I pastor a multicultural church. And, I love it. I love my church family. I love my church. But, this week, I came home to be with my family, and I had a revelation.
My niece said on yesterday that she was never going to a “black church.” When she said it I was taken back. I was shocked. I was hurt that she would judge her church experience solely on the color of the participants. But, I didn’t really have time to deal with it. I was on my way to church. And, I was running late. As I sat there experiencing the worship, it came to me. I was reminded why we must have Black churches. I was reminded why I need Black church. Church has been a powerful and important part in the lives of Black people in this country ever since the institution was “allowed” to exist on plantations. The church was the one place that slaves could be truly free from “the gaze.” The gaze is a term popularized by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. It refers to the anxious state that comes with the awareness that one can be viewed. The psychological effect is that the subject loses a degree of autonomy upon realizing that he or she is a visible object. This was a constant state for the slave. Someone was always watching. Someone was always looking. They were constantly under the gaze of someone. But, then there was Sunday. They were still slaves, but for that time in church they were not watched. They were not gazed upon. They were free. Sure, they were still slaves. But for that time in church they could be as loud as they wanted. They could sing of the life that they wanted. They could dance and shout and do whatever they wanted. And, no one criticized. No one judged them. They did not have to defend their cries or their songs or their anything. It was church. And, it was a gaze free zone. So, we run though the 60s and 70s when again the church was a place that Black people used the gaze-free zone of the church to be free. They organized political movements, free from the gaze of the “other.” And it was still a safe place for Black people to express the anguish and repressed anger that they could not let out in their homes, or on their jobs.
So, as I sat there experiencing worship, it was clear to me why the Black church was so important to Black people. It is a gaze-free zone. It’s safe to confess that you believe in something you cannot see. It is a safe place to cry and shout. In the Black church, you can boldly proclaim that Black lives matter, without worrying that you have to explain it to your White friends. You can respond to the call, and not have to explain why you just said “all the time,” when the pastor said, “God is good.” You don’t have to have a reason to cry. No one is judging your grammar, or your life, or anything else. You don’t have to defend your beliefs to your agnostic friends. You don’t have to justify your beliefs to your non-believing friends. The only stank eye you get is from the lady who thinks your skirt is too short, or your white is not “winter white.” So, why the Black church; because sometimes you need to be free of the gaze. Why the Black church? Because sometimes you just need to be.
This is just a quick note. I did not spend a lot of time composing it. These are just my thoughts. This does not mean I am racist, Jordan. And, the truth is that if you live a constant gaze-free experience, you may not understand this post. And, I am ok with that. And, I still love you.