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@ http://www.thenewhumanism.org/authors/sikivu-hutchinson/articles/pr...