Prayer Warriors and Freethinkers (on the Texas Freethought Con)

By Sikivu Hutchinson

From The New Humanism

The prayer warriors have descended on the Crenshaw parking lot in South L.A. The first sentry, a slight man in athletic shorts, weaves through the parked cars on an old Schwinn. He flags down the driver of a T-Bird. They exchange quick greetings then bow their heads and join hands, oblivious, for the moment, to the crash of street traffic, the manic dance for parking spots, the rustle of grocery bags and runaway shopping carts. On this hallowed plot of blacktop time is suspended and God vibrates through the chassis of each parked car, as the men bond in the simple bliss of scripture.

I caught the parking lot prayer warriors a week before I was scheduled to speak at the Texas Freethought Convention, an annual October gathering of non-believers in Houston. It was an ironic send-off for my pending trip, reminder of the visceral grip of everyday Jesus and the unique challenges of black secularism. Five years ago, two men holding hands in this particular lot might have elicited homophobic double takes or a beat down. But now, the public performance of prayer, street preaching and proselytizing in urban communities of color is back with a revivalist vengeance borne of the vicious arc of recession.

Long before it became fashionable to lament the demise of the American dream, joblessness, foreclosure and homelessness were a fact of life for many in predominantly black and Latino South Los Angeles. Indeed, it has been said that when America catches a cold black America gets the flu. The titanic wealth gap between white and black America means that fewer young African Americans will be able to meet much less exceed the standard of living enjoyed by their parents. Over the past decade, socioeconomic mobility for black college graduates has actually declined. At 8.7% of L.A. County’s population, African Americans are 50% of its homeless and 40% of its prison population. Lines at ministry-based food assistance programs swell with first-timers. In this era of endless recession, the prayer warriors have become both a bellwether and a vector of social malaise. Prayer is intimately woven into the landscape of public life, a hoary lingua franca that has morphed into a social movement exemplified by the 24/7 International House of Prayer (IHOP) in Kansas City, Missouri. IHOP is at the epicenter of what the New York Times characterizes as “one of the fastest-growing segments of Christianity, attracting millions.”

For African Americans, prayer is still a form of sanctuary. And while black religiosity remains solid it is Latino faith trends that have the potential to redeem Christianity from its dwindling white demographic. According to the Pew Research center, Latinos are “saving” American Christianity, as greater numbers of them break from the dreary pedophilic morass of Catholicism for the party-animal revelry of Pentecostalism. For some Latino worshippers, Pentecostalism offers a more personal, immediate relationship with God, free from the straightjacket of Catholic hierarchies and traditions. It also provides ethnic solidarity, a sense of belonging and kinship, a bridge to social services for multigenerational families, and seeming affirmation of moral standing in a national context that has become more explicitly hostile, racist and xenophobic towards Latinos and other people of color.

Against this complex backdrop of marathon devoutness, xenophobia and white nationalism, it was not difficult to see why there were few people of color “feeling” Texas Freethought... More@

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Comment by Shutch on November 16, 2011 at 12:32am

I think it comes down to grappling with the limited economic and social opportunities that exist for people of color in American society.  The dominance of the Black Church and Latino religious traditions is strongly tied to economic sustainability and disenfranchisment.  Segregated black and brown communities disproportionately rely on the social institutions churches provide because of the destructive vacuum of global capitalism manifested by the absence of living wage job centers, equitable educational opportunities and social welfare resources. One remedy is the development of radical humanist institutions that have the wherewithal to provide concrete community alternatives to organized religion.


Blade you are right on about the terminal arrogance of white secularists who believe that simply espousing freethought gives them a pass vis-a-vis their investment in institutional racism/sexism/heterosexism.  Despite the manifest racial disparities of Am society there is still a Kumbaya colorblind/postracial mythos amongst some whites who don't want to acknowledge the contradictions of so-called democratic traditions that enshrine segregation and economic inequality.

Comment by Blade Of The Bunny on November 15, 2011 at 2:24am

Secularism/humanism/atheism based on a white heterosexual patriarchal point of view most certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Often that point of view leads to arrogance and dismissal of other non-believers who happen to not be a heterosexual white male. It is sometimes presumed that because one is a freethinker that one is also non-homophobic, non-sexist, non-xenophobic and non-classist. This is often a false presupposition. 

Being Native American(NDN), I deal with a unique set of circumstances regarding my non-belief. Not so much from non-Natives but more so from other NDNs. We struggle to retain our traditions; traditions that have become tainted by European ideology/religion. Trying to navigate my path of non-christian belief all the while trying to maintain my identity as an NDN is not easy and it appears uncharted. 

For the secular movement to forge ahead, it must recognize the intricacies that each of us deal with and that are particular to every subset of groups. 

I appreciated the read and am glad to see this issue raised in your article.  

Comment by Shutch on November 14, 2011 at 7:57pm

Thanks for the comment!

Comment by Steph S. on November 14, 2011 at 5:03pm

Thanks for the post -- I enjoyed reading it. 

I'm from Texas too!




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