It is no secret. Black people love God. Black people are the most religious people in the country. We have nearly two churches on every block, street corner evangelists, prison ministries, feed the homeless ministries, every member of the church has a title, and just about everyone does some praying for their neighbor.
According to a Pew Forum survey conducted in 2007, 79 percent of African Americans say religion is very important in their lives, while only 56 percent of the total population believes the same. The same survey found that African Americans are the most likely to report affiliation with a formal religion, compared to any other ethnic or racial group. The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey reports that 87 percent of Blacks within the U.S. describe themselves as belonging to one religious group or another.
But what about our religion that is so important to us? Why are we so attached to our systems of spirituality?
Research published in “Religion in the lives of African Americans” by Robert Joseph Taylor, Linda M. Chatters, and Jeffrey Levin points out the various roles religion plays in the lives of African Americas. They say religion operates like a channel in which the Black voice is united.
“Black religious institutions are cohesive spiritual and social communities that foster the religious and social well-being and integration of individuals and families. Their important and central position within Black communities is demonstrated by the variety of secular activities and functions they perform,” the researchers write. “These include facilitating linkages to community health resources and providing various forms of instrumental, social, and psychological support. In addition, Black churches have historically served as a base for political mobilization and social movements.”
Black religion is more than religion. It is a lifestyle, a community, and a safe haven for African American people.
If some of you are “seasoned” enough to remember and others of you, young enough to only read it in the books, the Civil Rights Movement and other major political movements was strongly promoted and influential because of the Black church. Even looking at the role the Black church played during the 2008 presidential election, more African Americans turned out to the polls in part because of the fiery sermons preachers gave over the pulpit about Obama.
Taylor, Chatters, and Levin agree that the historical role of the African American church has been the community forum and voice for the race. It historically has informed and given drive to emancipating issues across America.
Christopher Jones, a renowned religious sociologist writes in “Religion, Health, And Well-Being Among African Americans,” “A substantial and growing body of research demonstrates that religious institutions enhance the social resources of African Americans. Analyses of NSBA data indicate that church members are important providers of informal social support, especially for the elderly; the services, companionship, and prayers offered by church members frequently complement the support provided by family members and other associates.”
Church and religion also help Black people (and all people in general) cope with life. Particularly among African Americans, religion helps deal with the numerous challenges life brings, and historically helped enslaved Africans cope in that dark period. Today religion and religious institutions operate as healing aids in dealing with racism and other racially motivated challenges.
“… On average African Americans are more inclined to employ religious coping strategies than their White counterparts,” Taylor, Chatters, and Levin write. “… anecdotal accounts suggest that many African Americans draw on religious cognitions and practices to confront a wide range of stressful events and conditions, including chronic poverty and structural exclusion … Several researchers have called attention to the role of religious institutions and values in shielding Black Americans from the harsh psychological effects of structural and interpersonal racism.”