After years of observing the Christian community here in America, I've realized that there are fundamental issues with the expression of worship and the depth of faith among Black Christians. I began theorizing in my twenties and have arrived at a few educated guesses.
Here are three reasons why Black Christians don’t have a deep relationship with Christ…
1. Black Christians are Too Often Whipped into an Emotional Frenzy
While I love a good orator as much as the next guy, the overly-charismatic hype man of a preacher does more bad for our community than good. Notwithstanding, the late greats like Martin Luther King, Jr. who masterfully interwove theology and socially-conscious ideology with gifted wordplay and charismatic delivery, a large percentage of Black sermons leave the Black congregant “high” and “dry.” It moves the congregant to holler, to shout, to dance, and to – at its worst- disrupt an entire service with a praise break. This kind of “hype man” preaching is rarely coupled with in depth textual, topical or revelatory teaching of the Bible.
Preachers who toss out random Bible scriptures, meaningless rhetoric or use an organ to promote “good vibrations” within the Black parishioner are no better than a James Brown – who many may not know “borrowed” half his on-stage antics from the notorious hype man preachers in the Black church of his time. (Eg. Throwing a cape over the preacher, doing the shout dance, wiping the preacher’s brow) Rarely does the Black church boast teaching on problem-solving ala David Jeremiah, a study of Luke’s Gospel about who Jesus was ala Mark Driscoll or revelation about God’s kingdom and how we should live for it ala Peter Bonadie.
2. Black Christians Too Often Seek the Hand of God, Not His Face nor Heart
Black Christians know how to pray and cry, cry and pray all too well. And isn’t that what praying is, one might ask? Well…..not exactly. It’s only part of it.
Praying out of a personal need. Praying for provision. Praying for power. Praying for supernatural anointing. That’s all well and good, but does it have to encompass 99% of the prayers we are taught to say in the Black community.
I need you. I come to you because no one else understands. Please meet my need. Help me pay my rent. Give me strength to make it through another day. Get cousin Boo Boo out of jail. Bring me my raise this year. Heal me of high blood pressure.”
Now, God hears these prayers and he answers them. I’m not saying he won’t.
However, prayers like these are too common in our community.
They keep the Black person always at the edge of crisis. This does not sustain a person’s Christian life. It keeps you going back to the throne room, it keeps you yearning for more help, but it doesn’t sustain a real, vibrant walk with the Lord.
After a life-changing session of 48 Hours of Prayer at Kingdom Life Ministries International this past weekend, this is what Apostle Ben Ndobe of South Africa calls the prayer of an “outer court Christian.”
The outer court Christian – referring to the tabernacle of Biblical times - is always seeking something material. They seek divine healing while the inner court Christian lives in divine health. Ndobe relates the following two areas of scripture where the Children of Israel know God’s acts (Eg. pillar of cloud, parting of red Sea, manna from heaven, etc.) and the crowds following Jesus everywhere because of his great miracles (feeding the 5,000, healing the lame, etc).
Moses was the one who knew God’s ways. Similarly, it was only the 12 disciples who knew Jesus most intimately. The Israelites were so shallow in their relationship that they kept sinning. The New Testament folk were also fickle people who turned on Jesus and wanted him crucified.
Seeking God’s face and heart is not about a quick fix. It’s a richer, deeper relationship with our Creator that is characterized by time spent in prayer - worshipping him, asking for direction, seeking his will for your life, inquiring how your life can help him meet his needs on the earth and how you can relate better to his people and world. It’s also about learning to value what he values, then loving what he loves and hating what he hates. This is a higher level of the Christian walk, which causes your prayer life to move from the circumstantial to the overall agenda God has for your life.
To my chagrin, this kind of prayer life is taught more often in the White church setting.
Seeking God’s face and heart means you can now move comfortably in the most holy place – the place where only priests and prophets were allowed in Biblical times. In laymen’s terms, you receive more revelation, which builds greater understanding about your Creator, which builds stronger faith in him and his Ways. Thus, crisis, problems, sickness, and every other temporal circumstance will not shake your trust in Him. In short, you KNOW he’s got your back.
3. Black Gospel Music Reinforces the Burdened Mentality
Good music flows abundantly out of the Black church. In fact, it is one of the highlights of any Black church service. A good toe-tapping, call and response chorus is characteristic of choral music in the Black church, evolving into its format of emotional lead vocals with excessive ornamentation and a steady wailing background chorus.
The problem is that the format is most often paired with lyrics that denote pain, sorrow, the burdens of life and an attempt to overcome by thinking of heaven. Actually, this is no fault of songwriters like Kirk Franklin (The Storm is Over Now, He’ll Take the Pain Away) or Rev. Timothy Wright (Jesus When Troubles Burden Me Down). They’re only taking their cue from the content found in Negro Spirituals as depicted in 12 Years a Slave.
Negro spirituals are a musical form that is indigenous and specific to the religious experience in the United States of Africans and their descendants. Some African-American religious singing at this time was referred to as a “moan” (or a “groan”). This type of singing was often mixed with humming and spontaneous melodic variation.
Still, to this day, Blacks in America continue to replicate the style and content found in music that evolved out of years of slavery and oppression, including a form of Christianity most times distorted by slave masters. Their teachings kept slaves hoping for a better afterlife instead of a good present life. Thus, the Black Christian may spend most of life heavenly bound and not cultivating a real relationship with the God of the Earth.
As beautiful of a rendition “Lord Don’t Move that Mountain” by Mahalia Jackson is, it is probably the best representation of music that reinforces a burdened mentality in both form and content.
Conversely, the former oppressor – the White church in America - instead boasts an entirely different subject of music. Songs are about victory, triumph, liberty in Christ, or a heartfelt passion that is almost reminiscent of a wild romance between the believer and his/her Creator.
While these three reasons may be just a few of the factors that are symptomatic of a shallow relationship with the Lord, sadly the Christian in the Black community is satisfied with where they stand with Christ.
However, now that we’ve recognized the symptoms. What are we going to do about it?
Tiffani Knowles serves NEWD Magazine as the Managing Editor. She is also a radio personality and station manager for NEWDradio. She is a fun-loving chick with a love for words and has an interest in cultural, social and media theory.