One of the things that puzzled me growing up, and still puzzles me today, is how devastated and broken many African American communities are although there are a huge number of local churches across America. I often wondered why there were churches where so many people who claim to be changed and transformed had no effect on the community around them. Before we dive in, I’d like to emphasize that this is not a sweeping indictment of all black churches. In fact, there are many places of worship where members are doing their part in a variety of ways to glorify God’s kingdom. However, we can’t deny the fact that there are many street corners in the African American community where crime, violence, and poverty run rampant while the church does nothing, so, here are seven revealing reasons why the black church isn’t more influential in the community.
Reason #1: Failure to Make Faith and Life Intersect
We hear a lot about how Jesus died and rose again but we don’t often hear how this affects us in our everyday lives. How do the scriptures inform our marriages? How do the scriptures inform our economics? These are just examples of what is left out in most black churches on Sunday morning. There needs to be more of an understanding of how faith and life intersect.
Reason #2: Systemic Injustice
The primary culprit behind the Church’s lack of influence in the community is plain, old systemic injustice. Black communities in the inner city are the way they are because of decisions that were made years ago. Whether it was poor and inadequate housing or the choice to build freeways over thriving neighborhoods, most of the problems boil down to systemic injustice.
Reason #3: Church Hypocrisy
Another reason why the Church is not effectively helping the black community is because of widespread hypocrisy. Many people are in church on Sunday but the Church is not in them throughout the rest of the week. Sadly, there are some closed-minded “regulars” in the Church that are wreaking havoc on the black community. And as a result of this, many people in the community opt not to attend church for anything other than pacifying their relatives on Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter.
Reason #4: No Leadership Pipeline
There is also a case to be made for a lack of leadership. Many older preachers and other leaders have held on to their positions and are not training the next generation to replace them. It never occurs to them that not only will they have someone to succeed them when they’re gone, but they will be able to multiply their efforts in the present through the recruiting and training of younger leaders.
Reason #5: Lack of Connection with Youth
Another reason why the church is not more influential in the black community is because it is not willing to tip over its sacred cows. Traditions are not to be tampered with in the eyes of leadership and older members of these churches. What they are failing to understand is that many of these traditions are irrelevant to young people, which can get in the way of effective ministry.
Reason #6: Pie in the Sky Mentality
One of the things that you will sometimes notice in the black church is a pie in the sky mentality. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “Everything’s going to be alright when we get to Heaven. Why do anything now?” Now, there is nothing wrong with aiming for Heaven. In fact, author C.S. Lewis once said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at Earth and you will get neither.” But seeking Heaven is to aggressively act as instruments of God’s kingdom here and now. Seeking Heaven is not an excuse to be passive. When heaven just becomes the reason we don’t do anything that’s being too heavenly minded they are no earthly good.
Reason #7: Lack of Vision
The final thing that stops black churches from affecting the community is that there is no vision for anything beyond Sunday morning. As long as the tithes are paid and the people are running around shouting, then we can all go home and say “We’ve had church.” This is a far cry from Jesus’ exhortation to be salt and light in the world (Matthew 5:13-15).
So, there you have it. And just to be clear, this is not to bash the black church. This is an autopsy of what needs to happen if we are going to see true and lasting change. African Americans are the most devout and religious group in the United States and so this remains a challenge as we seek to show that Jesus is the hope of the world.
How about you? What reasons would you add to this list?
Let’s face it. Being single and Christian is hard. It’s even harder to find that person you want to spend the rest of your life with. There are so many factors to consider: age, personality, looks, and spirituality. It can all become a blur. How do you even figure out if someone is a match for you? What does God have to say about it? Here are five powerful secrets to finding Mr. or Mrs. right as a young Christian single.
The first thing to consider is whether you and the other person are serving the Lord. One of the first things I discovered about my wife was that we were both passionate about serving God and looked for ways to bless others. In fact, I met my wife preparing for a short-term mission trip. The funny thing is it wasn’t love at first sight. We continued to serve together at different times and in different places for about four years. One day I looked up and realized we were spending a lot of time together and we worked well together.
