Church and Society / Pop Culture / Religion / The Color Line

Hip Hop and the State of the Black Church, pt. 1

When dealing with the hip-hop generation and most certainly what M.K. Asante, Jr. refers to as the emergence of the post-hip hop generation, one must understand that much of the state of affairs within the inner cities is a result of a systemic governmental policies on the federal, state and local levels.  At issue is a fundamental flaw in the system and the current social structures that will constantly keep blacks and Latinos as a permanent underclass.  To address the plethora of issues from any other point of departure is a fallacy unto itself that would leave one with a skewed view of reality.

Particularly given the recent downturn in the economy, employment numbers are well into the teens in many inner city sectors and in the African American community.  But, what never gets addressed in a connected way is that black males, for instance can not as easily get a job because of red-lining policies.  If a potential employer sees an address, then they may not be as apt to hire them. Which then begs the question how did they end up living where they were living.  That very well may be because they did not qualify for a housing loan from a local bank simply because of the color of their skin, or because they did not have a good enough job or career and that becomes a vicious cycle.

Not to mention actual federal policies and mandates with regards to the criminal justice system that do not aggressively prosecute those who commit civil rights crimes.  There also exists a federal justice department that still has in place these mandatory sentencing laws that sign the proverbial death warrant on the lives of young black males across this country.  They all act in tandem with one another to produce a permanent underclass.

On the state and local levels it is easy to see who gets preferential treatment.  If one lives in an economically depressed neighborhood, property taxes are lower, as a result the tax base is lower, without a tax base to fund the city budget, city services such as fire, ambulance and policing are cut.  And of course schools. Just ask how Gary, Indiana, East St. Louis, Illinois and even the major city of Detroit, Michigan are facing such a tough uphill battle.  Even in Atlanta, when citizens of North Fulton County are clamoring about their tax money going to South Fulton County (which comes off as code word for “blacks”), one can see just how skewed the system is against those who happen to have heavy melanin in their skin.

Anytime a church responds with a “let’s pray about it” attitude in response to adequately dealing with youth and young adults who at times are innocent bystanders in a system that seems to be hell bent on their destruction, is the moment the black community and the black church will begin to lose the war.  The failure of the Black Church, as an institution, to promote an inclusive gospel that addresses social issues in a humanistic and communal way is one of the leading detriments to our community.

The black Christian religious community, by in large, does not create a space for academic or intellectual discourse.  While our white counterparts have been doing this for the past twenty and even thirty years in uber-progressive circles, the black Christian religious community has barely embraced Afro-centrism.  To date Afro-centric Christian thought is about as far as the black Christian religious community has progressed. Our failure to create intellectual spaces from those who are not clergy has perhaps been one of the contributing factors that has rendered the Black Church as irrelevant in the current black community.

It should be one of the roles of black churches to be central and viable parts of the communities they inhabit whether they are urban or suburban churches.  However, when churches fail to adjust their strategy or even adjust core fundamental beliefs and ideas then one should not at all be shocked.  Black churches are still trying to sell vinyl albums and 8-tracks in a world that downloads .mp3 files and listens to them on their iPod.

Such an analogy is to imply that not just has the method of listening to music changed, but that the music itself has changed.  Even still, black churches that consider themselves progressive, perhaps are not as progressive as they should be.  Some will make the argument that methods have changed, but that the Gospel remains the same.  One could counter-argue that from moving from vinyl records to .mp3 files, not just the method of transmitting the music has changed but that the music itself has changed—but it is still music.

I believe that once the black religious community “stops pulpittin’” and putting on a show and begin to live in the liminality that new thought brings then perhaps we will begin to see a shift in the well-being of the black community.  Of course, as a preacher I have no problems with preachers being included in on the discussion, pastors included.  However, when “good preaching” is passed off as intellectual discourse, we have a problem.  What I am referring to are these various panel discussions that occur in front of church folk:

I was looking for another clip where it was a bunch of male preachers, a lot, and they were, in my opinion just full of hot air.  What was really the case was that each was waiting for their turn in order to show their rhetorical prowess and turn a phrase in such a right way that went for the emotional kill factor rather than trying to engage in a discourse.

