If the churches Hughes attended were less focused on numbers of “converts” and numbers of dollars, perhaps they would have seen a searching soul.
Amanda Harman is a student at Calvary and is from Colorado Springs, CO. She loves to play her violin and entertain friends with her dry sense of humor.
by Amanda Harman
February was Black History Month, and one can scarcely glance at black history without seeing the fingerprints of Langston Hughes. He is best remembered as a poet, but he also wrote novels, plays, essays, memoirs, children’s stories, not to mention influencing the movement that cemented black influence in modern culture. He was at the forefront of the Harlem Renaissance—a resurgence and celebration of black culture through music, writing, and art centered in the New York City neighborhood that inspired its name (“Langston Hughes”). It is tragic that such a great man with such a heavy influence on society was not a believer, so it is imperative that the modern church learns from the mistakes that drove him away.
Hughes spent part of his childhood in Lawrence, Kansas. There, his foster aunt took him to a Black Church for a revival when he was about twelve. Several children sat on a bench close together, and as the service went on, the others stood up one by one and approached the pulpit, declaring Jesus as their savior, until only Hughes was left (Oates). The congregation begged and prayed for him. He did finally give into the pressure and get up, but he felt like he had “failed to see Jesus” and, therefore, believed he had a forsaken salvation (Oates).
This early experience led to a general distrust of religion and its pressure to keep up appearances. As a man, Hughes was able to travel the world to places like Mexico, Cuba, and the Soviet Union (Oates). His travels opened his eyes to the major problems with American Christianity (Oates). In one of his most controversial poems called “Goodbye Christ” Hughes wrote:
“The popes and the preachers’ve
Made too much money from it.
They’ve sold you to too many
Kings, generals, robbers, and killers.”
The poem criticizes the commercial nature of Christianity in America, which made religion an impediment to society rather than a vehicle for God’s grace—an exploitation rather than a salvation (Piper).
The American church’s capitalistic focus on empty professions of faith for profit rather than sincere repentance from love impacted his view on Christianity for the rest of his life (Oates), and it is heartbreaking that Hughes is likely not in heaven. But his insight in this area can still be used to further God’s work here on earth (Piper). If the churches Hughes attended were less focused on numbers of “converts” and numbers of dollars, perhaps they would have seen a searching soul, one wanting the truth and finding only empty religion. Maybe they would have reached out to Hughes in love, answered his questions, and led him to a true saving knowledge of Christ. After all, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35 [NLT]).
This is the lesson modern churches and believers must take from the life and work of Langston Hughes. Our conduct should invite others in with love, not repel them with disgust.
“Langston Hughes.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 29 Jan. 2021, www.biography.com/writer/langston-hughes. Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.
Oates, N’Kosi. “Religion in the Work of Langston Hughes.” Black Perspectives, AAIHS, 12 June 2018, www.aaihs.org/religion-in-the-work-of-langston-hughes/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.
Piper, John. “The Tragedy of Langston Hughes and a Warning I Will Heed.” Desiring God, 2 Feb. 2008, www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-tragedy-of-langston-hughes-and-a-warning-i-will-heed. Accessed 22 Feb. 2021.