You can’t find the right person for you if you are putting on a mask in public. The person you attract will be drawn to the mask and not the real you. So don’t be afraid to share your real opinions about things. Put your likes and dislikes on full display. Yes, some people will be repelled but the right people will be drawn to you. Now, don’t get me wrong. You don’t want a clone of yourself who thinks and believes the same way you do. You want someone who will be attracted to your authentic self.
Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone
I grew up in a small storefront church in Los Angeles. Most of my family still attends this church. My heart will always be there, but staying within this circle made my choices for a mate slim. Once I got out and started becoming involved in leading a Bible study on campus, and eventually going overseas on short-term mission trips, the dating pool started to widen. I started meeting different people and more people who were going in the same direction I was going. That all started with me stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Decide That You are Dating to Marry
This should be a no-brainer for Christians but oftentimes we just date people because we don’t want to be alone. Other times it’s just hormones taking over. If you didn’t know, Christians don’t date just to date. We date to marry. I can remember hearing a sermon about marriage and being a single Christian man. The pastor said that if we’re not going to a hostile mission field or secluding ourselves in the Amazon jungle to find a cure for cancer we need to plan to get married. That basically put me on blast and I started actively seeking to find a wife right then.
Be willing to let go
The last secret is this: Be willing to let go. Sometimes the person you are dating is not the right person. Still many people go on dating someone when they know that they don’t want to be with this person for the rest of their life. There are more red flags than a Chinese political rally yet the person still holds out hope that maybe they will change. Most of the time they will not. It’s best to stop holding on to hope that this person will change their ways or their basic personality traits. When you do that your perspective on the situation changes. You begin to compromise. You want the relationship to work so badly that you will do anything to make it happen. Eventually, either you both move on after wasting time or you end up marrying them and committing to a person who is not for you. Trust God. Be willing to let go.
Being healthy is pretty simple, but most people in the United States find it pretty hard. And for an African American, it’s over-the-top hard. Not only is the struggle of getting healthy and maintaining a healthy lifestyle embedded in the culture, but there are sometimes actual physical and financial obstacles to overall health.
There are many things in life that are simple and hard. Like staying committed to your spouse. It’s simple. Just stay faithful to one person for the rest of your life. It’s hard because there are all kinds of ups and downs you go through. Alongside various temptations, you will also lose that euphoric feeling you had when you first met. That’s what makes it hard for the long haul.
Following Jesus seems simple. Jesus is to be the Ruler and number one priority in your life. Sounds simple, right? It is but it’s also hard to do it. It means you have to deny yourself. Who wants to do that? It means that you have to trust someone you cannot see. That’s a pretty high expectation, and if you have ever tried it, it’s extremely difficult.
Application is Key
The simple part about being healthy is summed up in a maxim from Michael Pollan, the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: “Eat [real] food, not too much, mostly plants.” It can also be summed up in the overall guideline of staying active. That seems simple enough but even in the overall culture, it is a tall order. Folks who try often get buried in a mountain of guilt over late-night binges and how that occasional donut in the morning becomes a habitual.
There seems to be no end to the
In his book the Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg says that habits can be broken down into three basic steps. First there is a cue or the trigger that tells our brains that we need to do something. The next step is the routine, which is the behavior that leads to the reward. The next step is the reward that reinforces the habit. This is something he has labeled the habit loop.
Breaking Old Habits
It seems simple to break a habit then. All we need to do is recognize our cues. Then we can choose alternate behaviors that lead to a different reward. The problem comes when your whole culture is made up of cues that go against the habit you are trying to break. That’s when the mountain of unhealthiness seems insurmountable.
At that point, you have to choose between your cultural identity and your personal well-being. What do I mean by that? It’s Sunday afternoon at Big Mama’s house and everyone is famished after spending hours at church. Big Mama’s table is full of all kinds of things that are detrimental to your health: creamy mac and cheese. Fried chicken. Chocolate cake. The only thing that’s decent is the collared greens and those have been overcooked with ham hocks. So the health factor is reduced. What do you do? Do you skip the meal? You’re hungry and after all, you don’t want to disappoint Big Mama. Plus your family has been eating this way for years.
