The Space Between The Black Church and The Black Community

Photo of Reverend Jasper Williams, from BCNN

I’ll go right to the point.

We need to address the disconnect between the perspectives of those that frequent Black churches across the country and the perspectives of the younger, Black generation growing up in the now. We need to talk about why more and more young people are not going to church, regardless of their religious affiliation. We don’t discuss the people who have felt ostracized, not welcome, or frankly disrespected in these spaces intended for eternal love. Like every other generational difference, especially among Black people, it’s a hush-hush thing that is never brought up.

For many young folks (and I mean ages thirty and younger), the role of the church is a difficult topic to unpack. I love God, and I’m proud to say I’m a Christian, and I say all of that to pinpoint that this is not a piece about religion itself. I say my connection to religion to explain the situation that has propagated a wide generational difference that we don’t talk about enough. The church… The pace of the Black church is not aligning with the pace of young Black people. I, along with a lot of my peers, are very much here for a long overdue critique and examination of the failings of Black church culture.

In the last few decades, Black church culture (despite rare exceptions) has repressed Black political thought and action.

And somehow I feel like the primary audience of the Black church that mean well but hold conservative and often sexist views are not seeing young Black people eye to eye. Which makes this conversation so hard in the first place. A huge problem, not just in regarding the different generations among Black people, is that parents ingrained into our heads that we are not allowed to talk back. That we aren’t allowed to debate, let alone argue, with someone visibly older than us. That parents are correct by default, no matter which way you put it.

But it’s not surprising to many of those people that many of us reject the cowardly “you’d gots to do better” response. The same notions you feel regarding how short is “too short” and when we need to pull our pants up was ingrained into our older Black church-goer’s psyche, especially because of the time period they grew up in. It’s the same way older women might put their noses up to wearing their hair natural or in braids/twists.

Truth is, White supremacy is so ingrained in our psyche that many of us truly believe that we can survive and thrive in this racist, murderous system if we don’t wear short shorts, pull up our pants, and straighten our hair for these White folks.

Many Black churches are still the spearheads and advocates for “traditional” views of sexism, interracial marriage, and homophobia. This is because many churches like to take the Bible at face value, or to interpret and apply its ideas to modern day society. And the truth of the matter is that most of those ideologies simply don’t work in our society today, and probably weren’t even meant to be. However, any form of discourse surrounding the Bible and Christianity, or even the mere questioning of it, is forbidden in many Black American households.

We don’t feel comfortable going to church anymore because the gross aspects of interpersonal relationships are shadowed too often by the shared belief in Christ. Because of the commonality of religion, many people choose to look past sexism, misogyny, and overall disrespect in the house of worship.

And if anything, Ms. Aretha Franklin’s funeral service showed that.

Most of Aretha’s homegoing was very moving, including the performances by the choir, Chaka Khan, Fantasia, Jennifer Hudson, and every other powerhouse who graced the stage. Everyone looked fabulous in their Sunday’s best. Though I didn’t watch all of it, I was able to feel the good praise like I knew it from being a little girl with a godfather as a pastor. I settled into the funeral because I knew it would be long, including and especially the sour times that uncomfortably reminded me why I reject the church so often in the first place.

Reverend Jasper Williams’ plantation style speech at the Ms. Aretha Franklin funeral is a prime example why there is a total disconnect between young Black people and the older Black church crowd. Reverend Jasper Williams, who is the head pastor of a church in rural Georgia and who also gave the eulogy, is the perfect representation of why so many young people can’t stand the Black church. His conservative, bootstrappy ideals spread like wildfire during this celebration of one of the best voices to ever live. Truthfully, he would be a republican if he was equally as racist as misogynistic. In fact, it’s surprising how many Black people do share the same ideals as many republicans, including those having to do with anti-abortion and gay rights.

Jasper Williams talked about everything but Aretha Franklin, frankly said Black lives don’t matter, and puked respectability politics all over his discourse surrounding Black-on-Black crime (which truthfully, honestly, and statistically, does not exist). In the simplest of terms, most crime is committed intraracially because we live in a country that is still heavily segregated, in which you’re more likely to live near and around people who look like you. Our crime rates have nothing to do with the way police kill us over how we look, speak, or act, and to bring up such a controversial issue at this woman’s funeral was both disrespectful and obtuse.

