The Pastor’s Pen: February 17, 2019

We often hear people question why young people don’t go to church.  Some reasons may be found in research conducted by the Pew Research Center.  In recent years, their data has shown that Millennials in the United States – young adults born between 1981 and 1996 – are generally less religious than older Americans, based on the Center’s core measures of religious commitment.  Their research further showed that Black Millennials are more religious than non-Blacks, Black Millennials tend to be less religious than older Blacks, and Black Millennials are considerably more religious than others in their generation, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

When the Center conducted surveys on prayer, their data showed that about six-in-ten Black Millennials (61%) say they pray at least daily, which is significantly higher than non-Blacks (39%) who say they do not pray.  Incidentally, this data aligns with the Center’s previous finding that Black Millennials are more religious than non-Black Millennials.  And while 38% of Black Millennials say they attend religious services at least weekly, only a quarter (25%) of other Millennials worship during the week, according to the analysis from the Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study.  In fact, the study further showed that nearly two-thirds (64%) of Black Millennials are highly religious on a four-item scale of religious commitment – which includes belief in God and self-described importance of religion, in addition to prayer and worship attendance – compared to 39% of non-Black Millennials.

When compared to Black adults, the Pew’s research showed that Black Millennials are substantially less religious by these same measures:  they are less likely to pray at least daily, they are less likely to attend religious services at least weekly and they are less likely to say that religion is very important to them.

The study also revealed that Black Millennials are not as involved in organized religion as their parents, but they are more religious than their counter parts in other racial groups. A key reason why young Blacks are not as diligent to church commitment as their parents and generations prior is because Black Millennials thrive in a stronger economic environment than their parents.  It was through religion and church commitment that Blacks coped with life during Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Great Depression and scores of recessions and economic down turns. Maids, janitors, cooks and day laborers found hope and their release in church where the music was exciting, the preaching inspirational and where holding positions such as deacon or usher was a source of pride and dignity. Now, Millennials in all cultures of our society are sensitized and driven to follow the money in the tech world, their musical tastes are discovered through music videos and YouTube and their need for belonging is satisfied through school activities, sororities and fraternities.

The challenge for churches today is to find ways to message the Gospel in contemporary dress. Rather than criticizing texting and video imaging, we must embrace messaging the Gospel through social media…if we want to ‘save the Millennials.’

The question is not do churches offer a message that is no longer needed, the issue is how do we present the Good News to those who interact and learn differently than their elders. This present generation has all the same fears, phobias and emotional issues as their parents. We must determine how to present Jesus in ways Millennials can comprehend. No matter what our age or generation, the world still needs Jesus.

The Pastor’s Pen: February 3, 2019

One of the Lectionary Scriptures for this Sunday is the very well-known and often quoted first Corinthians 13, “though I speak with the tongues of men and angels if I have not love I am a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal“. In this era of hyper partisanship and hyper tribalism, we are constantly bombarded by all of the things that make us different. Many whites feel that initiatives like affirmative action steal from them their rightful privileges. A number of Blacks believe that it is unfair that white society has kept its thumb on the scale so that life is tilted against African Americans. Many immigrants take personally the conversations about building walls to ensure that America will not become increasingly a brown society. These arguments are largely based upon an indifference to trying to understand and even perhaps celebrate the differences within communities.

February 14 is of course the annual day when we celebrate love, Valentine’s Day. Yet, there is quite a gulf between the sentimental and emotional feelings that this day promotes. Valentine’s Day conjures in many what the Greeks called “Eros” physical love. In the ancient Greek language, there were three words for love, “Eros”, “philia”, and “agape”. What we often think of as Valentine’s Day love, is “Eros”, the physical, and usually sexual, attraction we feel for the significant persons in our lives. However, we need to spend much time and attention in better understanding “philia” and “agape”. My hometown, Philadelphia, has as its root “philia”, i.e. brotherly love. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of love his starting point was brotherly love. For him, the way to break the stranglehold of tribalism was to incorporate brotherly and sisterly love into our relationships. He often said that it was very difficult to like those who use their power to bully and physically beat persons who were attempting to assert their legitimate rights. However, he said we may not be able to like certain people, but the Bible demands that we love them, in spite of what they do. The perfect example were the first words of Jesus from the cross, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”, Luke 23:34 (KJV). And here is where the word for love that Paul uses comes into the picture, agape. It is just about impossible to have brotherly and sisterly love without having the love of God in our relationships. Agape requires that we rise above our innate feelings of difference, learn to appreciate each other as fellow comrades and pilgrims on the journey from life to death, but understand that the move from antipathy, and indifference, to true community, which King called the beloved community, cannot happen without agape, the love of God.

Whether it is Valentine’s Day or the rest of the days of our lives, we would do well to remember what Paul taught us in first Corinthians 13. We may have great gifts, we may be able to exercise them in extraordinary ways, but our gifts only become truly effective when they are rooted in “agape”, the love of God.

The Pastor’s Pen: January 27, 2019

The shutdown is now in its 34th day, the longest in American history. It is unconscionable that the greatest nation on earth could be paralyzed due to a dispute over a border wall on our southern border. No one I have spoken to believes that we do not need security on our borders. However, we must be clear that most of the drugs that come into our country come from Canada and not Mexico. In light of the President’s comments disparaging certain nations in Africa and the Caribbean, one can only assume that this is another indication of a policy attempt that is rooted in racism. When Speaker Pelosi describes a wall on the southern border as immoral, she is correct for a number of reasons, one of which is why are we making such a big deal of southern border defense when illegal immigration from Mexico and South America is only a small fraction of what it was just a few years ago.

The tragedy of this Administration’s persistence to make good on the campaign slogan chant, “build that wall,” is the extent to which that promise has mired our nation in an intractable mud which now holds hostage not only the 800,000 federal government workers, but several millions when you add contractors, businesses, vendors and others in Washington and around the nation.

Furloughed workers are facing the reality of a second week without pay. To Speaker Pelosi’s point, this is immorality of incredible proportions. News clips from around the country have featured families who are forced to get food at food pantries, to face mortgage payments that they cannot make, and healthcare obligations that they cannot meet.

I commend Shiloh for its efforts to bring some relief in this desperate situation. Through our special collections, we are determined to provide $50 to every member of Shiloh who is furloughed. Last Wednesday, we partnered with National Cathedral to provide 10 gallons of gas to the first 45 furloughed employees that showed up at our parking lot. This relief was not only for Shiloh members but for DC residents throughout the community who simply needed some help. At the end of the day, however, we served 156 cars; to God be the glory, Shiloh!  I also applaud congregations throughout the region who are doing their best to help furloughed employees through this egregious and unnecessary emergency.

We encourage those who are affected to keep in mind the words of Isaiah, 43:2-3: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God.”

These are times of enormous challenge. But as our churches attempt to do whatever in our power to assist during the furlough, we must remember the slogan that Adam Clayton Powell coined in the 1960s, “Keep the faith baby.” We will keep the faith, because as we sung during the Civil Rights Movement, we continue to sing, “God is on our side.”