Since I’ve discovered Jamal-Harrison Bryant (he’s my new whipping post so just be prepared to hear my criticize him in the ensuing months not really because of his whole infidelity thing, but seriously, I expect more from a young brother such as he), I of course think that what he did in his response to Carlton Pearson was much more dangerous than Carlton will ever be. If Pearson is so dangerous, then where’s his following? They ALL left him and he was forced to leave Tulsa.  And the majority of blacks dismiss Johnnie Colemon and Christ Universal Temple so quickly, him being the new pastor there is still a mere drop in the bucket in the larger scheme of black religious culture.  A response such as Bryant’s, and he is not alone by far, I believe is indicative of the anti-intellectual culture that is black Christian religion.

Bryant, or anyone else who would have been sitting in that chair, was not required by the audience to meet Carlton Pearson on an intellectual level and debate him.  The tried and true method of going back to the biblical record was all that was necessary to proceed.

And poor Miss Lexi.

But I won’t go there.

In black churches, we hire youth pastors who are over 40.  In our white counterparts, the first hire job would undoubtedly go to someone under 30, and probably as close to 21-25 as humanly possible.  When the black church structure practices blatant ageism and sexism, which should be the easy ones, we most certainly cannot address homophobia.  When the black religious community still is looking for a “leader” or even “leaders” I think we have missed the boat completely.

In the age of relativism and in a society that truly embraces rugged individualism (just think about your iPod or your Myspace page or even your Formspring.me account) the black religious community must force themselves to deal with the hard questions and not shirk them off as mere jabberwocky. The failure to embrace the hip-hop generation, or even to inculcate them with the same falsehoods that the old guard has been operating from over the post-slavery generations does nothing more than perpetually keep blacks in ignorance.  Even if one wants to claim that doing so is part of our African aesthetic, please believe, by these generations, we’re quite the Americans.  No, I’m not pushing a “love it or leave it” ideology, but I would dare say that at bare minimum there is as much American about us as there is African.  That’s why Langston Hughes sang “I too, sing America” and James Weldon Johnson’s “true to our native land” he was referring to was that of this country, the one of his birth.  And Martin Luther King had a dream that was “deeply rooted in the American dream.”  Once the black religious structure buys into the pluralism of this culture perhaps we’ll see a change.

As it stands, when we talk about the black religious culture in this country, we forget about the varied “differentiated spaces” that it occupies.  Certainly just because one is black and is affiliated with a religion does not make one a part of the black religious space.  This wholly excludes black Catholics, Lutherans, Espiscopalians and by in large many black Pentecostals. Not to mention the Nation of Islam, the black Muslims, black Buddhists or Rastafarians.  And even for those in Louisiana where voudoun is practiced along side of Roman Catholicism–not even in the picture. (Hopefully for the sake of this article one could tell when I was speaking specifically about black Christians versus the entire list of “excluded” religions.)

So when you go to your Bible studies on Wednesday night and the pastor starts preaching–run! That’s a Wednesday night service.  You could get that on Sunday morning. The Bible study is the place to ask those questions about stuff you didn’t know or always wanted to ask but were afraid to.  So, may you be empowered to break down the barriers in your various religious settings and ask those questions you always wanted to know an answer to.

You can do it. We need you to.  As Gandhi said “be the change that you want to see in the world.”

We’re waiting on you.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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4 thoughts on “Hip Hop and the State of the Black Church, pt. 1

  1. Very interesting. Made me explore more Carlton Pearson.

    Hell on earth instead of literal fire and brimstone (hmmm)…

  2. in no particular order:
    1) lexi is a mess. she vacillates between so many theories/beliefs when she interviews someone, she has to be confusing her own self. she tries to be all deep and spiritual, but simply comes off all blah blah.
    2) i’m not a fan of bryant. my issues with his personal life aside, he got lost somewhere in all his academic pursuits. when he was fresh out of school and we had him come speak at my college, he was more humble. now everything has to be a catch phrase and trying to use fancy words like dyson or noel jones. just preach the Word, save the theatrics. hyperbole will only fool so many people…
    3) and i wholeheartedly agree on the lack of intellectual discourse in churches. all we get in response to questions is “just because…” we hardly ever get the research and honest discussion to answer some of these questions. on the flip side, you have people who want to be all lofty and verbose and ain’t saying ish. the black church can be so confused at times…

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