The state of the black church is still strong, but a sizable percentage of African-Americans are losing their faith — the most recent count (PDF) by the Pew Research Center in 2012 put the number at 15% unaffiliated:
Jeff Kunerth of the Orlando Sentinel spoke to members of a local black atheist group to find out what their experiences were like:
“The black church is so much a part of black life, heritage and culture,” said Richard Peacock, who started the Black Nonbelievers of Metro Orlando in 2012. “It’s assumed that even if you aren’t going to church, it’s part of your DNA.”
The oldest institution in the black community, the church is the center of gravity for social, economic and political activities. Religion is discussed in the barbershops and beauty parlors, at the post office and City Hall. Churches sponsor youth groups, health fairs, voter registration and assistance to the poor and the elderly.
In the black community, those who deny the existence of God are viewed as devil-possessed or deranged.
“You are seen as basically alien,” said Bridget Gaudette, a 34-year-old atheist who grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. “You are confused, you are mentally ill.”
But the way to break that stereotype is to come out and let people know how their views of atheists are misguided. The members of this group and many others like it are show incredible courage and bravery in going public with their atheism in the hopes that others will follow.