By Victor Ochieng
A church is a place where people come together to perform acts of worship. It provides spiritual sanctuary to the parishioners, being the place from where they draw strength and encouragement.
As such, the church should be well conversant with the goings on around them, take a stand and provide direction to their members.
It, however, appears that churches have become callous to things happening in the world, leaving people to make decisions based on what’s considered normal. At the same time, the lack of direction makes them uncomfortable, sending them from one church to another.
Tyree A. Boyd-Pates, a bifocaled Pan-Africanist gripped by grace, says he stopped going to his former church about half a year after the horrific killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. He used to be in a Pentecostal church in South Los Angeles. Boyd-Pates was disappointed by the fact that his church kept silent on Black Lives Matter or the ongoing campaign against police brutality. This gave him the impression that his life didn’t matter to the church either.
He couldn’t grasp how a Black church would be so sluggish in taking a stand on such a burning issue that affects a majority, if not all, of its membership. This pushed him to start looking for other churches, including going to a white church. However, these too came to him as disappointments, not meeting his expectations, culturally or politically.
The trend is a big contrast to what used to happen back in the 1960s, when the Black church played a critical role in the Civil Rights Movement, going as far as participating in demonstrations and injecting protest content in Sunday mass songs to inspire Black people to stand up for social justice.
Today’s church isn’t involved in any such efforts.
According to Shamell Bell, this isn’t in line with Jesus life. “Jesus was in those streets and so should we [be],” the LA-based Black Lives Matter activist said. She too stopped going to her church after seeing deafening silence by the church following last year’s Charleston church massacre.
“If the church is not going to get on board, then young black folks will continue to hop from church to church getting their fix of religion until they stop going altogether and imagine church in a new way,” Bell said. “That means if we get together in our homes weekly and love each other and show the fruit of the spirit, that is where our church will be.”
Bell isn’t alone. She’s among many youths hopping from one church to another, switching between traditional Protestant and the fast growing non-traditional church services.
Statistics prove this growing trend, reveals a 2014 Pew study. Although the number of people attending Black churches has relatively remained the same, the numbers flocking nondenominational churches has risen by millions.
Princeton Parker, a 22-year-old minister, who’s also a recent college graduate, is caught in between and is attending both the traditional and non-denominational churches.
“Black men need to hear conversations about family, s*xuality, and finance, and most importantly, we want to hear conversations about social justice,” Parker said. “You cannot find identity in a place that won’t talk about the difficulty about your identity.”
Black women too are caught in the mix. Christina Peterson, a queer Black woman who hails from Philadelphia, used to attend a Baptist church stopped being active in the church six years ago, saying she hasn’t found a place where she feels comfortable.
“I’m always greeted with stares and rude looks from others because I’m not dressed the way they think I should be,” said the 24-year-old Peterson. “Queer people love the Lord too, and we don’t want to go to church and feel attacked constantly.”
This is happening because traditional churches are quite strict, while nondenominational churches allow members to dress casually and play more contemporary music and conduct sermons that are relevant to the topical issues.