Thursday, January 8, 2009

More than Our Praise

I just completed a lengthy conversation regarding the state of the Black church in Durham, North Carolina. Every year, the folks who attend Black churches in Durham gather for a citywide revival. My friend asked if I would attend. Why not? I am the pastor of one of those churches. I told him I can’t stomach the emotions that come after I walk away from witnessing the faithful play games with God.

Don’t take this the wrong way. I love the worship of my people. The love the rhythm of the music and the stirring of the crowd that comes after each “Amen”. I love the call for justice to roll down like the river and the release of pain that comes with each “Thank you Jesus!”

I haven’t given up on black faith. I’m simply disappointed in how we have strayed from the principals that led us to this historical moment. I’m discouraged by how we’ve watched our communities deteriorate as larger temples are built in the midst of boarded up houses and drug infested neighborhoods. I shared with him the frustration I carry due to listening and watching as people seek ways to overcome the cycle of pain that has stripped them of all hope. I shared how I feel when I sit and watch, listen and wait for proof that our claims match our actions.

“But you have been on the top,” he reminded me of my former days as pastor of the Orange Grove Baptist Church-one of Durham’s leading black congregations. You know what it’s like to be one of the leading pastors in the city. You know it’s not all the fault of the leaders”

“I do,” I responded. “That’s why it hurts so much. It hurts because I have learned the lesson due to my own mistakes. I’ve learned that we have established institutions that pimp the people, and, in the process, create huge gaps between those who have and those who seek to find their way.”

I did my best to help him understand my position. For the past month I have grieved due to what I perceive to be dying faith among so many. I’ve listened as countless people share with me their issues with organized religion. I hear them talk about why they refuse to participate in the church of my mother and father. Something is missing. In the past, I perceived this as an excuse coming from those unwilling to change their ways. I would pray for God to touch them, teach them and lead them. My thoughts have shifted.

Some of what I feel may be correlated to my own struggles with that old time religion. I will confess I have deep wounds resulting from the insensitivity and callous ways of those who cast me out. I’ve prayed for God to release the anger I carried. In time I have discovered that my issues go much deeper than what has happened to me. What miffs me is about how our clinging to our past prevents us from seeing what God has for our future. There is something missing-something significant and critical-that demands our attention. People are hurting. People need comfort and peace. People need direction.

What does all of this mean about me? Sadly, it is getting harder for me to align myself with those who call themselves Christian. Why? Because I hurt for those who have been harmed by the language of misguided faith. I feel for my gay and lesbian friends who can’t find a home to worship while being open about their relationship. I ache for those who listen to the venom coming from pulpits while they only seek to find their own way to God.

I’ve cried all week over the death of men, women and children in Gaza. I trimmer whenever I hear a minister talk about God’s will related to war. I’m angry at the waving of flags in God’s name, and the promotion of an agenda as a holy war. I’m fed up with narrow minded Christians that launch words of hate rather than walking in love.

I’m tired of the lies and rebuke. I’m past being tired at the competition among the faithful to build a mega movement and the theologically unsound sermons that keep people in bondage. We need something different. Something empowering and transformative. Something more than words on a Sunday morning and a few programs that make us feel better each week.

We need to reach this generation that has given up on living spiritually. Can’t you see them as they walk away? Can’t you see them looking for other ways to deal with spiritual matters?
I tried to get my friend to see it. Maybe it’s too soon for his eyes to be opened. Or, maybe it’s just me.


  1. The masses scarcely see with the eyes of faith and follow the truth; rather, they blindly follow in the footsteps of tradition - it is smoother ground well trodden – it is easier to maneuver upon though it leads to destruction. Few will find and less will follow the path that leads to service to humanity, that heals and delivers, that is painful to tread being so narrow and course to bare feet. Only with feet removed from the shoes of self-preservation can the pain of those meant to be served be felt. …how beautiful are those feet.

  2. I, too, haven't attended a church on a regular basis in about four years--me--a former minister's daughter. I can't pretend to understand the politics and interworkings of the black church, but as a former church-goer in general, I also am disheartened. I no longer tithe for fear that my money will somehow be used to fund discriminatory activities and organizations, specifically against the gay community. I used to identify this as anger against God, but the more I think about the situation, God has nothing to do with it. I am angry at this image of God that seems to have sprung up in our country--a violent, bullying God who hates all those but the Republican, the conservative, the war-loving. I'm sick of having my salvation second-guessed by misguided Christians confused about my alignment with the gay community, the academic community, or whatever community of the day with which they may be uncomfortable. I've had people say to me--in all seriousness--that no Christian could be against the war. No Christian could fight for gay rights. No Christian could vote for a non-Conservative candidate. Is this really what Christianity has evolved into in this county?--The country I love? So many walls have been erected in our faith--if you're a Christian, they seem to say, you must believe X, Y, and Z. If not, I will pray that God will open your eyes to the folly of your ways. The arrogance of those sentiments shock me.

