Tradition of faith

Tradition of faith

Blacks say historical importance of churches has fueled present religiosity

February 7th, 2009 by Clint Cooper in Entertainment


Attend religious services at least once a week: Blacks 53 percent, general population 39 percent.

Pray at least once a day:

Blacks 76 percent, general population 58 percent.

Believe in God with absolute certainty: Blacks 88 percent, general population 71 percent.

Interpret Scripture as literal word of God: Blacks 55 percent, general population 33 percent.

Believe in angels and demons: Blacks 83 percent, general population 68 percent.

Convinced of existence of life after death: 58 percent, general population 50 percent.

Believe in miracles:

Blacks 84 percent, general population 79 percent.

Kevin L. Adams, senior pastor of historically black Olivet Baptist Church, said he didn't have much of a choice growing up. When his mother headed for church, he said, everybody in the house went along.

"It wasn't an option," Mr. Adams said. "There was a sense of family connection."

Blacks today are more religious than the U.S. population as a whole, according to an analysis released recently by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The survey reports 79 percent of U.S. adult blacks say religion is very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent among the country's population overall.

In addition, 87 percent of blacks describe themselves as belonging to one religious group or another, compared to 85 percent of Hispanics and 83 percent of the general population.

The analysis also indicated blacks report attending religious services at least once a week, praying more often and reading the Bible more often than the rest of the population.

Historically, the church has been the center of the black world, Mr. Adams said.

"It was the central focal point for the community," both for social interaction and for political or civic gatherings, he said. "When we didn't have a voice anywhere ... we were always taught you could go to God."

"It (also) goes back to slavery and the promise of a better life," said Sandy Smith, who attends Olivet Baptist, which boasts a membership of more than 5,000.

In religion, she said, was the promise to slaves that if life did not improve here on Earth it would improve in the hereafter.

"We are who we are because of what we were previously," said the Rev. Ternae Jordan, pastor of Mount Canaan Missionary Baptist Church.

In the past, when blacks could not count on their next meal, significant wealth, police protection or anyone to stand for them politically, they had to rely on God, he said.

In doing so, Dr. Jordan said, they could easily relate to the children of Israel, who had "no one but God to provide and make a way for them."

Even today, there is a "sense of strength and survival," he said.

At Olivet Baptist, for example, Mr. Adams often talks about people today having the wherewithal to survive the recession because they have survived worse things, Ms. Smith said.

The analysis is based on the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, conducted by the Pew Forum in 2007 and released in 2008, as well as other Pew Research Center surveys.