A Conversation On Black Women, Atheism And Leaving the Church

January 15, 2014  |  

 

There is a video of author Candace L. M. Gorham discussing her new book, The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion—and Others Should Too.

For those with cheap data plans and on office network with internet filters and can’t see the video (available here), here is an excerpt of what she said in the video, which explains the premise of the book:

The Ebony Exodus Project is about looking at the lives of black women. The premise of the project is that black women are the single most religious demographic in the United States, yet we are at the bottom of the totem pole on practically every measure of quality of life if you look at financial health, physical health, emotional health – all of these areas. And of course, one of the premises of Christianity is that we will live a prosperous, happy life. So the project is sort of looking at black women, who are no longer religious and sort of examining their experiences when they were a Christian and why they left. And how the quality of their lives are now that they’re no longer believers.”

I haven’t read the book (yet), but on the book’s website, Gorham is described as a former evangelical minister, who after struggles with severe yet unnamed mental illness and financial hardships, started to have serious doubts about her faith. Today she is an atheist. She is also a secular family and youth counselor and researcher, whose primary work is studying what she feels is a connection between church and what she calls “the plight of black women.”

The atheist website Patheos recently featured a few excerpts from The Black Exodus Project‘s first chapter, which gives us further insight into Gorham’s research. Based upon the excerpts, Gorham emphasizes how most of the collective black community is awash in Christian religiosity (in particular, communities with churches, Christian day care, school and beauty salons on every corner) and how this influence has lead to a thinking even among some black Christians that we as a people should show some “gratitude for slavery,” which has saved us from paganism and eternal damnation. Gorham writes that not only is this thinking counterproductive, but also contrary to historical evidence, which shows that the real saviors of black folks – at least in America – were freethinking (as defined by wiki: a philosophical viewpoint that opinions should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas) abolitionists like Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, the latter of which, Gorham says was very vocal about his disdain for Christianity. Gorham also writes that the same is true for the Civil Rights Movement where freethinkers and atheists like James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry and A. Philip Randolph were just as influential as the likes of black religious leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

She also writes:

“So, why is there not more conversation in the black community about the role of the church? Why is there not more analysis of the good, the bad, and the ugly? Perhaps some people simply have not made any connections between obvious life problems and the church. Some do not want to think about it while others simply have not thought about it. Some people may be completely apathetic, likely owing to their own nominal belief system. We also know that some people are judgmental from a distance, unable or unwilling to openly criticize the church. “The age-old association of religiosity with morality is particularly ironclad in African American communities. Because religiosity is evidence of ‘authentic’ blackness, it is difficult for black non-theists to publicly criticize the Black Church’s special trifecta of religious dogma, greed, and hubris.”

It’s definitely a conversation I am open to having. Generally speaking, folks don’t realize the courage it takes to walk away from the black church as a black woman. I know some friends, who are atheists, who compare it to being abandoned by your parents at a police station. And as someone who believes God can exist but also believes that there is also a possibility that God does not exist, I can’t begin to express the personal frustration over the lack of nuances to the whole discussion of black people, particularly black women, and their morality and religion in general. As a culture, it is time that we embrace the fact that some black women are Muslims. Some are Jewish or even Buddhist. Some practice African traditional religions while others ascribe their faith to new age spiritualism. And then there are some brothers and sisters who don’t believe at all. In fact, a fairly recent survey has found that from 1990 to 2008, the number of blacks without any religious affiliation nearly doubled from 6 to 11 percent. As such, there are black women experiences and identities, which get overshadowed or even silenced whenever we frame our faith to a narrow discussion around Christianity.

And I think that this is also a conversation worth having for black women, who have no intention of leaving the church, but find themselves sick of a culture, which sometimes promotes pastors and tithes over the overall quality of life of their congregation. A culture, which is filled predominately with women, but its leadership is largely controlled by men. A culture where pastors are free to ban hair weaves, homosexuals and harass single moms based upon what the bible says, but uses that same vague text to tell their mostly women congregations to ignore their own transgressions as pastors are a “work in progress.” I feel like, with any good business, the church has to be held accountable to its shareholders. And since black women are the primary shareholders, we deserve to be catered to and see a return on our investments, which are supposed to do more than line the coffers of some self-interested pastor. I have my personal feelings about the root of misogynistic behavior in the Church. And the only way that a realistic cultural shift will occur is when the black church feels threatened.

No matter where you stand religiously, I feel that it is important to examine how the institutions, which govern your faith, are responding to your needs. And if your instituition is not, either change it or abandon it all together. Heck, or even make something new up. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. However, I would be weary of discussions, which scapegoat Christianity for all the issues of black folks. Thomas Jefferson, for one, was a freethinker and a slave holder. Ben Franklin, a non-slaveholding statesmen, who is considered the most liberal freethinker of his time, did not divest himself from the country’s slave holding either. It is true that religion and its good book were instruments used in the oppression of our community, but there was enough blame across religious and non-religious spectrums to go around.

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