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Refuge and Strength : On Reaching Out : For generations, the church has provided a cultural and spiritual foundation for black Angelenos. In recent years, churches also have led a grass-roots war against crime and other social problems. In this first in a series on black church life, we talk with three pastors about the challenges facing them and their congregations.

Black Church Life In Southern California

February 09, 1992|IRIS SCHNEIDER

Pastor Kenneth J. Flowers:

The black church congregation was traditionally made up of mostly women. Many black men felt the church was weak. They couldn't deal with "Love your neighbor and your enemy." They thought that meant you were being a wimp. So a lot of men stopped coming.

In the last year, I've wanted to reach out to the African-American male. I started gearing my seminars to supporting and uplifting the black male. Now the major new membership is made of young black males from 18 to 20, up to 34 and 40. One ex-gang member joined in April. He announced to the congregation when he joined that he was an ex-gang member, and I put my arm around him and said "You're in the Lord's Gang now and I'm going to put you in my posse."

On Fighting Back

Pastor Benjamin F. Reid:

We see black churches now doing a lot of work with drug addiction, with the homeless, with feeding the hungry, and then of course most are vigorously going after young people.

The most aggressive churches I know are trying to find ways of winning young people to a positive commitment to the Lord. It's a more personal agenda than the civil-rights agenda. The civil-rights agenda was massive crowds, demonstrations. This is more personal, but we feel in the long run it is going to have more impact on society.

In the civil rights movement, we were fighting the enemy outside. In the black community, we have discovered that some of our worst enemies are within our own ranks. Now we are starting to fight (those) enemies--the guys who are getting rich peddling drugs in the black community. We've got to resolve the fact that the AIDS virus is spreading more rapidly in the black community. We've got to solve the problem that almost half of our black babies are born to teen-age mothers and that more than half of our black families are one-parent families headed by females.

The breakdown in family life, the difficulty in black men finding adequate, gainful employment and accepting the responsibility of fatherhood and family, these are the enemies within we are really struggling with. That 30% to 60% of our kids never finish high school and become non-productive, having no marketable skills.

Most black ministers in churches don't like welfare (any) more than anybody else (does). We don't see welfare as an answer to people's problems. We are struggling to find a way to help young people finish school and to train them with marketable skills.

This is far afield from singin' and shoutin' and preachin' and prayin', but we believe it is the absolutely important part of our agenda. In the church, it's imperative to resolve these problems inside of the black communities. It's a big job.

Pastor Cecil L. (Chip) Murray:

Our basic roles have not changed, but the arena in which our roles are played has changed. The lion is more vicious, the equipment more costly, the risks and needs are far greater. The magnitude of every ill is intensified.

The coming-to-church-for-personal-salvation days are over. Now we are looking for not only personal salvation but (for) social salvation.

If you do not change the community, the community corrupts the individual. You draw upon the same basic schema displayed in Genesis . . . God creating something out of nothing. . . . The church exists to set the moral climate and moral program.

(Recently, at the funeral of a drive-by shooting victim) you saw those young men and women--19, 20, 21, hardened, aged, cynical, strung out with wine bottles and whiskey bottles in their hands at that time of day, thinking they were avant-garde . . . anxious, angry, spoiling for a way to vent the anxiety and anxiousness. And at the same time, utterly reduced to tears.

The fruitlessness of the human plight: that this 24-year-old boy, having been a bosom buddy and brother and support group, is now wasted. And looking into that casket and not only seeing the dead but the Self. And realizing that utter futility, the hopelessness of it ending this way. But then the nihilism that says "Everybody gotta die sometime" and the bravado, "Live fast. Die young. Make a beautiful corpse."

The truth of the matter is, they're unhappy. They need a way out whether they want a way out or not. They see no way out. . . . And anybody who would convert them, that person becomes the animal.

We must continue to address those who need redemption with job training, and reprogramming and isolation from their environment. . . . The other front is preventive measures such as the Lock-In (in which parents and children spend 24 hours learning how to talk to each other). This particular Lock-In was for teens 13 to 18. They are 80% formed but not yet deformed, in the crucial stage of seeking identity and seeking heroes and heroines.

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