Review: Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, Lauren Sandler

I was enjoying Righteous well enough for the first half of the book, though I did recognize that I might be burning out on Christian culture.  I feel I am ready to move on and tackle some of the zillions of recommendations y’all gave me for fantasy books (y’all rock, by the way, thanks for those).  And then, oh dear, then I got to the chapter about black churches, and it ruined the rest of the book for me.  The chapter is hella condescending and stereotype-y:

But these days, it’s not pimps but preachers who slip into custom-made three-piece suits and coordinated alligator loafers.  These preachers know that hip-hop [yeah, she says “hip-hop” like fifty times in this chapter], especially when its rhymes promise riches, has the power to draw the masses to their megachurches like teen girls to an Usher concert.  The result isn’t simply converting new black Evangelicals – rebirthing a nation – but escorting them directly into an increasingly biblical institution: the Republican Party.  The holy trinity of faith, finance, and fame has begun to pad voter rolls with a new crop of Southern, urban blacks.

Ick, right?  Sandler devotes at least half of this chapter to the prosperity gospel, with the implication that it’s a black thing, this prosperity gospel, for black people (you know, Usher fans).  She doesn’t do much exploration of the demographics of prosperity churches, though I really think she should have; see here if you like for an interesting article about these churches and their demographics.

A sentence from Righteous apropos of prosperity churches and the collections they take up that made me feel awkward for its author:

Prick up your ears on any given Sunday, and you might just hear the sound of bills rustling in black hands all across America.

Oo, and if you’re wondering who is cooler, white people or black people, it will be explained unto you.  Here Sandler’s talking about a black Christian group performing to an all-white audience in rural Georgia:

This is hardly a stretch of land living out King’s dream today, but when Goodside takes to the stage, you’d never know.  The white bands that precede the group onstage have failed to capture the crowd’s attention with their honky-tonk droning.  Even in this hick demographic, hip-hop has the power to electrify an audience….before long, the bleachers have emptied of seated patrons…just like the [mainly black] kids at the [previously discussed] “Gathering” show.

In case you missed it just there, the point is that even racist hick white kids can enjoy black music because black people are cool and good at music.  There’s more that unites us than divides us.


15 thoughts on “Review: Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement, Lauren Sandler

  1. In other words, those black folks got rhythm! This book would make me angry, so I’m going to look for something better to read; I’m angry enough already.

    • There were parts in which she was giving the churches she was visiting a much fairer showing. She talked a lot about the diversity of some of the youth groups, and that was interesting. But yeah, these bits ruined the rest for me.

    • The rest of it wasn’t so bad! I’m quoting the absolute worst bits of this book, which probably isn’t fair to the author. Many parts of the book were far less condescending and more respectful. Just not, um, not the chapter on black churches.

  2. Eck is write.

    I had to click through and see what your “tags” were for this post. Just because I knew you’d have some clever ones. It’s apparently the only post with the tag “this book made me mad” so that’s a good thing.

    • I know what you mean; when people of my same faith say rotten things I feel like it reflects badly on me. In this case, though, you can set your mind at ease. The author is not a Christian. She describes herself as an “unrepentant Jewish atheist”.

  3. Wow. Scary to think a whole bunch of people had to read this, like it, agree to publish it, read its proofs, put it through presses, and no one once thought: isn’t this just plain crass?

    • Seriously! And as well, in the bits about the prosperity churches, the placing of that section and her descriptions of all the people present clearly suggest that she’s in a black church, but she kind of dances around saying so. It sent up flags for me even before reading all the other crass stuff she says.

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