FIRST-PERSON: A new picture for African American men
TEMPLE HILLS, Md. (BP)--Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, recently wrote of his hope for his daughter to have the opportunity to choose an African American as a marriage partner.
While he is open to her wedding a man of any ethnic origin who would offer his daughter happiness and respect, he would like for an African American to be among those in the available pool. However, he also recognizes that the disproportionate population of African American men in the prison system is a threat to such a hope.
The statistics on men within the prison system is one of several daunting social indicators in the African American community. If one were to examine the composite of the African American male homicide victim rate, new cases of HIV/AIDS, the number of fatherless households, and high school dropout rates, along with the incarceration numbers, it would manifest a grim picture of the plight of the African American male (and thus the community as a whole). The grimness of this picture only increases when the absence of African American men in the church is painted into the scene.
Among African American clergy and academics, it has been observed that the African American church is matriarchal. The female-dominated nature of the African American church is not a problem, per se, as both men and women are gifted by the Lord to serve in the church in complementary roles, as in the home. Yet the absence of African American men is a problem when it is the church that has the unique ability to effect change on the plight of the African American male and his community. The troubling social indicators point to a need for the power of God in the lives of African American men.
For many reasons, African American men tend to shy away from church even more than men in the general American population. Why? In addition to the greater presence of women, one of the reasons is that African American men perceive Christianity and the church as an institution for persons of European descent. Some African Americans who have read "Where Are All The Brothers?" have told me that they did not know their place in church history was replete with men like Augustine, Tertullian, and Athanasius, who were church fathers of the church in Africa. The presence of such men in the history of the church helps build the case for the church as a place for the man of African descent.
In seeking to reclaim the presence of African American men, churches might consider the following practical thoughts:
1. Teach sound doctrine and male responsibility to boys at the earliest ages in life. As boys are raised to fear the Lord, they need to learn of responsibilities before God to be faithful in marriage, provide financially for a family, and lead their own future families in the knowledge of God. Cultivating this from boys' youth will dismantle a culture of adultery, absenteeism and apostasy. This will allow for coming generations of men to find it common to see men in African American households, and it will attract them to the source of their models' faithfulness.
2. Prioritize building godliness in men. Men must be challenged to develop the character that will produce men who are "self-controlled, worthy of respect, sensible, and sound in faith, love, and endurance" (Titus 2:2). Such men will be upright citizens, diligent employees and outstanding role models. Men outside of the church will be affected by the witness of such men's character.
3. Take men to events where men can invite men to church. If your town has "Malcolm X Day," "Black Family Reunion," or "Taste of (city)" celebrations that are largely populated by African Americans, have your men go as a group to these events to share the Gospel with other men. Men can be reclaimed when they hear the Gospel and see the boldness it produces in other men.
Men, armed with the message of the Gospel, have the power to offer change to African American men. The Lord -- whose name is Jealous -- is ready to help paint a better future for His bride.
Eric C. Redmond is senior pastor of Reformation Alive Baptist Church in Temple Hills, Md., former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention and author of "Where Are All The Brothers? Straight Answers to Men's Questions About the Church" (Crossway, 2008).