While we are on the topic of debunking Black stereotypes, Mr. Williams also made it a point to talk about how there are no fathers in the home, even though Black dads are truthfully, honestly, and statistically just as involved as any other race. He made this point to say that women can’t raise sons to be men. Even though, *long sigh*, Aretha Franklin herself was a single mother and raised four sons. Even though men are the ones who routinely murder, assault, harass, and rape women, other men, and children, at disproportionate rates. Black women have held down the church and family despite garbage like Jasper Williams diminishing their efforts and we’ll simply no longer put up with it. The gag is, those single Black mothers that Jasper was putting down are the financial backbone of the Black church, which provide he and his fellow high-roller clergy their untaxed income, which gives them their livelihoods of spectacular opulence. When he spoke about Black mothers and raising their kids, he played into White supremacist brainwashing that convinces you that it is not racism that breaks out families and murders black kids; he thinks it’s black wayward behavior that’s the culprit. Even when Jasper Williams mentioned cops not being able to handle Black kids, he said nothing about Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy who was killed by cops when he was simply playing in the park. It’s because his (bad) theology, doesn’t challenge White supremacy.

His entire message, or whatever it was supposed to be, was off based and dumb. And it was the most upsetting because I knew there would be other people watching the same live stream, or in the same funeral service, who agreed with him. Except what he said was far from the truth and is the same consistently disproven rhetoric used by racists to excuse five hundred years of racial violence.

Jasper Williams is just one of many faces of all the people who don’t respect or welcome young people and their ideologies that don’t rest in respectability politics. He committed a horrific crime against his own people. He picked a nation wide audience to disparage the Black community! The Black Church is arguably the biggest perpetrator of Black respectability politics because of its cultural and moral position in black communities. Jasper Williams is one of the many black pastors who has used theology to push white supremacist brainwashing.

Another tone-deaf face that appeared at Aretha’s funeral was a man whose actions and behaviors hit a little too close to home for young women specifically. The bishop who officiated Aretha Franklin’s funeral, Charles H. Ellis III, singled Ariana Grande out by bringing her up to the podium to then make an insensitive joke and grope her. For many, including myself, his behavior stung. As soon as I saw it, I could tell from Ariana’s face she was visibly uncomfortable and looking around for help. She didn’t cause a scene, like many women don’t, because of where she was and the graveness of the situation. On top of that, Charles knew he had power, and took autonomy of the situation. He barely apologized afterwards, and that will probably be the only damage control expected out of him.

Men in high powered positions get away with things like this all the time because people don’t want to question the actions of a preacher. They assume, because he is so connected to Christ, he can’t possibly do any wrong. They, instead, blame Ariana’s dress.

And the sad part about all of this is that it isn’t new. Whether it is sexual harassment from the preacher, pastor, bishop, congregation, or uncles and other family members, older Black people have been conditioned to believe that young people are always in the wrong and don’t understand, or “don’t know how it is.”

But honestly, your connection with whatever God you serve (or don’t serve) doesn’t have to be put in question because you are calling out what is going on in the Church. Because we are human, and because we make mistakes, it is imperative that there are things that necessitate being called out. A lot of people have an unconditional devotion to the Church, period. Because of this, people are extremely sensitive about what happens within the Church. But people like Jasper Williams and Charles Ellis are the kinds of people that we have to remove in order for the Church to grow. If Aretha Franklin’s homegoing showed us anything, it was that ignorance remains on full display in many Black churches right now.

We need to stop this tradition of blaming Black people for everything and declaring what women can and cannot do. The men of Aretha’s funeral may be just two, but they are representative of the people and things we can identify with growing up in our own churches. They represent the type of Black male preachers found within the Black church which makes it a hostile, unsafe, hellish, vile space. The culture of everyone knowing about that one older man who preys on young girls in the choir, or the pastor that is sleeping around with other church goers, or the pastor that shuns gay people or deems it sinful, these things are common. I am not saying we, young Black people, are rejecting religion. Rather, we just wish the communities that are formed around it would move with the social tides of the people who are being raised in present day. Like I said, I love everything about Black church culture but the doctrine. Because of this, I’m not calling for the complete eradication of the Black church either. The history of the Black church in this country is so rich. It was a place of gathering. Of safety from White eyes. We could be together and worship, sing, and dance. Our favorite singers, like Aretha Franklin, came from the Black church. If it’s such a place of worship and love and welcome, why bother going if people are saying one thing but doing something completely different.