Right after my father died in 2010, I informed my family on Facebook (aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on) that I was an atheist. Indeed, I hadn't believed in God at all since a trick of the mind in a hypnopompic state produced what looked like a ghost at the foot of my bed. I refused to believe in the vision, and, while I was at it, all of that water-walking and water/wine-making and rising-from-the-dead stuff in The Book. I returned to sleep peacefully as a non-believer. This night happened in 1986.
But 32 years later, my confidence in atheism was shaken by the near-absolute madness of Donald Trump. There wasn't a day I didn't wake up to a new nerve-rattling insult on the human-grounded social emotions: kids thrown into cages, the ban on Muslims, the destabilization of DACA individuals. The persistence of these and other outrages made it hard for me not to long for the moral certitudes of the church. And not just any old church, but the black American one. There was no doubt in my mind that the sermons delivered by most black pastors during the Trump nightmare contained messages that were in no way compatible with the ones delivered by the majority of white Evangelical pastors. And this is precisely where the newly elected senator from Georgia, Reverend Raphael Warnock, steps in. This is how I understand him, and why I need him at this time of my life.
My first world is found in much that revolved around the black church of my boyhood. My father, Ebenezer Ben Mudede (he never explained the "Ben" to me) was a pastor in a black part of rural Maryland near the small city of Salisbury, which also happened to be the name of the capital of the country, Rhodesia, I was born in and left at the age of 4. (Salisbury became Harare, the capital of a country born in 1980, Zimbabwe.) Ebenezer B. Mudede, who obtained a Masters in Divinity at D.C.'s Wesley Theological Seminary, serviced three black churches between 1975 and 1981.
As a pastor, he wasn't into excitement or enthusiasm. The weight of the snob in him was too heavy for that sort of thing. He also suffered from the absence of even one poetic bone in his body. What Ebenezer pursued in his sermons was as much clarity as possible on this or that section of The Word. This is why he did not like long sermons (his usually ran about 30 minutes). He felt they lead his flock into a fog of hard-to-connect impressions that made his one goal, reaching just one understanding on a given Sunday, almost impossible. His most popular sermon was in fact called "One Day." This focus on clarity meant the amens his sermons received were much smaller in number to those enjoyed by the absolutely electric, nonstop whooping pastors captured so entertainingly by Eddie Murphy in the scene where Mulan meets Mushu in the original Mulan.
But academic Ebenezer was warmly accepted by his black American community. This was not the case in black Africa, where his schoolman tendencies were so thoroughly rejected that he no longer required my sister and me to attend church, and he turned to his other masters, in economics, for a living. But the black American churches of my experience, which is by no means exceptional in this regard, oriented to the left. The members of my father's Maryland churches, for example, had no illusions about what Ronald Reagan was really about and why so many white Christians supported him. This other Christianity had in its genetic code the justification for the exploitation of black labor in the founding of American capitalism. The God the white people worshiped was apparently down with the dehumanization of blacks for the most fantastic mammon. The God of my church was not there with the slave owners of old, but those they owned. That's the church I saw as a boy; and this is the same church from which Reverend Raphael Warnock rose the top of America's political landscape.
BBC's background on this new senator from Georgia:
A graduate of the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, Rev Warnock worked as a youth pastor in New York City in the 1990s before moving to Baltimore, one of the poorest cities in the US.
There, he worked to educate his congregation about the risks of HIV/Aids, which was running at crisis levels among African-Americans. He also supports access to abortion, making him a rarity among faith leaders, and opposes the death penalty.
In 2005, he took up the post at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia - the church where Dr Martin Luther King was baptised and once preached. Rev Warnock became the youngest senior pastor in the history of the church, which has become synonymous with the history of African-Americans' fight for civil rights.
The name of his church? Ebenezer Baptist Church. (My dad, however, was a Methodist.)
If your Christianity is not alloyed with the justification of American slavery, it will certainly match with the mood, program, moral-mode of the Jesus in the churches of my childhood and Warnock's pastoral program. There is nothing about abortion in the Bible, or smoking pot or a sin that can never be forgiven. There is, however, lots about love, care, and human solidarity. These are the kinds of things that the majority of the black Christian community feels not as a theory or a commandment but simply as a fact of life. Whites are not the rural Americans who would presently vote in large numbers for something like universal health care. This is sad to say, but they would mostly be black. The white Evangelicals can't feel the same way about the Jesus blacks know and worship because so much of their religious feelings haven't been unmoored from the racism that was needed to keep slavery morally viable for the main chunk of this nation's history.
I'm no longer an atheist because I do not even know what that means when 95 percent of the universe is still a mystery (dark matter? dark energy? quantum weirdness?) to a scientific method that has made stunning leaps and bounds over the past three centuries. I also know that the local is where it is happening. This is the scene of breaking bread. And it is as real as something as far off as the birth of the universe itself. In the local, the Jesus who visits so many black churches in the US is the Jesus the US really needs to hear right now. American politics after Trump needs a sermon from Reverend Warnock more than ever.