Across the country, Black Americans feel under siege from the coronavirus pandemic and raw from the police brutality fueling Black Lives Matter protests. But some are nursing another intimate wound: their church’s failure to acknowledge their pain. Many Black parishioners, especially those at multiracial institutions, bristle when they hear rhetoric from church leaders that ignores how health inequities and racism are affecting the Black community right now. Others are hurt by their church’s conspicuous silence on these issues. The result is a quiet but resolute contingent of Black church members leaving their congregation to seek spiritual healing elsewhere.
Leaving one’s church represents a personal loss for the individual, but the institution also suffers when parishioners decide to take their valuable perspectives away from the flock. It’s still too early to quantify exactly how many Black churchgoers nationwide have made such a decision, or how many might still leave their church if their concerns aren’t addressed. The parishioners who spoke with me, however, had very similar stories, pointing to a potential trend.
Like others I talked with, Delisha, 58, isn’t one to miss church. For the past seven years, she has made sure to be in the faithful number of a large, multicultural New Orleans congregation. But after the pandemic hit in March, she decided to attend services only via live-stream. Black people like her are disproportionately at risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19, and Delisha, who lives with her elderly mother and a daughter with asthma, has hypertension. (Delisha asked that I identify her using only her middle name, because she had not yet contacted the church about her concerns.)