I had a very culturist morning. The day began when I visited my friend in Harlem. Harlem is a traditionally black community in New York City. It spawned a lot of great jazz musicians and has fame as the location of the explosion of arts in the 1920s that went under the name of the Harlem Renaissance. And, I have always loved it for its proliferation of African-American churches.
Upon leaving my friends home, I entered the ATLAH World Missionary Church. The name reminded me of Allah, but I did not know what to expect. All I knew was that the music coming from inside seemed unreal in its power and complexity. Upon entering, I found I was probably the only white person there. But, I was told not to linger in the way back, but to take a seat up with the parishioners. The twenty or so women in the choir were headed by a large woman, who hit every note with power. If you know American culture, you know the music, you can imagine the scene.
One of the first utterances of the slightly rotund minister, Rev. James David Manning, was “I love this country. I am patriotic. I love Jesus first. But I love this country second. And, I don’t want to live anywhere else other than right here.” The church had a large American flag in the back. I expected him to say “But, . . . “ and qualify his message. But, he went further and condemned the American Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton and Barak Obama, by name, for spreading messages that framed African – Americans as victims. Recommended getting out of public housing and churches starting jobs programs. He spoke of gentrification and said the locals had only themselves to blame.
Then the uber eloquent Minister told the crowd that you cannot curse America and then want your kids to have pro-social feelings. If they grow up blaming America as an oppressor, they will not want to contribute to its well-being. The church members were hypocrites if they followed the democrat line and told their children that anyone owed them anything. He denounced the ne’er-do-wells who populate the neighborhood as victims of these messages who did not know their own power. His African American audience learned the culturist message that the patriotic belief system was the way forward.
Then the Minister took a very interesting turn. He said that Satan had gotten into people. I as an atheist I rolled my eyes. But, this master of speech had earned my respect so I quieted my mind and listened. He said that an ecumenical bug had been spread. And church leaders now said that all Gods were equal. We were supposed to respect Hare Krishnas, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims. He said that fights between Methodists and Presbyterians were tough and constantly divided Christians and were par for the course. But, nowadays preachers tell him he’s supposed to sit down and agree with a Muslim and agree that all gods are the same. No way. He would work with them. But Jesus was the way truth and light, and he would not pay respects to any foreign religion.
The very survival of this church, the very format that gets practiced weekly in Harlem churches represents the survival of culture. But being of this tradition, the ATLAH World Ministry Church likely recognizes more than others, that the responsibility for maintaining community rests with that community. Others do not pass on pro-social messages for us. The schools are supposed to. But, their multiculturalism, at best, tells us that others paths and our way has no more merit than any other. At worst it tells us that our very land is poisoned for being having had slavery and being Eurocentric. Refreshingly, the ATLAH World Missionary Church will not go down this path. They praise their culture, they pass on pro-social messages, both patriotic and local, to their members via exhilarating traditional means.