    I have been chastised by fellow Christians for not attending church, but I must say that I would rather read my Bible and wait for God's voice in my own house than sit in a pew filled with such hateful people. That's not to say, by stretch of the imagination, that all churches are bad or all Christians bad, but so many have been this way towards me and so many groups of people that I love in general that it has left a bad taste in my mouth, perhaps for years to come.

  3. It's nice to see you writing again. This was just what I needed, now that I'm trying to find my place once again.

  4. Interesting post. What amazes me is that I meet so many folks who are in church every time the doors open...and they are the biggest worriers I've ever met. Where is your faith? Why don't you truly trust God and do you know what that truly means? Sometimes we really have to get out of the way and let God work things out.

    I grew up in church and was an avid church goer throughout my 20s. Now I have an issue with organized religion as I find it very oppressive and limiting.

  5. It is good to collaborate on the big ideas. A thought experiment I like to do is focus on the implications of one's principles by "zooming out" from the idividual family to the greater world. Do you know what I mean?'

  6. Do you remember that great scene from Animal House, in which Otter is trying to defend the Delta Tau Chi fraternity before a disciplinary committee dedicated to kicking them off campus for their actions? He said, “But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals. If you do, shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? Isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us but we won't sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”

    I must admit that I had the same reaction when I read your blog, Carl. I wanted to say, “But you can’t hold the black church responsible for the behavior of a few misguided ministers. If you do, shouldn't we blame the whole American church? And if the whole American church is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of the Church Universal in general? Isn't this an indictment of the entire Christian faith in all times? Well, you can do what you want to us but we won't sit here and listen to you badmouth God!”

    But all of that would disguise what Otter also wanted to hide—that there are some severe problems which, if not corrected, will boot our entire Body into irrelevancy. Something does need to be done.

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the Church. I think for all its flaws it is still the Bride of Christ which has a future and a hope, and I will not give up on it. Having said that, I think there is something whittling away at our numbers and effectiveness besides the convenient excuse of Postmodernism. I think it is time for us to conduct a thorough self-evaluation and, when necessary, a self-cleaning. If it is truly of God, it will survive any examination we put it under.

  7. Amazing. I have come to the place in my life where I am really beginning to question the motives of people not God. I think about how we make judgments with veils covering our own eyes. And how we have this tendency to be so wise in our own understanding and human intelligence. It all sounds good but what good is the statements when the hearts of the people who comment are purely motivated out of a place of hurt, pain, and unresolved issues stemming from childhood hurt to church hurt. When we point the fingers let us first look at the 3 fingers pointing back to you.

    Saul persecuted the church but the Apostle Paul served God and through Jesus Christ and he helped build the church and wrote so many letters to the believers that encourage us here today. Paul doesn't want you to follow his example, he wrote for us to become followers of Jesus Christ to walk worthy and become the sons of God. But do you know what? Paul fell short of the glory of God. And guess what we all have fallen short of the glory of God and have sinned.

    Paul was humbled by sober truths. We follow standards set by human minds which in all its states remain fallen except the mind that is transformed by the reading of God's word.
    I love the Lord and I attend church services on a regular without missing a Sunday or a Wednesday. I go there knowing full well that there are problems and issues. But my place isn't to judge but to stay where God has planted me and to do what he-GOD has called me to do not what the pastors, elders...etc desire for me to do.

    There are always issues going on. But guess what? As long as you and I attend there are always going to be issues and problems and concerns. Because human beings dwell there you will always be something going on and even satan comes in when the sons of God have gathered themselves together. By the way these issues are not just limited to the black church. So please don't marginalize them as such. And what is black faith. I didn’t realize that faith had a color but I did realize that it has two action associated with it. Faith worketh by love and faith without works is dead.

    Because we claim to see so much and have so many judgments our guilt remains just as Jesus said to the Pharisees. That is why the light struck Saul (a Pharisee) blind. Because he thought that he could see so well and he was such a student of Jewish history and the Torah and all the Mitzvahs. God struck him so that he would come into the realization that the knowledge of God was too wonderful for him and the blindness also let him know that he could only see justly by the spirit of God. But to those who are blind they will be held guiltless. The church is clothed with shame now because she hasn't stood up. And the Lord has clothed her majestically. They haven't made things right yet and Jesus wants her to be clothed in glory.

    We shouldn’t force people to take sides and judge. None of us are righteous judges and couldn't walk in the authority of God’s judgment except for those imputed with righteousness because the father has chosen them for this task. We are to be used to save the so called enemies of God-people. Demons are God’s enemies. We wound our brothers by trying to take sides and warring against demonic spirits in them. That even they don’t fully understand. Believers believe the word period. There is no arguing with the word of God. It remains.

    God doesn't choose sides. He chooses holiness & righteousness. He will not compromise his word for the sake of Israel or the church. His word is his word. So be it.

  8. And yet, for all the pain and struggle, here's the spiritual reality: people of color are becoming the world's spiritual leaders today and will be the world's spiritual leaders tomorrow. For all the human failings and sin to which we are all subject, these are the communities that have most consistently held to the truth that our worship is both upward and outward. And as a result, you will be leading us all.