Thursday, August 31, 2006

Hip Hop and the Black Church: Black Identity Part 2

The history of blacks in America drips with spirituality. In many ways, the Black Church has been the lone guiding principle within the lives of individual blacks and the black community since we landed here. It’s what has fed our souls through the bullshit that was slavery and Jim Crow. While I do not subscribe to the religious beliefs of Christianity, I see the value that the Black Church has within the black community. In many places the Black Church is not only the religious center of the community, it’s the political center as well.

But I now have serious beef with the hypocrisy of said Church, and how it relates to the young black folk; the Hip Hop Culture…my culture.

Representatives of the Black Church (ordained ministers and their parishioners) itemize the faults of the current youth generation, who have apparently cornered the market on sin. "Hedonistic," "selfish," "materialistic and "lazy" are just a few of the labels that the Church assigns to my generational cronies.

According to much of America's self-professed moral leadership (both religious and secular), the hip-hop generation is no longer in possession of the values, beliefs, and traditions that have sustained our predecessors (those who made up the youth culture during the Civil Rights Movement). In its place (it is argued), stands a selfish and hedonistic individualism that retards our moral and social development.

Now, I can see some truth in that statement, although I simply must resist the romantic version of the past, from which that statement is often grounded. What troubles me (no, what angers me) is that the stance is articulated by the Black Church, an institution that has represented the perspectives and interests (both religious and political) of all black people for the better part of the last 3 centuries (if not longer).

To be clear, I am specifically speaking about what we call the “New Black Church,” the current configuration of mainstream black Christianity. The New Black Church, which has taken its current shape over the past two decades, was born out of civil rights-era movements. From where I stand, this group can be distinguished by its increased materialism, questionable theology, and “greasy” politics. While these are not the only characteristics of the New Black Church (it has certainly done a good deal to erase the denominational boundaries of beliefs, which I think is a good thing), its more repulsive distinguishing factors point directly to the contradictions between the New Black Church's own practices and its criticism of the hip-hop generation, which have been used to fuel the current moral panic.

As a card-carrying member of the hip-hop generation, it is difficult for me to accept the criticism that comes from the Church because I know that it comes from a profoundly hypocritical place (Who is the New Black Church to diss us for having strayed from the straight and narrow? You’ve just exchanged your political support to a political candidate for a “small donation” in the collection plate. I guess I’ll be seeing you in that new Cadillac now…)

Now, I am not suggesting that the truth-value of the New Black Church's critiques are necessarily compromised by its own contradictions. To suggest that would ignore the fact that flawed messengers can send right and exact messages.

Although the New Black Church's claims to moral authority are certainly betrayed by their contradictive actions, the larger question concerns its ability to dwell within the same ideological world that it professes as good. Most important to me, this suggests that the hip-hop generation is not as directionless as those hypocritical bible-toters would have us believe. Rather, we are following the flawed moral compass of the very people waging generational war against us.

That is definitely not a good thing, to say the least. However, this exposes yet another instance of infighting within our community, with both sides claiming the true Black Identity, all the while ignoring its own faults.


Brother Smartness said...

Yeah man, there is a lot of hypocrisy out there. I was once a very religious man, but because of that hypocrisy I find myself seeking spirituality now more than anything else.

The following quote is from a movie that shall remain nameless. It does well to epitomize my thoughts on the issue:

"I put no stock in religion. By the word religion I have seen the lunacy of fanatics of every denomination be called the will of god. Holiness is in right action, and courage on behalf of those who cannot defend themselves, and goodness. What god desires is here [points to head] and here [points to heart]-and by what you decide to do every day, you will be a good man. Or not."

I don't knock anyone who finds meaning will attending a church service and being in the company of others with the same love of the Supreme Being. I certainly don't mean to offend anyone either. It just isn't for me anymore.

Brother Darkness said...

Likewise, I have had some rather lukewarm experiences with religion that has caused me to not attend church but rather find God elsewhere. To quote a Def Comedy jam Comedian "I ain't been to church in so long, I gotta knock to get in." I'd definitely call myself more spiritual than religious.

As mentioned by my Brother Smartness, hypocrisy runs rampant in churches across America. The word is being preached with the emphasis on tithing and giving your money "unto God." In the meantime, Pastor (insert generic black name here) is riding around in a Escalade sitting on 22s while bumping "Go to Church" by Ice Cube. Oh "Something Wicked This Way Comes."

Long gone are the innocent days of my youth where I used to watch as church goers "felt" the Holy Ghost and began dancing in the aisles. I always wanted to "feel" the Holy Ghost, mainly because the whole ideal seemed so ridiculously funny to me that I thought it would be great to be the center of attention and be applauded. After seeing first hand the ousting of a crooked preacher, I slowly stepped away from the church and started reading the bible on my own.