What is it like to be an African American who doesn’t praise Jesus Christ or Allah? Or one who doesn’t ascribe to a denomination of Christianity, such as Baptist, Methodist or Pentecostal, that’s part of a historically black church?
A 2009 Pew Research analysis found that 59 percent of African Americans were members of black Protestant churches, but there were others — many others — who fell into the category of “Other.” Five out of the 59 percent were grouped as an Other Historically Black Protestant. Two out of 15 percent of black Episcopalian Protestants fell into the category of Other. Then there are Buddhists, Scientologists and yes, atheists, who fall into their own realm of Other. They ascribe to a way of life or belief system that is outside the mainstream of religions often followed by African Americans.
What are the others like? How do they fit into a society that skews to mainstream Christians, and a culture in which so many black gatherings start or end with a gospel brunch, prayer breakfast or Christian church service?
In The Other Believers, we spoke with five African Americans about their lives outside of mainstream historically black religions. Here are their stories.
Patricia Gore, 63, is the director of community relations for the Washington Church of Scientology. She has been a member for nearly 30 years. Her story is below:
“I guess I consider myself a Christian Scientologist. A friend of mine introduced me to Scientology. I had been looking for answers that could help me in a more practical way. When he told me about Scientology, I thought, “Hmm.” I remember him telling me that the word [Scientology] meant “knowing how to know.” And I thought, ‘If you know how to know, instead of guessing at how to know, instead of thinking you might know and not know, but you know how to know, that could be pretty amazing.” I actually picked up the phone and called and said, “Where are you located? Could I come in and see what you guys do?” And they said, “Sure, come on in,” and I did.
I think, initially, just the reception was pretty nice, and I appreciated that the people were warm and they were friendly. I had been growing up in a Christian background, and I told them that, and I never heard them say anything negative about that or try to tell me I should be something else, which made me sort of put down some of my walls. They showed me some of their information, and they said, “You might want to do a course. What are you trying to figure out?” And at the time, I was very much the head of the family. My mother had some mental illnesses, and my dad was not there, so I ended up pretty much taking care of my mom and my four younger sisters, which was a big job for me. And I needed some help.
I wasn’t quite sure how to help my mom. I wasn’t quite sure how to help my sisters. I wasn’t quite sure how to keep the family going and everybody happy and the income in. I was trying to get some answers that I didn’t have, and I think someone suggested a course that might be beneficial, and I thought “Sure.”
Scientology is an applied religious philosophy, so it’s ‘How do you use this in your daily life?’ It’s not a belief system. There were things I could do, and after I started doing it, I could see the results. I think I was a little bit taken aback by the fact that there were so many white people, and so few black people, as I saw it. I still had my antennas up just to see how this could relate to me. I kept looking for [racism], and I kept expecting it ... but I didn’t [experience it], and that was kind of weird ’cause I grew up with it, and here were these happy people that were treating me very, very nicely, and I was like ‘Okay, what do they want? They’re still being nice to me...’ So it was pretty cool...
I think it was maybe a year or two when I considered ‘Wow, this is really what I’ve been looking for, and I want to continue to study more and more and more of this, and maybe this is a religion I’ll hang out with for the rest of this lifetime.’ My mother has done some courses or services here. I have two kids, and they’ve done a lot of courses and services, one of my sisters. But they don’t consider that they are Scientologists. They’re Christians, and they use some of the tools that we have in their lives.
I don’t think they ever once asked me how come you’re not gonna be just only a Christian anymore, because I think that the bottom line was I was doing well, and they loved me, and they’re family, so they wanted that to happen. And I never once tried to tell them, ‘You should not be a Christian. You should be only a Scientologist.’ I believe that truth exists where it does, and has no owner, and you hear truth in Christianity and Buddhism and Islam and Scientology. You get it where you want it and where it works best for you.
Some [black people] go, ‘Ooh, tell me what that is!’ I had a very high-level official one time say, ‘Girl, I didn’t know they had blacks in Scientology. Come here and talk to me,’ or I have people go, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ We’re a very open organization. We want people to find out about us.
Get a book ... find out for yourself. You can come and do a course. You can come to the information center, day in, day out. We are into helping people, and we do a very, very good job at it. We have very sophisticated tools and technology and we have a very caring group of people that work very hard to help people. Come see for yourself, and then decide.
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