This post was originally published on Defender Network

by Aswad Walker

Tradition can be a good, powerful, beautiful thing. Honoring and keeping traditions can allow values to pass on from one generation to the next, so that those children, grandchildren, and their children will be able to benefit from ancient knowledge and learn lessons from past triumphs and mistakes. But keeping traditions for tradition’s sake, without determining if said tradition is still meeting its purpose amid a newer context, can be harmful.

In fact, one of humanity’s most powerful traditions is the tradition of challenging traditions when new knowledge, new information, and/or new realities make the once-empowering old ways now modern-day death traps. It’s literally the tradition of making sure that our traditions are still serving us, rather that us serving them – merely for tradition’s sake.

On that note, here are a few Black Church traditions I believe we need to retire.

Bible Class

Here me out saints, before damning me to hell. I’m saying we need to get rid of the Bible Class tradition that doesn’t make geography, history, and cultural context part of the lessons. Why geography? Because far too many faithful church-goers don’t realize that the vast majority of the Old Testament and New Testament (and Intertestamental Period) stories took place in Africa. Quick aside: In ancient times, Africa, or “The Land of the Blacks,” was not confined to the continent we’re familiar with. It extended to the east as far as India and even included some parts of southern Europe. The first folk we would classify as white didn’t enter the area where so much of the Bible story went down in any conquering manner until roughly 300 BC with Alexander the Greek. But the African Nation Israel started their journey as a people at roughly 2000 BC. So, for 1,700 years, Blackfolk were living and experiencing and writing down and reading and passing on the Old Testament bible stories before Alexander and crew even showed up. So, along with where the Bible story took place, when it took place (history) should be foundational to Bible Class. And when you delve into the history of a people, their cultural traditions will offer some powerful, spiritual revelations. So, again saints – chill before damning me to hell. And speaking of…

Damning Everyone to Hell

Can we get off our high horse of damning everyone to hell who doesn’t “do” Christianity like we (whoever your congregation might be) do? And can we make the herculean leap to stop damning to hell those whose religious walk may have revealed God to them as Allah, Oludomare, Shango, etc.? We come dangerously close to playing God when we believe the way we walk our spiritual walk is the only way.

The One-Finger Thingy

Though 99% of Blackfolk know the origins of that one-finger raising Black church tradition, I’ll share this for that 1% who are still in the fog. A historian explains, “During the slavery days when the masters took their enslaved persons with them to public gatherings, the enslaved would always sit in the balcony. When one had to go to the bathroom or wanted to be excused for any reason, they would hold their hand up and keep it up until their master acknowledged that they saw their hand and gave them permission to leave or in other words ‘excused them to leave.’ After the enslaved person was given permission to leave, they would hold up one finger as they were leaving to inform anyone who saw them leave that they had been excused. So, it means, “My Master has excused me.” Again, we all know this history, yet continue to do it. News Flash: We don’t have to. We can give ourselves the authority to kiss it goodbye.

Suspending Logic, Reason, and Common Sense

One preacher/theologian explained this tradition as so: “Black people, including intelligent, accomplished Black people, have been conditioned to leave their brains in the vestibule of the church.” In other words, we take in and believe as unquestioned fact anything preached from the pulpit. This speaks to a deeper tradition of rejecting new knowledge, information, and ideas if that new knowledge, information or idea comes from outside the church… and especially if it contradicts any part of our faith. But then we’ll turn around and quote the millions of scriptures that speak on the importance of seeking wisdom. And we shout, “Preach preacher” when Brother or Sister Pastor reminds us that “a people perish due to lack of knowledge.” Make it make sense. Either we’re open to new knowledge or not. I don’t know about you, but my God did not stop speaking, creating, inspiring, and enlightening when the Bible was “completed.” So, “why-come” we think the new discoveries and information our enlightened brains (given to us by God to develop to their fullest) shouldn’t be wrestled with and incorporated into our faith?

Men’s Only Pulpits

More and more churches and denominations are warming to the idea that women can be preachers and pastors. Why the hell this is a news flash is beyond me. Well, really it’s not (sexism and misogyny). But there are far too many churches still wed to the tradition of only receiving the “wur-red” from a man of God. There are even churches that won’t allow women to enter the pulpit area. And I know, they’ll lean on the creation story that says God created woman from the rib of Adam. What’s interesting is, they ignore the other creation story in Genesis that says God created both male and female together.

This post was originally published on Defender Network March 10, 2024