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The Rise of the "Nones" in the Black Religious Experience

It has managed to slip under the radar of public consciousness and conversation as the new millennium unfolds, but as cultural attitudes shift, book ended as it were by the global pandemic and Trumpism, black religious faith is facing perhaps its most challenging period in American history.

While African Americans have historically outranked other demographics in religious practice, attendance and belief, evidence is mounting that this could be changing – and for the worse!

According to polls, black America is becoming increasingly if not deliberately less religious at a time in our peculiar American experience in which we need faith now more than ever. And while there may be a multitude of factors which help to explain this trend, a more subtle hint lies beneath: the slow and steady climb of African Americans who are disassociating from a religious foundation.

We are witnessing the rise of the nones – the percentage of black Americans who cite “none” as a religious category or who claim no religious affiliation.

Consider these recent statistics:

  • The proportion of Black adults who say church involvement is overall “desirable” is on the decline, from 90 percent in 1996 (71% “very” + 19% “somewhat”) to just 74 percent today (44% “very” + 30% “somewhat”).

  • Another poll shows that 34.9% of blacks identified as “nones” in 2020 – up from 19.5% in 2008 (Cooperative Election Study).

  • 30% of all Black Americans claim the descriptor “spiritual not religious”. And to add to all of this, consider that when most of the African Americans who are leaving religion behind, they are not necessarily clinging to agnostic or atheist perspectives, as African Americans represent just 4-6% of these categories respectively. Now, it is easy to suggest that the above statistics and others do not really portend any monumental spiritual crisis or that said statistics merely represent a drop in the proverbial bucket. That is, until you consider what’s being revealed at the core of our faith at its crisis point and how those tremors portend a greater disturbance. For example,

  • Overall, African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious psychological distress compared to the rest of Americans ~Pew Research

  • In California alone, the rate of suicide for Black teens has doubled since 2014 after a years-long lowering compared to White and Asian teens.

  • Emerging from the global pandemic places far more financial, mental and psychological stress on African Americans compared to other ethnic groups, especially when five common stressors of occupation, finances, relationships, racial bias, and violence are added to the mix. ~National Library of Medicine

So, what to do? Or, in the immortal words of Dr. King, where do we go from here? How does this impact us? What does it mean for the future of black faith and religious experience?

How does the rise of the “nones” in black religious faith affect black religious faith?

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