Black women are the single most religious demographic in the United States, yet they are among the poorest, least educated, and least healthy groups in the nation. Drawing on the author's own past experience as an evangelical minister and her present work as a secular counselor and researcher, The Ebony Exodus Project makes a direct connection between the church and the plight of black women. Through interviews with African American women who have left the church, the author reveals the shame and suffering often caused by the church—and the resulting happiness, freedom, and sense of purpose these women have felt upon walking away from it. This book calls on other black women to honestly reflect on their relationship with religion and challenges them to consider that perhaps the answers to their problems rest not inside a church, but in themselves.
Candace received her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary English Education from North Carolina Central University. She received her Master’s degree in mental health counseling from Wake Forest University. Candace’s religious background is varied, including Jehovah's Witnesses and Methodist.
At 18, she joined a very charismatic ministry during which time she was ordained as an evangelist, prophetess, and elderess. Becoming involved in and leading extremist activities such as casting out demons, fasting for weeks at a time and faith healing, Candace was a believer’s believer. She worked hard to be the minister, wife, and mother that she believed god had planned her to be.
When real world problems were overwhelming her, she tried even harder to win god’s approval and blessing. Suffering with major depression to the point of being suicidal and facing severe financial hardships, Candace thought that she must have been doing something wrong. She dove into studying the Bible more than ever before. She became disillusioned with the contradictions and blatant errancy she found.
Mounting questions regarding the similarities between Jesus and other god legends before him, the nature of god, and concepts of hell and evil were just a few of the issues that caused her to eventually decide that she could no longer believe in a deity.
From a place of empathy and compassion, Candace decided to start the Ebony Exodus Project which aims to highlight the harmful effects of religion on all believers, but especially for black women.
In addition to ongoing work as a counselor, Candace is a member of The Clergy Project and the Secular Therapist Project.
“…black women are the single most religious demographic in the United States, yet they are at the bottom of the totem pole in practically every measure of quality of life—physical health, financial health, mental health, and more.”
CANDACE (author, The Ebony Exodus Project: Why Some Black Women Are Walking Out on Religion—and Others Should Too):
“After a while, the belief that Jesus is all we need in the world began to lose its power of persuasion. The reason was simple: I educated myself.”
BRIA (ex-Jehovah’s Witness):
“This is a black community thing. How do they control us? Fear! Fear! You’re scared not to go to church. You feel guilty if you decide, Oh, I don’t feel like going to church this weekend. I’mma sleep in. Now you feel guilty because somebody is going to call you and ask why you didn’t go to church …You’re going to deal with some guilt. Especially women. To me, a woman wasn’t taken seriously unless she was a mother of the church or unless she was wailing and prevailing and presenting at a shut-in. Unless she was important to the church, she wasn’t worth the time of day.”
CRYSTAL (ex-Seventh-day Adventist):
“…I just said, “Well, this doesn’t make sense to me anymore.” Actually, it surprised me that I felt so free. Growing up with, “You’re going to do this or you are going to hell if you don’t believe in that.” Maybe that experience impacted the feeling I felt when I stopped believing. And I just felt free.”
JANET (ex-Evangelical Christian):
“I don’t know about the Black Church. I feel that, in general, black people just don’t think about anything. We don’t question anything. We don’t try to recognize that a lot of ideas were forced on us. I am very serious about the way that my culture has put certain things in our heads. Our whole society is based on not thinking. I don’t know why. I can’t say I blame the church, but I think it helps contribute.”
TANIA (ex-Apostolic Christian):
“I don’t like to use the word “brainwashing,” but people aren’t allowed to be freethinkers. It’s just mind manipulation. It’s not that I was very angry, but I was disappointed at how much hatred and discrimination people had toward one another, all based on the Bible.”
“…it’s pretty hard to go from agnosticism and atheism back to a belief because once you know, you always know.”
RAINA (ex-Nondenominational Christian):
“I went to teen retreats to “acquire the fire.” That’s a mainstream nondenominational Christian thing. Now that I’m older, I realize that it really resembles a Nuremberg Rally because they don’t really give the kids any real sort of information. It’s all propaganda, you know, and manipulation.”
“…I started putting these questions up and I started saying, “Hey! What about this? What about that?” everybody was like, “Girl, you going off the deep end. There’s no contradiction in the Bible.��� But I said, “Yes there is! I’m trying to show you right here! There is a contradiction!” …It was like I was talking to a brick wall.”
