This post originally appeared on What Tami Said in April 2009
The Devil is wearing mittens and I expect a ham to fly past my window any second now. Why? Salon has published a letter from an African American in its Cary Tennis advice column. To be fair, most writers to the column don't mention their race, so I could be wrong in guessing that most queries come from white, urban, highly-educated, highly-privileged liberals. One thing is clear, rarely does Tennis tackle issues unique to people of color.
Today's dilemma comes from a black man who is disaffected from the church. Unlike his conservative, Christian wife and family, he has come to know that he is agnostic--he believes that the truth about the afterlife, deities and ultimate reality is unknowable. While the writer wants to be true to himself, he is hesitant to come out to his family--afraid of the fractures his lack of faith might cause.
I feel that I am now at a point where I must make a declaration that will surely affect those who are close to me. My loved ones have long suspected that there was something "different" about my approach to spiritual subjects, but up until now I have successfully hidden my true thoughts, philosophical developments and feelings from them.
- With every Sunday that I sit in a church that would likely condemn my kind, I feel like I am betraying my potential and misleading my spouse.
- With every public prayer uttered "in Jesus' name" I feel like I am living a lie.
- With every in-depth discussion about religious and social topics, I use evasive humor and agile commentary to distract my conversation partners -- fearing that a sustained encounter would lead to the exposure of my controversial religious and philosophical views.But one can only do this for so long before wondering if such attempts to suppress one's true self for fear of offending the sensibilities of others is really worth it. One can only maintain a facade so long before wondering if doing so also erodes one's sense of integrity while also denying loved ones the opportunity to know, understand and accept the "true" you. Read more...
What to do?
Tennis gave one of his predictably lofty and meandering non-answers to "Churchgoing Agnostic"--advice that, I think, doesn't take into account the unique relationship the black community has with Christianity. The Black Church, as an institution, is about more than worship. It is about community, history, activism and more. For many, Christianity and churchgoing are part of the very fabric of African Americanness. For a people whose African ancestors practiced indigenous religions far removed from the Western view of worship, we have embraced Christianity as ours. A recent survey revealed that 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. Quiet as it's kept, a whole lot of those presumably white, conservative, Evangelical Christians that get so much ink, look like me.