bet those who critique the church love the church, and believe in its transformative potential,” she said, noting the institution is historically sexist, homophobic, and transphobic, marginalizes young people and engages in economic fragmentation, which explain why young people are leaving the Black church.

“I’m not really concerned about the studies that show the increase in ‘nones,’ or that Black people are leaving the church. I feel the work of Antony Pinn is so resonant,” Marshall-Turman said of the Black atheist humanist scholar at Rice University who refutes the claim that all African-Americans are theists. “The narrative we’ve been hyper-religious people is not true, and when you think about the secular movements within the spectrum of the movement for Black freedom, it is obvious that every Black movement did not start in the church. So, it is not true that everybody has been in the church,” she noted, rejecting the alarmist argument about people leaving the Black church, and adding that with mobility and other societal factors, the concept of church itself is transforming.

“As a theological educator, I see the next generation every day. I see them coming with rigorous critiques of Black churches and also deep commitment to Black churches. … I also see young Black budding theologians who are imagining new ways of doing church, and I think the Black church as a rhetorical indicator is big enough to hold all of that. So I am not too worried about that. As an older millennial, I am not worried if the church will be here tomorrow,” she added, believing it will be in the hands of Black people such as these.

“The Black church has so much great potential to do transformational work. As it relates to everyday folks living in proximity to the church. Black churches matter,” Marshall-Turman concluded. “They just do, and they’re still held in high esteem behind this spirituality.”

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Donors Raise Over $200,000 For Historic Black Church Defaced By Vandals

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A GoFundMe account set up to help restore a historically Black Mississippi church defaced by vandals has raised over $200,000.

On Tuesday Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church congregants in Greenville, Mississippi found their sanctuary set ablaze with the words “Vote Trump,” spray painted on one of the church walls, ABC News reports.

According to the outlet, no one was harmed in the fire, but the blaze left behind charred pews and inside structure damage.

At a Wednesday news conference, Hopewell’s pastor, Carolyn Hudson, said parishioners were “heartbroken,” but was faithful that “God would allow us to build another sanctuary in that same place.”

Blair Reeves, a New York Native who organized the GoFundMe campaign, told ABC he felt “compelled” to act and was overwhelmed at the response.

“The animus of this election cycle combined with the potent racial history of burning black churches as a political symbol makes this event something we must not ignore,” Reeves wrote in the campaign’s description. “Only two weeks ago, the internet came together to help repair a North Carolina GOP field office that had been burned by thugs. Justice demands we do the same now.”

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Shooting victims included librarian and recent college grad

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One was a longtime librarian looking forward to retirement. Another had recently graduated from college with a business degree. At least two died in the church that they had attended for decades.

A closer look at some of the nine lives that were cut short by the gunman who opened fire in a black church in downtown Charleston:

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Image of Susie Jackson from Michael Skolnik via Twitter

SUSIE JACKSON

Susie Jackson, 87, was a longtime church member and sang in the choir. She and Ethel Lance were cousins. Jackson had recently visited her son and grandchildren in Cleveland, Ohio.

Tim Jackson told Cleveland television station WEWS that his grandmother was a loving, giving woman with a great smile.

CLEMENTA PINCKNEY

Clementa Pinckney, 41, was the beloved pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the country’s oldest black churches, and had been a state legislator for 19 years.

Just one year after graduating from Allen University in 1995, Pinckney became, at 23, the youngest African-American elected to the South Carolina Legislature. In 2000, he was elected to the state Senate.

He earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina in 1999 and studied at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.

A native of Beaufort, Pinckney began preaching at age 13 and was first appointed pastor at 18. He was named pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2010, according to the state Democratic Party.

“He had a core not many of us have,” said Sen. Vincent Sheheen, who sat beside him in Senate chambers. “I think of the irony that the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us in this chamber — is the one who lost his life.”

He is survived by his wife and two children.

CYNTHIA HURD
Cynthia Hurd’s brother took some comfort in knowing that his sister died in the church she grew up in and loved.Hurd, 54, was the manager of one of the busiest branches of the Charleston County library system. In her honor, the system closed all 16 of its branches Thursday, the day after her death.She grew up in Charleston, and her mother made sure they went Emanuel AME Church on Sundays, Wednesdays and any other time it was open, said her brother Malcom Graham, a former state senator from North Carolina.”I wasn’t surprised on a Wednesday night she was there,” Graham said Thursday.Hurd’s husband is a merchant sailor currently at sea near Saudi Arabia. Graham was trying to help him get home.

When Graham spoke to his sister last weekend, she said she couldn’t wait for her 55th birthday on Sunday, he said.

She was also looking toward retirement after 31 years of library work. The library issued a statement remembering Hurd as “a tireless servant of the community who spent her life helping residents, making sure they had every opportunity for an education and personal growth.”

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When will America wake-up…arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Too many guns on the streets!
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Police Release Image Of Suspect In Charleston Church Shooting

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Image: City of Charleston Twitter

More stories at TPM and News & Observer

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Film sheds light on Jesus People’s dark stories

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Jaime Prater

Image: USA Today

When filmmaker Jaime Prater decided to make a documentary exploring the lives of the children he grew up with at the Jesus People USA religious community, he says he never imagined his research would “open the floodgates.”

Stories poured out of sexual and physical abuse. More than a dozen adults who lived as children at Jesus People relate their stories in Prater’s film, No Place to Call Home, which has been released on Vimeo on Demand.

Jesus People is one of the last remnants of the Jesus Movement of the 1970s, which attracted earnest young urban missionaries seeking an alternative to the drug culture and free love communes of the time. Today, Jesus People says it offers adults and families a chance to turn around their lives in an evangelical, Bible-based communal setting.

Two lawsuits have been filed against Jesus People in Cook County Circuit Court. The suits also name the Evangelical Covenant Church, headquartered outside of Chicago. Jesus People has been a member congregation of that church since 1989.

In one of the suits, Heather Kool, 38, of Athens, Ga., alleges she was repeatedly sexually abused as a child by a resident of the community while living there with her mother.

In a separate suit, filed on March 24, Prater, 38, alleges he too was sexually molested as a boy “over a period of years” by a different community resident.

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Video: Louie Gohmert… ‘Separation of church and state’ means ‘church plays a role in the state’

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Louie Gohmert: ‘Separation of church and state’ means ‘church plays a role in the state’ (via Raw Story )

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said this week that the constitutional separation between church and state was meant to be a “one-way wall” where the “church plays a role in the state.” In a World Net Daily-sponsored promotion for an upcoming Christian

hristian TV event called “Washington – A Man of Prayer,” Gohmert recalled that the U.S. House of Representatives once met in what is now known as National Statuary Hall.

“On Sundays this became the largest non-denominational Christian church in the Washington, D.C. area,” he explained. “People came in here and prayed, they sang hymns, they worshipped God. It was part of our history.”

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Religion: A Purpose or an Agenda?

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Maybe I’m just trying to cover my bets regarding the hereafter, but I attend church on Sundays and a Torah group on Mondays. I’m open to mosque recommendations in Los Angeles as long as the following applies to them. What the Torah group and church have in common are a rabbi and pastor I admire, respect and adore. Both the Torah group and church are inclusive, non-judgmental, stand for something, will stand up for something but don’t stand up belligerently against anything that doesn’t harm people or the communities in which they live.

After attending both the Torah group and church for some time, I have come to some conclusions about religion.

The purpose of religion is to offer (vs. force upon) people the opportunity to disabuse themselves of both their destructive animal instincts and their personal self-serving egos and replace them with a perspective that better serves people and the community in which they live by bringing out their best qualities.

More from Mark Goulston @ Alternet

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