“I used to hate when people would say, “I’m blessed and highly favored.” I’m thinking, Okay, what about the kids in the third world countries that are starving and who are dying every day of starvation? Did god just turn his back on them? Are they not blessed and highly favored? I didn’t get that. My life has been great and it had nothing to do with me praying, nothing to do with god favoring me more. It’s because I had more opportunity …Don’t get it twisted. Don’t mistake the privileges that you have living here as god’s work.”
MANDISA (cofounder, Black Nonbelievers of Atlanta):
“The image of White Jesus just never made any sense to me. It would kind of creep me out, especially with me growing up learning about how slavery was imposed and forced upon Africans when they came to America. So, I would just never understand how black people could worship a white god.”
DEBBIE (director, African Americans for Humanism):
“I think that in the black community, particularly, religion is tied to racial identity. If you’re black and atheist, it somehow makes you less black. Being religious is tied to being black. Many people aren’t too bothered if you go from being a black Christian to being a very religious Muslim. But an atheist? That’s totally wrong.”
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
This is the first atheist book that I've read that wasn't written by a Caucasian male. The Ebony Exodus Project isn't like Richard Dawkins preaching to the converted; instead, Candace Gorham interviews freethinking black women, telling in their own words how they came to atheism and the struggles they faced before and after. Between these interviews, the author talks about ways that women are negatively affected by the patriarchal views of the church. Really unique, wonderful perspective!
As someone who has been slowly drifting away from organized religion I really enjoyed this book. I really like the stories of the individual women over the other chapters.
I think the author focuses a lot on the Black Church because that is what she is most familiar with. But I didn't grow up with that so while I agreed with a lot of the women I wasn't coming from the same place. But the hypocrisy they spoke of goes beyond the Black Church. I think that's endemic to the Christian religion.
This book means a lot to me as a black woman that has been questioning religion. I'm thankful to know that there are more of us out there. I mean nobody likes to feel alone.
Candace Gorham interviews several Black women who left the church and are either atheist or freethinkers. The first interview is a powerful, funny, and sad story of a young woman named, Bria, who grew up as a Jehovah's Witness. She leaves the church at 17 , and starts questioning the religious views she was taught. How Bria tells her story is so poignant, frank, and powerful. She says, “Eventually I went from being straight for Jesus to being who I am. I didn't need to be reborn. I was born right the first time. I'm a lesbian. I always have been.” She said she started “questioning everything”.
“I read the Bible. I started at Genesis and I was sick. I was sick at what I read. First, I stopped praying for people even though they still called me for prayer….I will not serve a god that is this crazy.”
Bria made me laugh several times because she is so up front and insightful without being bookish or academically intellectual, though she is indeed an intellectual—without all the traditional educational training. No doubt her story is also sad because her family abandons her, her mother is an alcoholic, and she has two children whom she probably has to support by herself.
But her and other women's stories are such good examples why the Black church and religion end up being more harmful for the Black community than being a solution.
It doesn't seem like Gorham writes a lot about the impact of racism, economic oppression, and police brutality (as Sikivu Hutchinson does in Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels) that impacts the Black community, but the personal stories she shares are so important to be heard. I plan to share this book as much as I can. It deserves a wide reading audience.
This is the first book I have ever read on atheism. That is feat in and of itself. Though I do not identify myself as an atheist, I related strongly with many of the women in this book. This book has definitely impacted and confirmed many of the beliefs I hold regarding religion. Overall, I found the book to be encouraging and insightful.
I highly recommend this book for anyone questioning their religion or anyone who is in the process of leaving their religion or anyone who is seeking support as they unravel the years of damage caused my indoctrination. I am very appreciative of the authors and contributors approach to the subject matter.
Having gotten quite tired of reading texts that discuss the hypocrisy of religion (mainly they appeal to some level of philosophical reasoning, which is smashingly logical to me but usually fails to convince anyone fundamentally attached to their mythology), it was refreshing to read actual stories from real people who came to the conclusion that the church did not serve their best interests. Some of them where heartfelt and wrenching, and some were very witty and funny (I'm thinking of Debbie's story here -- if you do nothing else, go right to the end and read it!).
This book is kind and practical and truthful. I bought one for a friend and I'm likely to buy another, because I don't loan out books that I'd like to keep. And I'd like to keep this one.