Besides that not only has your family been eating this way but millions of African American families have been eating this way. It’s embedded in your culture. You begin to remember that time when your unusual cousin from California came and ate salad the whole week and everyone ridiculed her and said she had been hanging around white folks too much. You don’t want to be thought of as betraying your race. So you reach for the fried chicken. It’s only right.
Limited Time and Resources
How about the many African Americans who are single moms? You don’t have time to cook healthy meals for the kids. You are just trying to make it through the day and get some peace once they are finally put to bed. So what do you do? You give them the quickest and easiest thing.
Most of the time the quickest and easiest thing is also the unhealthiest. It is loaded with sodium and sugar. It is targeted to parents and children and has been tested and refined to produce a bliss point. The bliss point is the perfect combination of salt, sugar, and fat that will get people craving for more. You don’t want to hear this but you’ve been had. The food companies are deliberately making you unhealthy so they can make a profit from your lack of time to cook healthy meals for your family.
What if you did choose to live healthy in spite of the inconvenience of cultural identity and time? You still may face other challenges. Let’s say you decided to follow Michael Pollan’s food maxim of eating real food and mostly plants. The economics are against you. Real food just costs more. When you’re faced with feeding your family with the amount of money for food in your budget you have to make some choices. If it doesn’t add up you will buy the junk. And then you’re pulled back into the cycle.
There is also the existence of food deserts that totally trump eating healthy. A food desert is a swath of a usually urban community that does not have a grocery store. There is no access to healthy food and families resort to buying food from the corner store which is usually processed and packaged. No fresh fruits or vegetables in sight. If you are part of the 23.5 million people (mostly African American and Latino) in the United States who live in a food desert, this is a huge obstacle.
Let’s Talk Money
How about if you said that you wanted to stay active? You want to get a gym membership. That’s going to cost. You also have a family to take care of and a job to go to. You have to find time to squeeze it in. Not only that but when most of your friends are not active then you won’t be active. Jim Rohn, the popular self-help guru, is often quoted as saying “You are the average of the five people you most spend time with.” When it comes to being active, most black people don’t hang around other active black people. Watching sports on TV doesn’t count.
This is the essence of the struggle many black people face when it comes to health. On the surface, it seems like the struggle that anyone who wants to make a major change faces. In many ways it is. What makes it unique is the cultural factors surrounding health.
For most African Americans eating processed, cheap, nutrient-absent foods and sitting on the couch watching reality shows has become a way of life. Gathering around the table to consume salt, sugar, and fat in copious amounts has become the symbol of what it means to be family.
History of Soul Food
Don’t get me wrong. I love soul food. I think that the distinct flavor of the cuisine that we grew up with is worth having once in a while but I also believe that some of the ingredients have gone the way of just wowing the taste buds instead of delivering the sustenance we need.
Bryant Terry, author of Afro-Vegan, in his article “Reclaiming True Grits” points out that once upon a time African American food was nutrient dense and less processed. He recalls the meals that his Ma’ Dear made in Tennessee and how they were organic and contained ingredients from the garden. It is important to note that we didn’t always eat like this.
So what happened? Corporate America happened. Concern for profit became more important than concern for humans. In the 1960s, Soul Food became a hit and the recipes became more dangerous to our health. We have come to equate soul food with the fare showcased in the episode of the Boondocks about the “itis.” You know, that feeling you get after a big meal and you just want to fall over and go to sleep.
TV or play video games on the couch is not what we are designed to do.
It’s a way of life I’ve seen played out in too many homes. Personally, I’ve tried to break away from it. I do it in fits and starts. Some leafy greens here. Some HIIT workouts there. Then sooner or later the holidays come. That’s when the temptation levels are the highest. My mind has two thoughts battling each other. The first thought is to not give in and pursue my highest ideals. The second one is that I’m not only missing out on the stimulation of my taste buds but the community that I’m a part of.
