Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some thoughts on black masculinity, part 3

In the 1990s, an ideology called "compassionate conservatism" became widely talked about in Christian circles, especially in dealing with the urban crisis. The idea was to provide churches with the means to do ministry, hopefully in the process to get enough people "saved" and discipled so that the 'hood would get cleaned up and we "wouldn't have to worry about them anymore."

Nice, in theory -- but, for reasons I've already mentioned, it can't work.

Mere "salvation" does not fill the hole in people's souls as the result of a lack of warmth, nurturing and validation. A man with several children by different mothers all of a sudden isn't going to be able to raise any of them properly just because he becomes a "mature" Christian, nor will any of those children necessarily grow up to be strong people in their own right. Religion in this case can be -- indeed, often has been -- yet another addictive substance (read: idolatry) if deeper emotional issues aren't addressed. There's a saying that if you have trouble relating to your earthly father you'll also have trouble relating to your Heavenly Father.

Boys especially need a knowledge of who they are and what they're about, a sense of belonging and a belief that they can achieve. But, because it's often dominated by women, the institutional church today often cannot do that properly -- often the focus is on behavior, usually enforced in a negative fashion, which can be stifling. (No wonder why men regardless of race or class often leave the church.)

Above all, males need something to do and to work for. Years ago I used to question the idea of reserving certain church leadership roles for men -- until I saw the results up close. In my current and childhood denominations only men are ordained as pastors and elders, and in my current church only men serve as ushers, offering collectors and communion stewards (I do the last regularly -- and love it). Basically, boys need to be given not only responsibility but also the tools to exercise it.

And this is why racial justice is so vitally important. Black men especially need to know that, if they work hard and keep their nose clean, they will be not only rewarded but also respected -- with money, promotions and the authority that goes along with them.

I don't think it's any coincidence that the civil-rights movement did more for black men than anything in history -- they came up with it; they strategized; they marched; they were tested in battle -- and today we laud folks like Martin Luther King Jr. as heroes. John Eldredge's "The Way of the Wild Heart" mentions that young Christian men need "epic Christianity"; the movement became that for me.

Basically, black men especially need a sense of dignity and destiny, and Christianity can do that only if it recognizes that.

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