The Trouble with Black Boys | Where is Stage 4 Pentecostalism?

CoxTragically, last night a 3rd boy was shot dead in South London, the latest victim of a possibly-connected spate of black on black youth killings. The police have responded by saying they are going to have armed patrols on the streets now. Like that’s going to work. Two of the boys were shot in their beds.

This morning I was reading the page proofs for the US release of the book, and came across this end-note to a part of the book discussing Fowler’s stages of faith:

I am perhaps stepping beyond my remit, but in my work teaching in an inner city comprehensive I have seen many, many examples of students from families from strongly ‘Stage 3’ Pentecostal churches who, in their latter years at school, develop real problems with discipline. I wonder if this is because they have so few role models at the latter stages of faith, and once they begin to appreciate the complexities of their situation in the city, have few resources for helping them cope with it and so end up kicking hard against the system. It is for others to comment in a more informed way on these casual observations, but perhaps absence of any Stage 4+ expressions of faith in Pentecostalism is doing young people in troubled communities a great disservice.

Perhaps I am speaking out of turn, perhaps there is a ‘Stage 4’ / doubting path within the black churches?If there is, I’ve never seen it. All the literature you see – and masses of it – is all about ‘Holy Power Apostolic Life Church International Healing Power Ministry Prophecy with Big Pastor Somebody and his Shiny Suits.

And I think this is a very deep problem. In my, admittedly small, experience working with teenagers, there needs to be a path from infancy (dependency on the mother) into adulthood (walking alongside the father). Adolescence is the difficult in-between stage, the stage of doubt. The stage where all that Stage 3 certainty is debunked.

It is here that all systems are challenged and all authorities are questioned. And I think ideally this tricky place is best negotiated with one hand still on mother, and one hand reaching out to father. Not only that, but the other social structures that these becoming-adults are part of also need to walk this stony ground with them.

If I am right about the lack of any clear path beyond Stage 3 in the black churches, then, combined with the horrific statistics about absenteeism among black fathers, these young men are being let down on two out of three counts. Believe me, I’ve met the mothers, and they are desperate. Their boys – who tend to be angelic up to age 11/12 – suddenly leave them, and they have no way of helping them.

Other cultural factors are at work here too. It seems that music is letting these boys down too. If you are middle-class and white, then you have a whole catalogue of depressing, soul-searching music to act as your soundtrack for this journey. The Smiths, The Cure, Radiohead… all these are bands who are playing music for that journey beyond Stage 3. But, tragically, there is almost no angst-ridden hiphop or garage. And again, in the absence of other support structures, this leaves these boys with almost no resources to negotiate this journey into adulthood.

So what do they do? They do what anyone else would: help each other. That’s what a gang is: a self-help group when no one else is around to do it.

The solution? Obviously this is a massive problem that is very deep-seated. This Sunday is ‘Amazing Grace’ day, and thousands of churches will sing out heartily to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. Quite rightly, but old-world slavery still has it’s fingers of shame and worthlessness round so many necks. What will not work – and what is just political posturing to pander to us middle-class whites – is arming police. The solution must lie within. The black churches must find some way of holding on to young men beyond 12 years old and resource them with wise guides-men to listen to their doubts, affirm their challenges to authority, and lead them out of the maternal into adulthood.

At least, that’s what one white, middle-class, Anglican teacher thinks.

Rest in Peace, Billy Cox.


[PS – great representation from the ‘From Boyhood to Manhood Foundation‘ on Channel 4 news tonight. They need our support.

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10 responses to “The Trouble with Black Boys | Where is Stage 4 Pentecostalism?”

  1. Very brave of you to say. I doubt you have a black Pentecostal readership. Prove me wrong, people.
    Rap, depending on it’s language, is relished, at least in the states, by whites who have no compassion toward the culture it creates in the black community. Women are in turn also disregarded like a commodity. Music artists of influence are starting to speak up, but many (sadly at the Grammy’s-Mary J Blige with Ludacris)) participate with artists that compromise whatever liberating faith they espouse.