Very good book. The personal stories were well selected and varied, and they were powerful. There is nothing quite like hearing first person experiences to get a better understanding of a situation. The rest of the book trod some well-worn ground, but I've read a lot, and I can see value in presenting the information as she does for her target audience. A worthy addition to the library.
Black women are the single most religious demographic in the United States, yet they are among the poorest, least educated, and least healthy groups in the nation. Drawing on the author's own past experience as an evangelical minister and her present work as a secular counselor and researcher, The Ebony Exodus Project makes a direct connection between the church and the plight of black women.
The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey reported that 86% of black people identified as Christian. Black women make up the majority of most congregations in black churches.
The Ebony Exodus project is a collection of interviews with women who have left the church. In between the personal interviews, there are discussions of the effect of the black church culture on mental health and physical health.
Several of the women identified the church's attitude towards homosexuality as a factor in leaving. Some of them were bisexual or lesbians themselves and others had family or friends who they didn't want to see denigrated by the church.
The difficulties of leaving an institution that for many people defines the black experience in America is discussed. Who are you as a woman in the African-American community if you aren't in church?
Anti-intellectualism rears it head again. Many women talked about studying their way out of the church (like I did.) They hate the fact that so many people don't know anything about the religion that they purport to believe in.
What is the affect of the prosperity gospel teaching on the black community? What happens when you give the money you had to pay your bills to the church because you are supposed to believe that god will provide for you if you are supporting the church? Is this helping to keep black women in poverty?
One thing that seemed very different in the black churches described here and the white churches I knew was the idea that you can only speak positive things. If you say that things are going poorly for you then you are "claiming" that reality. It is sort of like, "Fake it 'til you make it." Women in this book said that it leads to suppression of what is really going on in their lives. No one shares the real problems. No one admits to be stressed or depressed and may not get the help they need since they are too busy "claiming" their wonderful realities that they want to have. There is also a tendency to blame bad things on a person having demons attached to them. Nothing is the fault of circumstances that the person can improve on their own.
I've never understood why Christianity is so rampant in the African-American community. It doesn't seem logical to me. It is a religion forced on their ancestors by their oppressors as a way of controlling them. It would seem like people would be in a rush to get rid of it.
While that title is a mouthful, the book itself is very, very good. About two-thirds of the book consists of stories of black women and their relationship with the Black Church. (Black as in racially black, not satanically black.) These aren't the rantings you might be expecting if your atheist readings have consisted of lots of white folks. Every women in this book has her own personal story and perspective. Some are more ambivalent than others.
The other third consists of essays from Gorham herself on the negative aspects of the Black Church and how it harms black women while at the same time acting as a support system. If you're looking for more straight-up criticism, this is where you'll find it. Gorham's writing is so clear and direct that it cuts like a scalpel. (I don't mean that in terms of Wow! Look at that articulate black person! I mean as a contrast to the overly-philosophical mental noodling you see in a lot of atheist writing.)
I'm going to lob one criticism at this book, and it's one to which the author alludes in her introduction. The book is too short. Gorham bemoans having to take excerpts of her interviews for the sake of book length. I really wish she hadn't. The book could have been, seriously, twice as long and it wouldn't have worn out its welcome with me.
Of course, as a suburban white guy, I'm just getting exposure to issues about which I was utterly clueless. I can't speak to the level at which this book can help black women. I sure hope it can, though.
Nobody's rated this? Really...? Anyway, I found this to be an extremely worthwhile read. Even though I have no significant frame of reference as far as the "Black Church" is concerned, I thought Ms. Gorham, and her interview subjects, did a great job of explaining it's prevalence within the African American culture and the ramifications of leaving it all behind. There are some humorous reflections sprinkled among the painful ones but the entire reading experience is very enlightening. Highly recommend.
I didn't think I would identify with any of the women since I didn't grow up in the church, but I was wrong. I found something that spoke to me in every one of the stories. Each women had a different story yet they were all similar at the end. They became critical thinkers no later oppressed by Christianity. If you follow or do something out of fear are you doing it for the right reasons? One of many favorite quotes from the book, "I didn't need to be reborn. I was born right the first time."
This is a helpful read for Black women (or anyone, for that matter) who can no longer blindly accept the status quo, regardless of the racial background of one's religious experience. Gratifying to know that we who question aren't alone.