I'm neither black nor am I an atheist.
But I was very interested in the article in the New York Times from last weekend that talked about a minority-within-a-minority: African-Americans who do not profess a faith in God.
Often times in this country, there is an almost inseparable link between the church and the local black community. When I was working as a Technical Assistant Clerk in a predominantly African-American voting precinct, my fellow pollworkers would introduce themselves by giving their name, and any possible relations the other person might know... and then what church they attend. I was only included in that ritual when they saw my Education for Ministry textbook that I had brought along for when I would have down time. They'd look at it, be puzzled by it being in my possession, and then ask me, "What's your church?" I'd tell them, and my affliliation would make me a little more real for them. Christ the ice breaker at a Leon County polling place!
One of the striking comments in the article was from the young man who came out as gay to his mother and when she tried to use the Bible to explain her problems with homosexuality, he told her he didn't care because he didn't believe in that stuff anymore. For the mom, hearing that was more disturbing than hearing that her son is gay!
At long last... there is SOMETHING that is worse in the minds of some than homosexuality!
What struck me in that story was that the man didn't believe "in that stuff anymore" and that he is gay. This is, sadly, all too common. For some reason, believing in "that stuff" is seen as antithetical to being gay. And the church has aided and abetted in pushing this as the inevitable conclusion for all LGBT people. Those of us who refuse to accept this formula for separation from our creator, redeemer and sustainer then face other subtle forms of discrimination within the church. We are welcome to be in the pews, but the pulpit remains a thorny issue in some parts. Announcements and thanksgiving for the rites of passage for heterosexual couples are celebrated openly while the milestones in the life of an LGBT couple remain unacknowledged or hidden.
Such slights drive some to leave the church. And sometimes those slights lead to the mistaken idea that God is the church. And if the church is going to treat me as a second-class citizen, then God must think the same thing. So, see ya, God!
My favorite theologian, Robert Capon, made the best statement to counter this misbelief:
"The truth that makes us free is always ticking away like a time bomb in the basement of everybody's church. And that truth isn't a bunch of ideas. It's Jesus. Sooner or later, if we just sit still and listen, he'll blow the lid off of any prison we've built."
For those of us who are queer Christians, we are in the pews and we are being called to the pulpit because we have known the freeing power of being busted out of the jail of homophobia and the sin of exclusion. God isn't the figment of our imagination; God is real and is empowering us not to become mere joiners of the institution, but to square up to the institution and call it back to God's ultimate mission: love, unbounded and never-ending. I believe this is why there are a growing number of LGBT people who are coming out as people of faith. At least in the white community.
Maybe the trend to toward humanism and atheism in the black community is a way to point out the error of the ways of the black church. That the rampant homphobia that exists in black churches is sending the children packing... and turning their backs on God. Perhaps atheism may be the way to shake up the theists in the African-American communities to repent and return to a message that Christ did indeed die for everyone.
Maybe God is working a purpose out....