How Events Like Music Festivals Offer Unchurched Black Millennials a Path Back Into the Faith

Courtesy of Jack Manning/Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Panelists take part in a gOD-Talk session in Atlanta. In April, gOD-Talk will be at Pharrell Williams’ Something in the Water music festival, encouraging attendees to discuss how they interact with religion.

When singer and entrepreneur Pharrell Williams’ inaugural music festival kicks off this weekend in Virginia Beach, it will include a high-profile list of performers including Missy Elliott, Gwen Stefani, and Busta Rhymes. But it will also feature something else: spirituality.

From a talk with alternative medicine advocate and author Deepak Chopra to a pop-up church service, faith will be an important theme at Something in the Water, reflecting a yearning observers say exists among these concertgoers for ecclesiastical interactions regardless of the venue.

Black millennials in particular are seeking such opportunities, prompting more church time at music events – Kanye West led a service last Sunday at Coachella – and efforts to reach them from organizations such as the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The museum’s conversation series, gOD-Talk, will also be at Something in the Water, encouraging discussion about black millennials and their religious beliefs. This type of talk offers a chance for those involved to reclaim their narrative, says one leader.

“Many times people are theorizing or pontificating about the habits of black millennials: We’re destroying things; we’re racked with debt. The beauty of gOD-Talk is that we are giving them agency,” says Teddy Reeves, the curatorial museum specialist of religion in the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life, part of the NMAAHC. “Our relationship with religion is complex and nuanced, and with this series we are working to chart our own territory.”

The Pew Research Center discovered that black millennials are more religious than other millennials, though fewer than 4 in 10 say they attend services weekly. Theologian, writer, and educator Candice Benbow has collaborated with gOD-Talk in the past and is appearing on its panel at Something in the Water. She says that the increase of unconventional religious black millennials is a direct result of the current sociopolitical climate.

“We are currently experiencing a movement moment, right? There’s Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Times Up. Millennials have walked away from organized religion because it’s been rooted in a lot of pain and trauma,” says Ms. Benbow, who hosts her own podcast, Red Lip Theology.

“How do I make sense of faith when people who are at the helm of religious leadership are being exposed? How do I contend with religious ideologies when we keep getting shot down in the street and the police who are killing us continue to be acquitted? These aren’t just cultural questions; they’re existential as well,” she says.

Part of the mission of gOD-Talk is to reveal how millennials, specifically black millennials, are interacting with religion. The project, which overall studies the “totality of the African American religious experience,” according to Mr. Reeves, is spearheaded by his center in association with Pew. It has participated in events at churches, museums, and colleges across the country.

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Source: Christian Science Monitor