Trauma in Black Men and the Black Church: Embracing a Humanocentric Theism

Ministry Context

My research analyzes our church’s congregational context using data within a three-mile radius of our Riverdale, Georgia location. Comparing findings from 2012 to the present reveals notable demographic trends. According to the Community Needs Assessment for Clayton County, Georgia, 17.5% of Riverdale’s population lives below the poverty line, surpassing the national average of 12.3%. The most affected demographic groups are females aged 35-44, males aged 6-11, and males aged 45-54, predominantly from the Black community, followed by White and Asian individuals.[1]

Explanation of Project and Research Process

My Research Topic: Trauma in Black Men and the Black Church: Embracing a Humanocentric Theism

My central inquiry revolves around investigating the relationship between the concepts of God and the Church and their impact on the mission of our church. Specifically, I will address the existential conditions within the community, focusing on Black male trauma and the Black Church’s response. My research focuses on Black Male Trauma and a reevaluating of traditional theological responses..

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My research aims to explore two prevailing concepts of God within the church and analyze their impact on religious discourse in the Black Church. The theological emphasis on a transcendent, all-powerful, and all-loving God has sometimes overshadowed God’s presence in the present moment, especially for those grappling with tragedy and trauma, particularly among oppressed communities and Black men. Despite the widespread acceptance of these attributes of God in Black religious thought and rhetoric, evil and suffering persist in the world, disproportionately affecting Black individuals economically, politically, and socially. This theological perspective often fosters a belief in an “all in the hands of God” theology, which can overlook human suffering, attribute virtue to such hardships, and even weaponize scriptures which further retraumatize the wounded.

The intersection of Black male trauma and the response of the Black church reveals a significant yet often overlooked dynamic—the spiritual bypass within an “all in the hands of God” theology. Spiritual bypass refers to a person’s attempt to sidestep significant events in their life by focusing on the spiritual dimension, thereby “bypassing” important psychological tasks necessary for healing.[2]  However, this theology can inadvertently overlook the profound suffering and trauma experienced by Black men within society, and lead individuals with mental illnesses to neglect their mental health in favor of relying solely on divine intervention.

Interpretation, Findings, and Future Implications

Expressive worship emerged as a key theme from a qualitative study of our ministry context. Through surveys and interviews with both longstanding and new members, three dimensions of expressive worship were identified:

First, there was a strong desire for more vibrant worship, particularly among African and Caribbean American members.

Second, expressive worship—including singing, dancing, and shouting—was seen as essential for emotional release and fostering community closeness. This reflects findings from scholars like Cheryl Gilkes. Although such worship was prominent at the ministry’s inception, maintaining it has proven challenging.

Thirdly, members deeply associate this style of worship with the presence of the Holy Ghost and the essence of “having church.” Integrating this expressive worship into our ministry’s mission while addressing community needs remains a concern.

 Black Male Focus group

Black male trauma is heavily influenced by a history of oppression like slavery, segregation, and systemic racism. These experiences are worsened by harmful stereotypes about Black masculinity, leading to feelings of inadequacy, constant vigilance, and emotional strain. Additionally, socio-economic gaps, violence, and mass incarceration exacerbate these issues, creating complex obstacles that deeply impact the mental, emotional, and spiritual health of Black men.

Focus group discussions have identified several key factors for the decline in Black Male participation in Black churches. Firstly, Black men perceive that churches neglect education and are disconnected from the pressing concerns of the community. Secondly, there is little emphasis on economic disparities within Black communities, which further dissuades participation. Thirdly, religious institutions have not adapted to changing attitudes within the community, which has misaligned evolving perspectives and traditional church structures. Finally, there has been a shift away from earlier movements that addressed systemic issues like racism and poverty, towards a focus on personal rather than institutional sins.

Concluding Summary

My research reveals that religious discourse in many Black churches is predominantly God-centered, focusing on a narrative that emphasizes dependence on God. However, the incarnation of God in human form transforms this traditional narrative from being solely about God to incorporating a more human-centered perspective. As stated in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” This act of divine love underscores the importance of humanity in the salvation narrative, highlighting the role of human belief and agency in God’s message of redemption and liberation.

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Therefore, I argue that Black Churches can become more relevant and attentive to the existential needs of the communities they serve, particularly among those suffering from trauma, by making an epistemological shift. This shift would empower individuals to be more accountable for themselves and their environment, even within a traditional theological framework that views God’s power as supreme, encapsulated by the phrase “it’s all in God’s hands.”

This could include several transformative elements, including a reinterpretation of divine sovereignty to emphasize human agency and responsibility in co-creating their reality with God.

Going forward, I wish to explore the theories of William Jones, who advocated a new form of theism called “Humanocentric Theism,” which can help envision a community that sees itself as co-creators with God. Jones argues that “Humanocentric Theism” assigns “explicit functional ultimacy to [humans]”[3] and “transfers to [humans] areas of control and some of the primary functions that theological traditions reserved for God alone.”[4] What makes it theistic is that “its theistic ground is the consequence of God’s will, and it conforms to His ultimate purpose and plan for [humankind].”[5] Thus, for Jones, humans become a “codetermining power.”

