Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I got to sit in on a conference of African-American preachers yesterday. A couple of highlights were hearing a singer who left behind a career as an operatic soprano for the ministry (she has performed at Carnegie Hall, she later told me), and hearing a real black church sermon: a foot-stomping, window-rattling, virtuoso performance. (The preacher took note of me as the uptight white guy off to the side who didn't shout "Amen" even one time. Sorry, preacher, I just thought it would sound fake coming from me, but I did enjoy the sermon.)

The main topic of the meeting was sociological research on the black church: demographic trends, institutional issues. Eye-glazing stuff for normal people, but I found it interesting, and I wanted to report a couple of things I heard. I suppose this must be classed as anecdotal evidence. I trust the sources, but you can judge for yourself.

Most Americans who convert to Islam (and how many there are is a matter of conjecture--some people believe there are a lot) are African-American men who convert in prison. How perfectly obvious (the familiar Martin-Malcolm dichotomy is still alive), and yet perfectly ironic. I remember another factoid I learned a couple of years ago that struck me in a similar way: the U.S. military sends its doctors to inner-city emergency rooms to get training in trauma medicine.

I was surprised at how many different contexts the recent election came up in. These leaders were chastened by the fact that white conservative churches turned their people out more effectively than black churches did. They regarded it as a failure of leadership and of educating their members. However, a few different people echoed this observation: The federal government is using the IRS as an intimidation tool against some black churches who urge members to vote Democratic (with the usual dance of endorsing positions, not candidates). The threat is applied in a curiously selective way, apparently.

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