Documentary on Black millennials depicts wide range of religion, rebellion

by | Oct 24, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — A member of the second-oldest Black Catholic order in the United States.A voodoo priestess.
A gay atheist woman.
A new documentary from the National Museum of African American History and Culture explores the range of faith and spiritual expressions of Black millennials and the choices they have made to reject — or embrace — the religious rituals of their childhood.
Teddy Reeves, the creator and producer of “gOD-Talk: A Black Millennials and Faith Conversation,” said the documentary shows that the term “nones” — used by academics and journalists to describe people without a particular religious affiliation, often of younger generations — frequently does not apply to this demographic of Black people born between 1981 and 1996.
gOD-Talk. (Image by Nikkolas Smith)
In a Monday (Oct. 23) interview after the film’s weekend premiere at the downtown Washington museum, he said the two-hour documentary, a product of the museum’s Center for the Study of African American Religious Life in partnership with the Pew Research Center, aims to give voice to the people of this generation and let them identify themselves.

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Teddy Reeves. (Photo by Shaun Champion)
“We show the pluralistic nature of the African American religious experience,” Reeves told Religion News Service, “from those who are of some formal faith tradition to those who are not.”
And from those who are somewhere in between, the ones who say “’I’m Christian-ish’ to those who say, ‘I am a spiritualist. I’m just finding my way,’” said Reeves.
“So we tried to make sure that we show that breadth.”
Though the traditions vary widely and Black millennials are less religious than older Black Americans, Pew’s research found that the vast majority — 96% — still say they believe in God or a higher power. 
The documentary includes critiques of the traditional Black church, with featured speakers describing what it was like to grow up with a single parent who was chastised by the church or adults who scolded them for views or behavior deemed immoral by congregational leaders.
“I grew up in a faith context that basically told me that if my mother obeyed and loved God more, I wouldn’t be here,” said Candice Marie Benbow, a self-identified “seeker.” She described how her mother took refuge in a church where they were “able to live and thrive” after an earlier one sought an apology from her during her unwed pregnancy with Benbow. The author and theologian nevertheless also describes herself as “Baptist born, Baptist bred, when I die I’ll be Baptist dead.”
Benbow also is an occasional columnist for RNS.
Tre’vell Anderson, an entertainment journalist who identifies as “a nonbinary person of trans experience,” recalled growing up in a Pentecostal church where being gay was considered a sin and becoming the subject of a special “after-church” ceremony.
“I remember them turning lights down low, lighting some candles and there being a prayer, a massive prayer situation about me,” said Anderson, who is described in the documenta …

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