Jones posits that God relinquishes sovereignty and acts through “persuasion,” which is not coercion but “the art of influencing another toward a better outcome without deceit, threat, or bribery.”[6] Therefore, the omnipotent God wills and grants independence to humans, thus limiting His own power through His will, which reflects His goodness.[7] Consequently, humans shape their own destinies and determine which values hold ultimate significance.

Ministry Project: A Trauma Informed, Non-Patriarchal Ministry

My Ministry Project will introduce a structured 12-unit curriculum aimed at fostering an actively engaged church community:

  1. Cohorts: Emphasizing trauma-informed preaching.
  2. Podcast: Hosting discussions on religious discourse in the Black church, especially regarding trauma and spirituality.
  3. Community Conversations: Involving local barber shops and beauty salons to facilitate open dialogues.
  4. Ministry Classes: Providing specialized teachings to empower lay members.

Andrews, Laura. “God’s Purposes for Relational Distance: A Means to a Good End.” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 36, no. 1 (2022): 40–60.

“Community Needs Assessment,” n.d.

Fox, Jesse, Craig S. Cashwell, and Gabriela Picciotto. “The Opiate of the Masses: Measuring Spiritual Bypass and Its Relationship to Spirituality, Religion, Mindfulness, Psychological Distress, and Personality.” Spirituality in Clinical Practice 4, no. 4 (2017): 274–87.

Hanson, Geddes W. “Is God a White Racist: A Preamble to Black Theology.” Theology Today 31, no. 1 (April 1974): 76–81.


[1] “Community Needs Assessment,” n.d.

[2] Jesse Fox, Craig S. Cashwell, and Gabriela Picciotto, “The Opiate of the Masses: Measuring Spiritual Bypass and Its Relationship to Spirituality, Religion, Mindfulness, Psychological Distress, and Personality,” Spirituality in Clinical Practice 4, no. 4 (2017): 274–87,

[3] Geddes W Hanson, “Is God a White Racist: A Preamble to Black Theology,” Theology Today 31, no. 1 (April 1974): 76–81.

[4] Hanson.

[5] Laura Andrews, “God’s Purposes for Relational Distance: A Means to a Good End,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling 36, no. 1 (2022): 40–60.

[6] Hanson, “Is God a White Racist.”

[7] Hanson.




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About Noel Simms

Johnnetta B. Cole once articulated a sentiment that resonates deeply with my identity as a Christian scholar: "perhaps the real goal of education is not to know but to act." This quote encapsulates the essence of my theological convictions. Likewise, the biblical admonition from the book of James, "Faith without works is dead," has profoundly influenced my theological perspective. These guiding principles underscore my belief that theory and practice are intricately intertwined. Over the past two decades, my endeavors have centered around teaching, preaching, and counseling on interreligious matters, including theology, language, power dynamics, and the religious discourse within Black churches. In this realm, I strive to effect positive change to the best of my abilities. Initially, my focus leaned more towards scholarly contemplation rather than practical application—a pursuit of disembodied intellectualism within the confines of ivory towers. My academic journey began with the study of religion at the College of New Rochelle and continued with philosophical theology at Harvard University. It was during my time at Harvard that a pivotal shift occurred within me. I transitioned from a mere pursuit of theoretical knowledge to a recognition of its imperative application in real-life experiences. Courses with H. Richard Niebuhr introduced me to the transformative insights of William James, who emphasized the need for thinkers to be mindful of the ramifications of their ideas. This lesson profoundly informs my ministry, guiding every sermon preached from the pulpit. My experience as one of the few Pentecostal/Apostolic students at Harvard in 1989 was enlightening, as it challenged the skepticism towards theological inquiry ingrained within my denomination. Despite initial resistance, I emerged from Harvard with a deeper appreciation for my tradition, a strengthened faith, and a clearer understanding of my calling as a minister and pastor. Upon returning to New York City, I encountered resistance as I endeavored to integrate practical theology into my church community. This led me to explore avenues outside the church to serve and uplift individuals. In 1992, I embraced a new challenge by joining the Department of Education and pursued further studies in Education at Bank Street College. It was during this time that I encountered Paulo Freire's "Pedagogy of the Oppressed," a work that profoundly impacted my perspective, highlighting the imperative for Christian ministry to extend beyond the confines of the church into the wider world. Presently, I serve as the Senior Pastor of Greater Faith Covenant Church, Inc., originally based in Riverdale, Georgia, with services currently held online. Additionally, I am the founder and CEO of Greater Faith Business Enterprise, Inc., a for-profit organization. In May, I am set to receive a Doctor of Ministry degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. My commitment lies in holistic ministry, with a strong emphasis on issues of justice and liberation. As a father to three children and a grandfather to one, my dedication to making a tangible difference in the world remains steadfast.

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