Spurning what he describes as a culture of "greed" in the American church and the inability of evangelical congregations to translate "black suffering," Jomo Kenyatta Johnson, a young minister from Savannah, Georgia, says God has led him to create a new denomination called Church for Black Men that will not collect tithes and offerings — ever.
"We will address black suffering. We will be a non-501c3 ... meaning the movement will be able to speak freely and engage in politics as they see fit.
"We won't be tax exempt, meaning that we can endorse a candidate. We can speak out against a candidate, we can speak up or advocate for particular political issues that we believe lead to black suffering or will stop black suffering. We plan to be a socially and politically active church," Johnson, 37, told The Christian Post Tuesday.
The new denomination, which will officially launch on Feb. 4, 2018, expects to use house churches consisting of no more than 25 members each to spread the Gospel and unapologetically address issues of black suffering, which Johnson believes is not properly translated in corporate church culture.
"The last three years I've kinda seen a disconnect with African Americans wanting to come to church, and even black men wanting to kind of apply Christian truths to their lives and that caused me to ask myself, why? And I think research has kinda shown the trend downwards with African Americans under 30," he explained.
And Johnson, a Black Lives Matter activist who says he is stepping away from the organization to focus on his work with Church for Black Men, plans to use some of the lessons he has learned on the activism trail to inform the Bible-based theology that will be promoted at Church for Black Men.
"One of the things that we believe is that there is a language barrier between [the] traditional evangelical church and black Americans especially those under 30. And that language barrier is black suffering. Evangelicalism by and large does not speak on black suffering and therefore that's why we're having such an exodus of young African Americans from church," he said.
When it comes to black men, Johnson said, many remain unchurched because of the focus of traditional churches on money and the "language" barrier.
"The main barrier that we've seen is the association with the American church to greed. Many black males are saying when they visit a church for the first time, [they] go with the girlfriend, they go with the wife, one of the things that turn them off is the constant emphasis on money," Johnson said. "So that's why we've decided to not only meet in houses to remove the building need but also request no tithe or offering. We believe that is a way to disassociate greed that is associated with Christianity in America from the true Gospel and so we choose not to ever take any type of offering."
In a "Religious Portrait of African Americans," the Pew Research Center says African-American men are significantly more likely than women to be unaffiliated with any religion (16 percent vs 9 percent).
"I really wanted to take what I learned in ministry, also what I learned with Black Lives Matter Savanah and see how we can kinda bring those two together and that's what kinda led to the concept of Church for Black Men," he said. "Right now, we are in the recruitment. Because it is a house church model, we need many people, black Christians who are willing to be trained and then to open up their homes."
Johnson's road to his newest idea, however, has not been without pain.
He explained in his 2017 book, Jesus and Trayvon, and a recent blog post on his church's website how he was forced out of his last ministry job at a predominantly white church in 2016. He was left homeless and jobless and was unsure of what he should do with his life until he got a word from God this past summer.
"In the summer of 2017, I was in Colorado and felt like I was at a crossroads. I was 37 years old with nothing much to show for my life except two expensive college degrees and my faith. By worldly standards I was a failure. (No wife, no kids, no home, etc.) It was here that I embarked on a 20-day fast from food in order to pray. In that fast I began to pray so fervently that tears would stain my pillow," Johnson wrote.
"I remember it was day 13 of the fast. I hadn't eaten anything for two weeks and was feeling extreme cramps in my body. 'Lord, show me your will!' I cried alone on my bed. That is when I sensed the Lord speaking to me more clearly than I had ever heard. 'I have called you to preach and teach. I have broken you that you might heal others.' I was shaken to my core. But I had no doubt what I heard," he noted.
Johnson, who has a Bachelor's degree in biblical studies from Beacon University and a Masters of Divinity from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, said his studies showed him that black men are the most underserved group in the church.
"My study and research showed me that Black men were both the least reached for Christ in America and also the most disenchanted with the church. I prayerfully considered how I might bridge the gap between these 2 gulfs. This is when I decided to launch Church for Black Men," he said.
When asked if he has received any criticism about the concept of his new denomination, Johnson said some people have said it is "racist" but he doesn't see how.
"Some of the comments that we see, some of the news stories and things like that, people say that it's a racist concept. I refer myself and people to the Korean Presbyterian Church, or the Russian Orthodox Church, or the Greek Orthodox Church. No one would say those churches are racist. They just have to focus on a particular ethnic group because of language barrier," he said, pointing to the issue of "black suffering" that remains a problem in the church.
So far, Johnson said he has about five potential house churches lined up in a number of cities. When asked about how he plans to ensure the safety of participants in these house churches, he said Christianity is a risky business.
"Basically if someone is interested in Church for Black Men, they would speak to the host beforehand and make sure that it's right for them. Make sure that it's consistent with what they're looking for," he said.
"To be honest, true Christianity is risky. Anytime you love someone it's gonna cost you something and all too often evangelicalism has protected itself when the Gospel calls us to sacrifice ourselves," he added.
When it launches next year, Church for Black Men meetings are expected to begin around noon or late afternoon on Sundays and last around an hour or so.
For more information, visit Church for Black Men.