Black boy gone: Why this former minister left the church behind
In the place of a Savior, I discovered another saving power. I have the ability to save myself.
By Verdell Wright
I used to be a minister. I preached the goodness of God every day. But after deep reflection and honesty, I decided this Black boy had to go. I had to leave the Christian faith, as well as any belief in the supernatural, behind.
I was headed toward this point for a while, but there was a day when my journey toward non-belief picked up speed. I was riding home in an Uber during the summer of 2016 and, as usual, I had a book with me. I had been meaning to read Is God A White Racist by William Jones for a while. The DC evening traffic gave me time to pour over Jones’ words, where he critiques the claims of Black Theology and highlights the lack of decisive evidence of God’s siding with oppressed people.
Sitting with Jones’ argument, which the originator of Black liberation theology James Cone praised in the beginning of Jones’ book, shifted my thinking. His persuasive work detailed how evidence often considered proof of God’s blessing just as readily demonstrates God’s disdain. Jesus’ death on the cross could just as easily demonstrate God’s hatred for the oppressed as God’s unrequited love. Even if Jesus rose again, the countless others who died in his name as the result of state power are still dead.
God didn’t come through for me. I did what the conservative God wanted me to do by restraining my homosexuality. I then did what the progressive God wanted me to do by advocating for the “least of these,” as Jesus commanded. Both gods seemed unwilling to respond to my needs, my poverty, or my ailing body. My dreams, crucified by circumstance, were left in the grave. Me and so many others didn’t even get the deal that Lazarus did. At least Jesus came late for Lazarus. We’re still waiting for Jesus to show up.
Then I considered the plight of Black people. Where is this God, the God that gave Martin Luther King his dream? Where is the God of the Oppressed that I learned about from Howard Thurman, James Cone, Kelly Brown Douglas, and others? I was seized by the stark possibility that Jesus may not be beside me or even on my side. Instead, he was yet another prominent name in the history of those murdered by the State.
Even if he was resurrected, where is the victory for Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Carla Patricia Flores-Pavon, the people of Palestine, and so many others? Where is the promise and proof of God’s love, as white supremacists are emboldened beyond the pageantry of dog whistles when making their evil intentions known? It seems like white evangelicals’ prayers were answered, not mine.
How can that be if Black people, and Black women in particular, are the most religiously observant group in the United States? How can this God be trusted? Or if this God has good intentions, are they powerful enough to be worth our devotion? Beyond goosebumps and emotionally charged sermons, could I detect the obvious hand of this all-encompassing God in my life?
I found that the answer was no. My life was barren, and my people were being tortured in the streets. I realized the innate cruelty of claiming to be blessed, the dark side of being a chosen people, that a loving God would have to decide when to be kind and who to kill, who to deliver and what demons to empower, all protected under the sacred canopy of “God’s will.”
I came to see whatever “blessings” I had to be the result of privileges, relationships, and luck, haphazard luxuries mislabeled as divine. I found no remedy in progressive theologies, often blurred by whiteness and a shared inability with conservative thought to produce a God with demonstrable saving power. Upon embracing these realities, I was gone.
In the place of a Savior, I discovered another saving power. I have the ability to save myself, and what I can’t do on my own, I’ve found in the saving power of community. I no longer expect a supernatural force to rescue us. I acknowledge that others find strength and solace in their faith. So did I. I also acknowledge and respect that people find what they need in other religions and indigenous practices. I do not. I find no reason to place my trust in gods. The spirit I’m relying on is my own.
We have what we need—individually and collectively—to survive and thrive. The faith that I placed in supernatural intervention I now place in myself and our capacity to shape the world together. Some would call this God; I don’t. I see it as the main reason humans have survived up to this point. I found the power to be the me I want to be, uncovered after removing layers of dogmatic assumptions and aspirations. I know that everyone won’t come to the place that I have, but arriving here took considerable growth for me.
I still talk about goodness. I’m still a bit preachy about it. Except now I talk about goodness as a potential that we all have towards ourselves and one another, and not divinity beyond our reach.
Editor’s Note: June is LGBTQ Pride Month. At BYP, we will be exploring gender, sexuality, transgender issues and queer theory, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
Verdell Wright is an advocate, organizer, and writer. I have earned theological degrees from Rutgers, University, Howard University, and Wesley Theological Seminary.