Survey: Faith Strong among African-Americans; Many Sides to the 'Black Church'

By Brumley, Jeff | The Florida Times Union, February 15, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Survey: Faith Strong among African-Americans; Many Sides to the 'Black Church'


Brumley, Jeff, The Florida Times Union


Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Close your eyes and imagine you're attending an African-American church service. You're likely picturing a preacher so eloquent, passionate and inspired that you're belting out "amens" every two seconds.

And chances are you're imagining music so good you want to jump up and join the clapping, swaying choir.

But the reality is, that isn't necessarily the reality.

"I can't name names, but yes, there are some boring African-American pastors and you're like, I won't be going back there any more," said Andrea Morgan, a member of King Solomon United Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

Morgan and some pastors of historically-black churches say it's a stereotype to assume all African-American pastors preach like Martin Luther King Jr. and all their choirs carry a heavenly tune.

Contributing to such images are beliefs that African-Americans are somehow more spiritual than other Americans. But that attitude was likely strengthened by a recent survey that found blacks are more religious in key ways - including frequency of church attendance, daily prayer life and certainty of belief - than the U.S. population as a whole.

An author of the study told The Times-Union the poll isn't meant to paint all individuals with the same brush, but to illuminate religious tendencies among American ethnic groups.

Still, some worry its release contributes to the notion that there is a "black church" whose members are in lock step socially, politically and theologically. Rather than tying religion to race, one local minister said it may be more beneficial to consider social and economic status in such surveys.

'CENTER OF COMMUNITY'

The key findings of "A Religious Portrait of African-Americans" is that blacks are far more likely to belong to a religious organization, attend church weekly, pray daily and express absolute certainty in the existence of God than the overall population.

Neal Krause, a University of Michigan professor who studies and writes about the connection between religious affiliation and health, gender, race and age, said he wasn't surprised by the results of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll released last month.

The church traditionally has been a place where African-Americans could receive social services, find solace during decades of discrimination as well as worship, Krause said.

"The black church historically has been the center of the black community," Krause said. "It's no accident that many black [civic and political] leaders have had religious connections."

'NOT MONOLITHIC'

But the term "black church" makes some nervous, said the Rev. Torin T. Dailey, pastor at Jacksonville's First Baptist Church of Oakland.

Dailey acknowledged the special role faith has in many African-Americans' lives, but added that such terminology - and using the survey to draw conclusions about blacks' spirituality - can be misleading.

"It makes it sound like we are all of one mind on theology and politics," Dailey said.

The Pew survey did find that African-Americans who attend church regularly are more likely to describe themselves as conservative on issues like abortion and homosexuality. But that was also true for all Americans.

Dailey said there are politically liberal and conservative black Christians and congregations, just as there are in predominantly white religious traditions.

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