Chicken and Churches

“Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff” — Sojourner Truth

I grew up attending a southern Holiness church. The old time one room churches depicted in movies like the Apostle or the Help. Our church had restrictions on women wearing jewelry, make-up and pants (yes, pants).

For as long as I can remember, it was a requirement to attend church. We went to Sunday school starting at 9am, regular church service at 11am, night service at 7pm and bible school on Wednesdays. For the most part, I enjoyed the singing, the fried chicken and lemon pound cake served between services, and the noise of it all. You never knew when someone would get the Holy Ghost and start running down the center of the aisle. We kids bet on which choir member would fall out on the floor, bonus points if her wig fell off. And there wouldn’t be a church service without someone speaking in tongue. It was a carnival type atmosphere. My sister and I made the most of going to church not really understanding any of it.

By the time I was teenager, I found so many inconsistencies with the teachings of the Bible and my church. I read how Christianity was used to keep the slaves in line and couldn’t help but feel like it was still being used. We weren’t slaves anymore but people were still waiting on the afterlife for things to be better. They didn’t mind the suffering now because they knew heaven was waiting. Even the hymnals talked of it. A favorite song in church was “I’m going up to Yonder” by Walter Hawkins. “I can take the pain, the heartaches they bring, the comfort in knowing, I’ll soon be gone.” That song made no sense to me. I was frustrated during testimony service wondering why these poor people hadn’t done any better with such a generous God. I couldn’t believe that there were people still talking about God healing them from a sickness 20 years ago as if there weren’t any new miracles to discuss. Did God forget about them?

Switching to a Methodist church with more affluent people didn’t answer my questions. Their churches were bigger, their choir members all had record deals, and the parking lot was filled with new Mercedes and Cadillacs but the hypocrisy was still there. If “it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God”, why did the Bishop claim it was God’s favor if you were rich? They even had an ATM in the entranceway. Pretty sure, Jesus didn’t expect there to be a cover charge.

In my current neighborhood, there are least ten churches within a five mile radius. Ten. All of these churches own the land and pay no taxes on it. While I’m sure there are many churches who help people, couldn’t we get this same help from other charities without all the tax exemptions? Imagine if there were businesses in the place of the churches. Businesses who hire people, provide services and pay taxes. Those taxes could be used for better schools making the property values of the housing also rise.

You don’t see this number of churches in affluent neighborhoods. There are Starbucks and bistros and small businesses that sell vintage clothes. But Black neighborhoods are filled with chicken restaurants, liquor stores and churches. And all of them are bad for your health.