The Rev. Kelli W. Taylor, chaplain and vice president of religious life and community engagement at Methodist University, and Stacye Blount, an associate professor of sociology at Fayetteville State University have suggested that church research shows a shifting in the landscape among young black Christians from being. In recent years an increased number of young black people consider themselves to be more spiritual than religious.
According to Taylor, religion is defined as adhering to a specific set of organized beliefs and practices, while spirituality suggests a more individual approach to faith and practice.
Blout believes that the shift started when Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black teen, was brutally murdered in 2012 in Sanford, Fla. The incident occurred when a community watch group member, George Zimmerman, thought the teen looked suspicious because he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. Against the recommendation of the 911 operator, Zimmerman initiated contact with Martin that ended with Zimmerman shooting the unarmed teen.
“I think it sent them on a quest for some faith, a spiritual experience that centered them more within their ancestral origins,” Blout opined. “I am inclined to believe that they are spiritual, but I think they have had enough of organized religion, especially as they become more social-justice oriented.”
Protesters were outraged by the shooting. Fran Naplis told Fox 4Now, “All they’re going to see is the color of your skin and the hoodie. It’s unfortunate that George Zimmerman saw a black man that was doing nothing. That’s all he saw.”
“What I observe is more African American young people finding engagement and living out of their Christian convictions in civic organizations that are on the front lines of social justice rather than in the church,” Taylor said.
Blout suggests that people can in fact be spiritual but not religious. Shatara Het Heru Bey, who began her spiritual journey in 2009 got in touch with her homeland and connected to ancestors in 2016.
“That was just an eye-opening experience on how in tune we are with the Earth,” she said. “It was so healing, it was so refreshing, it was cleansing. It was just so different and I had never experienced anything like that in my life.”
After spending time in the community, Taylor doesn’t think that young Christians are entirely abandoning religion, however. Evidence has shown her that black students are committed to prayer and studying scripture, but have become weary.
“They are weary of prayer without action and scripture study that ignores the central message of the gospel that says you cannot say you love God and hate your brother or sister,” she said. “They want to engage the message of the biblical prophets who were social critics.”
The use of burning sages is popular in the African American community but is often considered witchcraft or something sinister. However, Blout said that it can be rooted back to slavery and our ancestors.
“(Religion) was used as a mechanism of control because they used scripture to justify what they were doing,” she said. “It actually gives us more power, makes us feel even better about ourselves, [and] it makes us be able to see like another way of life and just know wholeheartedly that this is what our ancestors did.”