  2. Reminds of a quote from (I think) Gil Scott Heron who, when asked about his status as ‘father of hip-hop’ said, “Well I need to meet the mother, because there’s something very wrong with our children.”

  3. Is there a possibility that this post could be interpreted as racist? I’m in two minds, brave or ill considered? Both?

  4. I’d love to hear why you might think it was racist. Because it mentions black people? Because I’m admitting that there is a particular problem with young black men and crime? That’s not racism, that’s statistics. And it would be foolish, spineless, ineffectual and wooly liberalism to suggest otherwise. If we can’t be brave enough to admit there is a particular problem, we’re making a decision based on race – and that itself would be racist, wouldn’t it?

  5. I was wondering if it was something you had considered? Not that it is intentionally racist, but there was potential for it to be misconstrued.
    I think you’re underestimating the power of context, both in terms of the way you relate to statistics and the wider community you speak out of. Statistics never exist in a vacuum or can be uncoupled from an agenda. In may be ‘statistically’ correct that there is a problem within the black community, but how helpful is it when that problem is highlighted on an Emerging Church blog– essentially a majority white network (no value there, just a stat!).
    It’s not the first time I’ve felt this, some of your posts on Islam create the same unease.
    Anyway, no great shakes. I was just wondering if you’ve considered the implications of your blogs context and the wider network it’s part of.

  6. Thanks for your honesty. I guess the connection between the Islam posts and this one are the common desire to see some sort ’emerging’ voice coming from them.
    Why? Because the perceived lack of that voice – and I hold my hands up and say perceived because I honestly don’t know – is letting a lot of people down. That’s why I post it here – because I really believe that the emerging church has something genuinely important to offer.
    Actually, having written this post, the pieces on both the BBC news and Channel 4 had interviews with people from the black community who all backed up what I had said.

  7. Difference being– you end up sounding like David Cameron!
    Check out:

  8. Actually, I’m going to support Kester on this one. This post has been going around in my head a lot over the past couple of days, as the first shooting was at the other end of my high street, the second was near where I had my studio for a while, and the third is on my route to church every week.
    I understand what you mean about the racism, Mace, but I think the point is that there are no authentic voices of doubt in contemporary black culture that I can think of. If you can point to some, then I’d love to hear them.
    Most music that I can think of is either “I’m a bad boy” or “I’m a good boy” with very little in between. And I’m talking contemporary culture. Things like the negro spirituals are old, and not part of the lexicon for youth today, sadly. If the language of doubt was were there, we might have a little more introspection, and a little more help with the passage from childhood to adulthood. Sometimes introspection is a good thing.
    When doesn’t anyone speak up and say that they were scared shitless, or that they weren’t sure whether there was a God, or that they were feeling suicidal. Where is the “black Morrisey”?
    There’s a thought….!
    The only thing I would say in your defense, Mace, is that I do think that the factors are more socio-economic than race/culture. I live on an estate that is predominantly black in make up, and that’s what I see when I look out the window – not a culture of stupidly black, but rather chronically under educated and disadvantaged in a whole host of ways. You could argue that blacks are disadvantaged due to the systems and ethos created by whites in the Fifties, the repercussions of which are still felt today…
    Can of worms anyone?

  9. I totally agree with you Mike about the socio-economic factor, and about our responsibilities within that. What I was trying to do in the post was to flag up the fact that there is a HUGE religious element to the black parts of those communities. And I think that that religious element is failing people in denying them clear pathways beyond the simple certainties that are my impression of Pentecostalism.
    In other words, this whole emerging church thing is potentially important: it is about self- and communal actualization in the midst of a culture that is corroding worth by extolling only wealth.
    One of the rare albums I’ve heard that does some proper reflection: Mr Lif’s I Phantom. Brilliant. Went to see him. Full of white hip-hop fans like me. FFS…

  10. Kes, Mike– check out your good old fashioned ‘white-mans burden’ !-)