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Friday, August 05, 2005

New York Daily News - News

New York Daily News - News Makes him want to holler

Rev is sparking a revolution to
get black churches back on track

There is always room in our nation for revolutionary actions. This seems to be budding in the black American church, which is beginning to face the deepest troubles of its community. What is new is not the concerns, but frank admissions that are being brought to the discussion.

In our time of hysterical conservatism, it is hard to think objectively about what a faith-based institution can provide in a time when Christianity and morality are often used as no more than tools to either push us back into a less informed past, or to support a political agenda that has little to do with religion.

Eugene Rivers is not about the politics. He is a serious minister who heads up the Azusa Christian Community in Boston.

"Part of the trouble with the black church," he says, "is that it can be at least partially blamed for unintentionally fostering this irresponsible atmosphere."

Why does Rivers think this? "Because once the church gave up its moral standards and accepted irresponsible sexual behavior and single-mother households as normal, it was saying that the fight had been lost."

Rivers is a strong supporter of a report made 40 years ago by Sen. Daniel Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who observed that fatherless households were one of the greatest banes of the black community. The columnist William Raspberry, in reporting on a conference held in Boston and attended by Rivers, wrote that, "When Moynihan first issued his controversial study, roughly a quarter of black babies were born out of wedlock; moreover, it was largely a low-income phenomenon. The proportion now tops two-thirds, with little prospect of decline, and has moved up the socioeconomic scale."

The reality, says Rivers, "is not only that Moynihan was right, but that he was attacked with such heat for being racist that we now have white liberals afraid to read the obvious handwriting on the wall. The result is that black America is in trouble because no one has the nerve to call out the demons among us."

How does Rivers respond to the idea that the church runs the risk of alienating younger people if it reasserts its respect for marriage, its disdain for single-parent households, and its contempt for irresponsible sexual behavior?

"The reality," says Rivers, "is that the church would not be considered old-fashioned if it came forward with the same kind of hard-core conversation that the kids use when they are supposedly 'keeping it real.' Let's try that. Let's make it clear that HIV, AIDS and venereal disease have higher rates in the black community than anywhere else in America. AIDS is growing among black women faster than any other group. There is an epidemic of black high school girls getting venereal diseases of the throat. Yeah, let's keep it real. People have to change their actions if they want different fates. We have to encourage change, and we have to support it."

Some people do not want to look at that handwriting on the wall, but Eugene Rivers knows that we can no longer avoid the dark effects of our culture of slime, ignorance and irresponsibility. We might just be seeing a revolution for the good of all starting, once again, among those who take their religion seriously and believe that they are actually their brother's keeper.

Originally published on August 3, 2005

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