IS THE CHURCH FAILING YOUNG BLACK MEN?
By now, I’m assuming that most Keep The Faith readers will be familiar with the unimaginable act of violence that took place on a street in Woolwich, south east London, on May 23, where a British soldier, Drummer Lee Rigby, was hacked to death by two Muslim extremists.
What has been shocking about this incident is that the assailants, Michael Adebolajo, 28, and Michael Adebowale, 22, both of Nigerian descent, grew up in Christian families. This fact alone has many believers across the country asking the question: Why have these young men turned away from the faith of their youth to embrace Islamic extremism and commit such an evil act?
Whilst it’s understandable that Britain’s Christian community will undertake some major soul-searching, it should also be noted that we’ve been here before. In the 80s and 90s, numerous Black teenagers and young adults rejected their Christian upbringing to embrace the teachings of other religions, namely Rastafarianism or the Nation of Islam. Both religions attracted disaffected Black youth, because they offered an explanation for the racism they experienced; provided an appealing counter-culture that enabled them to celebrate their ethnicity, and a strategy on how to exist in a racist society within a religious framework.
Islam is now the new religion of choice for Black males, who are somewhat disenchanted with British society, but who want to embrace a faith that is not Eurocentric.
In the midst of our soul-searching, let’s not forget that discussions about the Church’s inability to attract men have been going on for years. Women have complained year in and year out about the lack of men in our pews and, during the rise of the gun and knife culture in the 2000s, it was evident that both the perpetrators and victims often came from a Christian background and, again, churches were accused of failing Black youth.
In examining the reasons why churches are not appealing to increasing numbers of young Black men, could it be that they find a lack of men sitting in the pews galling; think Sunday school lessons boring, and that the numerous Sunday sermons they listen to fail to convince them about the truth of Christianity, nor offer them a way to navigate a society they sometimes find racist?
Whatever the outcome of our discussion, we cannot discount the fact that, despite its faults, our churches remain our strongest institutions; that the bulk of the growing Black middle class are Christians, and that the young Black men who do embrace Christianity tend to be highly-educated, professional, and somehow find a way to circumvent the obstacles they face to live successful, purpose-driven lives.
OUR SPIRITUAL HEROES ARE WORTH CELEBRATING
I recently attended a special service celebrating the life and legacy of my first pastor – the late Rev Dr Io Smith, a church pioneer and community figure, who greatly impacted the lives of others.
One particularly enjoyable aspect of the service was hearing Christians state how Pastor Smith inspired them. The keynote speaker, Rev Les Isaac, shared how, when he was a young man, whenever he and his fellow believers heard that Pastor Smith was visiting their church, they got excited, because they knew they were going to be inspired by a powerful woman of God.
I’ve felt it important to mention this service, because it sets a template for other churches to follow, as almost all churches will contain men and women who, like Pastor Smith, are pioneers and have left an indelible mark on others. The lives of such individuals deserve to be honoured and celebrated, because not only do we stand on their shoulders, but they are also great role models for future generations.
LET’S HELP THE ABUSER AS WELL AS THE ABUSED
I’m pleased that, during the past few years, there has been more open discussion within the Church about the issue of domestic abuse and violence. Church leaders are waking up to the fact that it’s an insidious evil; are speaking out about the topic from their pulpits, and are now more willing to offer support to victims.
This development is fantastic, but surely the Church must also offer a hand of support to those in their midst who are the perpetrators of domestic abuse and violence?
Men (the vast majority of perpetrators are men), who have been brave enough to share why they abuse women/girlfriends/ wives, often state that they’ve done so because they’ve been consumed by jealousy and/or anger when (i) their partner talks to other men; (ii) their partner challenges them, or (iii) they have felt insecure, and the only way they felt able to deal with their feelings was when they lashed out in violence to maintain some semblance of control over their partner.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, one male abuser admitted that, in order to gain control over a partner, he groomed them; he gained their trust to get close to them, so that he could critique and criticise them and, if necessary, hit them.
Abuse is obviously a deep-rooted problem but, just as women’s ministries have been able to help women deal with the wide range of issues and emotional baggage they come into church with, so also must men’s ministries seek to do the same.
They need to provide safe spaces for men to talk, not just about their hopes, dreams, aspirations and successes, but also about those painful areas of their lives and of their behaviours that cause harm to those who love them.