The reason I’m fishin’ 4 a new religion
is my church makes me fall asleep
They’re praising a God that watches you weep
and doesn’t want you to do a damn thing about it
When they want change the preacher says “shout it”
Does shouting bring about change ? I doubt it
All shouting does is make you lose your voice
–Arrested Development “Fishing for Religion”

Calling all black postmoderns. I know you’re out there. I know that we are out here asking certain questions, but we aren’t organized into a collective voice to effectively add to the conversation. It can’t just be the few individual voices, the few bloggers that I’ve run across: Anthony Smith (postmodern negro), Karen Ward (submergence), Rod Garvin, Marc Davidson, Jazz Theologian, and Andre Daley (Emergent Mosaic).

The question in question: how would postmodernity play out in the black church? Maybe it’s a question too early (or, worse, too late) to be asking. There is a looming crisis for the historic black church and it might be the case that no one is ready to talk about it until either there is a noticeable drop off in youth attendance or leaders rise up and are prepared to talk about it.

The church presented in the movie The Gospel, New Revelations, is indicative of far too many churches, black or otherwise. Aspects of our modern culture have insinuated themelves into the fabric of the church, deterring or outright corrupting its ministry. Values such as corporate policy and philosophy have been bought into by the church. Some people see the main job of the pastor as that of businessman, and the church as a business. The pastor becomes the CEO and the elders the board of directors. Offerings or tithes become income, or worse, profit; and this reduces the Gospel to little more than a product they’re trying to push.

There are a few things creeping into the Gospel message, subtle things that affect what it is we are supposed to be offering people. If the Gospel is a message of formation, what are these things forming us into:

– Consumerism – we live in a market culture, not the first century economic system of the first century. That being said, economic forces shapes much of black Christian life, beyond a simple lack of economics. We are being trained, raised up to be consumers. From the cars we drive, to where we live, to the clothes we wear, we have bought into a lust of life.

– Prosperity Gospel – some churches do a tither’s confession, having people confess not tithing what they should to the church. This “God will bless you if you give Him what is His first” smacks of a type of spiritual investment scheme reminiscent of the ancient Catholic scam of indulgence.

– Authoritarian – our pastors have risen to the level of personal popes. Our spiritual communities have always has been pastor-centered, with our leaders being a combination of tribal king, griot (story teller), and (spiritual) healer. However, this has often created a mentality of those same leaders brooking no threats to their (personal) power. The same mentality that has us putting up thrones behind pulpits awaiting the word of pastor.

The need to worship predates the church. It’s a response to the longings of our souls. It is an intuitive urge, a need. written onto our hearts. Yet our faith seems to be shriveling on the vine, packaged and marketed to the point of uselessness. Too much “pie in the sky when you die” not enough “the kingdom is now”/we need to participate in the revolution of reconciliation.

Faith becomes tied to social praxis. How we have understood our history and culture. How that is related to our faith in Christ. Faith becomes a matter of asking a different set of questions from a different social and historical context. Most importantly, faith revolves around moving from the sacred performance toward action. To take the generous orthodoxy of transforming faith (that wellspring that allows Christianity to find its way into any culture, bringing differences in faith) and let it guide generous orthopraxis.

We need a return of the Amen corners, those seats on either side of the pulpit filled with the older and prominent members of the congregation who responded enthusiastically to the service. Learning in multi-generational communities. To listen to a narrative approach to scripture, to learn the story that we choose to shape our lives by. And we need to challenge the metanarrative of the culture, challenging privilege and self-hate, with an emphasis on social justice.

We’ve lost our memory and are out of touch with our ancient practices. What we see are historic black churches indebted to western values and notions. So I guess I’ll just keep singing along with Speech:

The government is happy with most baptist churches
coz they don’t do a damn thing to try to nurture
brothers and sisters on a revolution
Baptist teaches dying is the only solution
Passiveness causes others to pass us by
I throw my line till I’ve made my decision
until then, I’m still fishin’ 4 religion

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