� Quiet Riot | Main | The Challenge Defined �

July 06, 2003

The Institution

As I get older and less patient with people, I paint myself into a corner. Now I am coming to realize that if I don't chill out, I am going to become a minority of one. I'm sure Thomas Mann could have predicted the same, but I wasn't aware of his writing until, well, late.

Yesterday I sat in the company of 'church boys'. I didn't realize that, and I could still be wrong. These were the kinds of men I have spent the early part of my life ignoring if not belittling. From my perspective, they came from the wrong neighborhoods, attended the wrong schools, pledged the wrong fraternity and of course, prayed to the wrong god. I refer to Jesus the Personal Savior as contrasted to Jesus the Christ.

If you grow up Catholic or Episcopalian, you understand that Jesus is the Christ. On the other hand, if you go to the wrong church you come to know the more anthropomorphic Jesus as the great Shoulder. My bit of religious intolerance comes into play with my inability and unwillingness to reconcile these two interpretations of divinity. I find myself more attracted to Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus than to those Christians who have turned Jesus on his head. But that is not the main reason I'm ranting - well it is but this didn't start as a rant.

The observation that makes me type this is my relative ignorance, vis a vis a particular flavor of black American manhood, of the Institution of the Black Church. Because as these men, whom I find likeable and even admirable individuals, continued their conversations through the afternoon, they revealed to me a deep knowledge of the financial condition of their churches and a bit of the drama between this and that bishop, and schisms between those in the AME who break off and take their money, er.. congregations with them.

If you haven't noticed, perhaps because you live elsewhere than where multimillion dollar domes of the faithful are erected, there are any number of Bishops embroiled in such controversies. How indeed do you keep a denomination of Christianity together if its leaders are continually spinning off their own franchises? This is a crucial question for these black Protestants who have seen churches spring up from high school auditoriums into nationwide ministries in the span of 10 years. And these are no small feats. There are churches in Los Angeles that fill more seats than many professional sports teams, and they have the non-denominational arenas to prove it.

Once upon a time, I latched onto a theory about the varioius failure of grass roots black politics owing primarily to the opacity of the Black Church. It takes a long time to become a deacon who counts the coins, and the minister doesn't report his balance sheet to the congregation. Therefore blackfolks judged the efficicacy of politicians the same way they compared and contrasted their spiritual leaders - by the amounts of fire and brimstone they could evoke, without reference to the financial stability or integrity of the organizations they ran. This method of appraisal inevitabily leads to disappointment or worse.

I haven't given that much thought until one of those 'wrong' men led the conversation, perhaps for my benefit, perhaps not, to the falling out of one bishop and Reverend Fred Price. I like Price for his politics and what he represents to me by the way of black conservatism, but I cannot say that I understand him or his church deeply. Then again, I am an Episcopalian, not African Methodist Episcopalian, upper middle class white liberal Episcopalian with a streak of Jesuit education. Although I don't pretend to be white, you should know the type, and deep down in my soul there is a man who loves the pipe organ, the incense and the same words said week in and week out. I am an admirer theologians, not healers. I understand John Updike. I do not understand Creflo Dollar. I think church buildings should be owned by the big church and that priests should have a vow of poverty. So I am estranged from the goings on, and it makes me feel as though I am at a new special distance, being Republican and all, from the centers of black political power.

I feel odd about that only to the extent that I understand communities must be built from committment, so too political organizations, power and patronage. I have always felt somewhat entitled given my BAP origins. Today, I know the gulf is great. I know how Audre Lorde must have felt some days.

Posted by mbowen at July 6, 2003 05:59 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Institution:

Group Home from Group Home

[Read More]

Tracked on March 24, 2005 09:31 PM