Losing my religion: Has the Black Church failed black people?

Paul Scott's column appears on the first and third Saturdays of each month.
Paul Scott's column appears on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

“That’s me in the corner / That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion”

-- R.E.M

I was an activist years before I even thought about entering the ministry. So, standing in the pulpit on Sunday morning was never really my thing. My calling was always out on the “highways and byways.”

Also, by the time I was ordained in 1998, my thirst to find the African origins of my spirituality began to clash with the Euro-centric version of religion I had been taught since birth. I guess my pastor picked up on that when one day he casually said, “There’s a big world out there, Paul.”

So, in 2002, I picked up my Bible, headed out the door and never looked back.

One question I am often asked on the street is “with so many churches in Durham, why is there so much crime, violence and poverty?”

I usually just give a shrug , mumble “ask them” and go about my mission. However, the critics do have a point. There is a church on almost every corner in Durham. And with the collection plate being passed around multiple times every Sunday, it would seem that no child should go without supper in the Bull City. So, what gives ?

Historically, the black church was built on activism. One can point to the late 18th century, when Absalom Jones, Richard Allen and a few others opposed segregation at St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, ultimately, leading to the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Although many critics delight in pointing out that while “Rev. Jones” is driving around in a $50,000 pimped out Caddie, his congregation is struggling to keep Duke Power from pulling the plug.

In fairness, most of our black leaders were ministers. Slavery insurrectionist Nat Turner proudly carried the title “reverend.” And while Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton immediately come to mind, there are hundreds of “street ministers” you will never see on CNN but who are doing major work.

Theologically speaking, many have labored to place religion in the context of the African American struggle, whether symbolically (Dr. James Cone’s “Black Theology Black Power”), socially (Rev. Albert Cleage aka Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman’s “Black Christian Nationalism”) or historically , (Ishakamusa Barashango’s “Afrikan Genesis”).

So one has to wonder, why are so many African American youth leaving the church?

As I stand on the West End, with the sun beaming down on my forehead as the well-dressed church folks ride by me with their air conditioners on full blast, I ,too, ponder this question.

During the winter, I sometimes chuckle when people passing by ask what support I receive from the churches as the cold February wind smacks me upside the head. “Not even a cup of hot cocoa “ I say.

This is not to say that churches in Durham aren’t doing some great things. I am sure, as they are reading this, some church folk are passing out school supplies. For that they should be applauded. However, that does not change the fact that there is a disconnect between the Black Church and the suffering masses of black people, especially the youth.

There is a scripture that begs the question, “Is there no balm in Gilead?” The condition of our community answers this question clearly.

Paul Scott’s column appears on the first and third Saturday of the month. Follow him on Twitter @NWSF

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