Most African Americans are a part of the church. It would seem that this makes things even worse. When church people get together, they eat. And they don’t just eat but they eat good (or bad depending on your point of view). Treating our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit seems to only apply to sex, smoking, and drinking in the church world. Packaged foods and large meals get a free pass.
I can remember when I was a strict vegan for six months in college. I was filled with energy and it was mostly from the food that I was eating and not eating. I felt like I was lighter than air. My mind was clear and I didn’t have any illnesses. Why did I stop? Family telling me I was eating rabbit food. To put it simply I had no community to support me. And when it comes to food and many other lifestyle choices, the community always wins. That’s why for most African Americans, eating healthy is simple and hard at the same time.
Thankfully there are those in the African American community who are banding together to promote good health. Here are just a few websites to help you find community for your new fitness habits:
Beautiful Women Do Workout
Black Fitness Today
Black Girl’s Guide to Weightloss
Urban Faith does not endorse any of the content on these sites. These links are provided only as a resource.
So what about you? Do you find it hard to live a healthy lifestyle? Do you find African American culture presents a barrier to a healthy lifestyle?
Racism seems to be a proverbial boogey man under America’s bed. When activists and spokesmen against racism cry out, they are usually met with the same suspicion as a young toddler who claims there is a monster under the bed. “Okay, son. Let’s check this out. See, there’s no monster under the bed. Go to sleep. Everything is fine.”
Those who point to racist acts, or a racist system, are summarily dismissed and encouraged to go along and get along with the times. We are living in a post-racial America. Something about this strikes a subtle but dissonant chord among the many who see racism interwoven throughout our political and economic system. Not only that, but it is also seen in the outright and unmistakable acts of terror committed against people of color in general and African Americans specifically.
A General Overview
For example, from 1999 to 2014 there were over seventy unarmed Black citizens murdered at the hands of the police. Some of these people were criminals or had a criminal record. Others were ordinary, upstanding citizens who just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—and the wrong color. These people were objects of a racist-tinged system that immediately perceives Black as bad, no good, and evil. Many were just in the wrong place at the wrong time but that has something to do with their Blackness and being at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. Their social location made them casualties of war.
So, there’s that. And then we come to the highest appointment in the land and in the world: The Office of President of the United States. From the beginning of the campaign until now, President Barack Obama has been suspected of being everything from an undercover Muslim extremist to the Antichrist and leader of the One World Government. Now, every president that has been in office in my lifetime has been accused of being the Antichrist, but the first Black president has been accused of not only being a Muslim extremist but also not being a citizen of the United States. No one questioned any of his predecessors’ citizenships. They only questioned his, because he did not fit into the neat “WASP” (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) category that so many of our commanders-in-chief have in the past. The last one who didn’t, John F. Kennedy, was shot. Hmmm…
Racism is now seen as the conspiracy theory that Black people rely on when things don’t go their way. The truth is things do not go anybody’s way all the time. We live in a world of pain and suffering. Ever since the fall of man, our world has been plagued by failure and disaster. Job put it simply that man who is born of a woman is of few days and full of suffering (Job 14:1). On the other hand, Black people in America and around the globe have had more than just a few days of suffering.
When a group of people as a whole are met with oppression and made to be scapegoats for 500 years, then that’s not the everyday suffering of an individual but the collective oppression of racism. It’s not that everyone’s racist. Believe me, I have better things to do than play the victim and go around blaming people for attitudes that I can’t see. That’s not how I roll. No racist blaming here. What I focus on is this: racism is not dead. Racism is an invented social hierarchy that is still in place today. You may not be racist but that doesn’t mean you are not affected by racism. Everyone is affected by it. It has colored our view of the world so much that if you are directly or indirectly benefiting from it, you can’t see it. It’s those who are affected by it that see it best.
The Proof is in the Facts
It’s hard not to notice that one out of five African American applicants face discrimination at job interviews. It’s hard not to notice that when a company receives a resume with a “Black-sounding” name, the applicant is 50% less likely to get a call back than one with the same credentials but a “White-sounding” name. It’s hard not to notice that Black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over by the police than White drivers. It’s hard not to notice that Black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than Whites. It’s hard not to notice these statistics…unless they do not affect you.
As a Black man, I see that police murdered 70 unarmed Black citizens within the last fifteen years and it alarms me and scares me and makes me think: that could’ve been me. I see that, even after careful research done on the people of ancient Egypt and the genetics of the first humans, a movie focusing on those times such as Noah or Gods of Egypt can depict only White men being in power. So, when I walk into a room I’m not seen as someone who can lead but someone who will be on the bottom. I see that the median wealth of White households is 13 times more than the wealth of Black households since the Great Recession of 2007 and I have to ask myself, “How did we get here in the first place?”
A Historical Context
Well, way back in the 15th century when the European world was being awakened to the vast riches and natural resources beyond its borders, the then mostly Christian nations of the time needed a theory. They needed a theory that allowed them to justify them subjugating and oppressing those who were “other.” Out of that need for a theory racism was born. A social hierarchy was created where the fair-skinned people were on top and those who were darker were on the bottom.
Out of this social hierarchy came slavery, genocide, colonialism and the conquest and rape of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. It’s not pretty but it’s something that we have to deal with. This same social hierarchy persisted into the Jim Crow era. It gave license to separate but unequal schools, housing, health care, jobs, and anything else you could think of. This social hierarchy gave a blank check to the Ku Klux Klan terrorism and lynching.
This same hierarchy is embedded in the fabric of our nation. It can be seen in the mass incarceration of African Americans. It can be seen in the huge gap in African Americans being hired for tech jobs. This hierarchy creates a subconscious bias against people of color. It causes us to unknowingly—and knowingly—give in to stereotypes. We write our screenplays and vote a certain way because of this hierarchy that has influenced people for over 500 years. You can’t just get rid of something like that without sustained, focused effort.
Renewing of the Mind
It is the kind of stronghold and a principality that Paul talks about in his letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:12). It’s bigger than just individuals. In the same letter Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood.” Racism is bigger than people. It is a cultural force that has swept America up in its path. In his book Brainwashed, Tom Burrell talks about the powerful propaganda campaign that has been executed to perpetuate the myth of Black inferiority. He states that, as a Black man, he is personally repulsed, but as an advertising executive, he can’t help but admire the genius of the strategy. Holding hands and singing “Kumbaya” can’t fix it. It takes a renewing of the mind and a casting out. It is a demon that sits in the haunted corners of our national psyche and it needs to be evicted.
Yes, America. You are possessed. There is an unclean spirit in you that has caused you to act against your better self. Its name is “racism.” We can get rid of slavery and segregation, but until we get rid of racism, Laquan McDonalds will still get shot in the streets in cold blood. People will still get called the N-word, even if they are the President of the United States. Our children will not have equal education and opportunities, and many African Americans will continue to hate themselves. As long as racism is allowed a free pass while we hold to not being racist, then we are doomed. It’s bigger than you as an individual. And no, we are not making this up.
Let’s talk about it. What are your thoughts on racism in America? Do you believe that the solution begins with changing one’s current mindset?
Can science and faith co-exist?
So you’re intelligent. You’re a Christian. You love both of those aspects about yourself. It’s not enough for you to just get your praise on, you also get your study on. You read the Bible, but you also read widely on many other subjects. You are in college and you don’t dread your courseload, except that one class. That one science class. You imagine a professor opposed to anything that resembles religion or Christianity. You fear being embarrassed or ridiculed because of your faith. I’ve been there. Many of us who strive to represent our faith and use our minds for God’s glory have been there. For me, it was Anthropology 101. For others, it was physics or astronomy. As science explores the natural world, it is inevitable that questions about who created this natural world come up. The good thing is that science and your faith can co-exist. They are not polar opposites, and belief and love of one does not cancel out your belief in and love of the other.
In my pursuit of reconciling faith and science, I have concluded that they both have an authority, but their authority is relegated to two different spheres. Science asks, “What’s out there?” Faith asks, “Why are we here?” Albert Einstein categorized these two questions as questions of fact and questions of value. Although in many ways these two things overlap and play off of each other, I do not believe they cancel each other out. Science answers questions about what is observable and what we can quantify. In other words, it doesn’t seek to ask questions regarding the meaning of what we observe and quantify. Those things we believe in before we do any experiments or formulate our theories. We already enter the science lab or classroom with a bias toward belief or non-belief in a Creator. We already have a religious tradition we hold to or don’t. The answers of science bring these issues to the surface, but they can never give the final answer on these issues.
What’s interesting is that the Christian faith helped aid the development of science. Galileo Galilei, who was sadly opposed by the medieval church, was a Christian and believed God had given us our mental faculties to explore the world. He believed “the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has not intended us to forgo their use.” It was this belief that prompted Galileo to explore the universe and confirm that the planets revolve around the sun. Ultimately, this discovery would lead to him placed under house arrest by church authorities. Galileo firmly believed in the two categories of facts and value, as he stated, “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”
Although not a Christian, Albert Einstein believed in a higher power. His whole goal in pursuing scientific work was to see the mystery behind nature and to “attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.” Einstein did not adhere to traditional religion, but had a particular disdain for atheists, considering them to be missing out on the wonder of the world and “the music of the spheres.” Einstein could grasp science and the existence of something beyond our world. It is this mindset that motivated him to say “science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
Then there’s the man that conquered the peanut and saved the whole South. A devout Christian man, George Washington Carver always found time to teach Sunday School to the students at Tuskegee University. His fervent work into the peanut was fueled by his belief of the outdoors being a “great cathedral in which God could be continuously spoken to and heard from.” Carver’s time in the “great cathedral” yielded over 300 uses for the peanut and 100 uses for the sweet potato, as well as numerous synthetic products like the dye still used in Crayola crayons.
When faith and science clash
So what happens when scientific discoveries clash with your beliefs? Discoveries and theories in regards to evolution, cloning, and astronomy may seem to come into conflict with classical interpretations of the Bible. Here’s what the great African theologian Augustine of Hippo had to say about it:
“If they [the infidel] find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”
Augustine here is saying that instead of continuing to promote ignorance in matters of science, we need to be careful with making dogmatic assertions on things the Bible is not concerned about. The Bible contains science, but it is not a science book. The Bible’s main purpose is spelled out by Jesus in John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (NLT).
The Bible is the history of God’s interaction with His people pointing to Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to lead you to Jesus and draw you closer to Him. It is not designed to give you a thorough explanation and summary of physics, biology, or astronomy. It is designed to give you one thing: knowledge and love for Jesus. When faith and science clash, we have to begin questioning our interpretation—not our faith. When we fail to do this, it only serves to cause those who don’t believe to mock and ignore us.
For example: In Psalm 19, David talks about how the sun revolves around the earth. It rises from one end and completes its course at another end like a runner in a race. We know from science that it is actually the earth that revolves around the sun. This is what got Galileo silenced and put on house arrest by the church. Instead of insisting that we need keep up the belief that the sun moves around the earth, maybe a different
interpretation is needed. David was not a scientist, but he was a poet or psalmist. Psalm 19 is an example of Hebrew poetry, and we know poetry is never to be taken literally. So what can we say about David’s assertion that the sun revolves around the earth? That the psalm’s point is not to assert that the sun revolves around the earth. It was, instead, David’s way of being in awe of nature—something that scientists and Christians can both agree on.
Science and faith are not opposites. They are just different ways of pursuing different types of knowledge. One deals with facts and the other deals with the meaning of those facts. They both are needed and can help in our pursuit of truth. So instead of dreading interacting with your professor or hanging out with your really smart friend, maybe you could engage them with humility and an openness to see where science and faith can connect instead of clash. It just might open up a new understanding and love for God for the both of you.