Mandisa Thomas, a native of New York City, is the founder and President of Black Nonbelievers, Inc. Although never formally indoctrinated into belief, Mandisa was heavily exposed to Christianity, Black Nationalism, and Islam. As a child she loved reading, and enjoyed various tales of Gods from different cultures, including Greek and Ghanaian. “Through reading these stories and being taught about other cultures at an early age, I quickly noticed that there were similarities and differences between those deities and the God of the Christian Bible. I couldn’t help but wonder what made this God so special that he warrants such prevalence today,” she recalls.
Mandisa has many media appearances to her credit, including CBS Sunday Morning, CNN.com, and Playboy, The Humanist, and JET magazines. She has been a guest on podcasts such as The Humanist Hour and Ask an Atheist, as well as the documentaries Contradiction and My Week in Atheism. Mandisa currently serves on the Board for American Atheists and the American Humanist Association, and previously for Foundation Beyond Belief, the 2016 Reason Rally Coalition, and the Secular Coalition for America. She is also an active speaker and has presented at conferences/conventions for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, and many others.
In 2019, Mandisa was the recipient of the Secular Student Alliance’s Backbone Award and named the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s Freethought Heroine. She was also the Unitarian Universalist Humanist Association’s Person of the Year 2018.
As the president of Black Nonbelievers, Inc., Mandisa encourages more Blacks to come out and stand strong with their nonbelief in the face of such strong religious overtones.
“The more we make our presence known, the better our chances of working together to turn around some of the disparities we face. We are NOT alone.”
Here, we talk about ethics and cultures.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, there was a recent event, not an uncommon one. It had to do with a pastor. That pastor was caught with another person who is not his wife. He was performing oral sex on this person. This is in America. What does this bring to mind, for you, about general culture, religious culture, and the things that float around that?
Mandisa Thomas: Yes, to give a bit of background, there was a scandal involving a pastor out of Texarcana, Texas. From what I understand, there was a general attempt to expose preachers in that area, however, this particular pastor’s son was allegedly looking to expose his father in greater detail. The pastor, whose name is David Wilson, was recorded performing oral sex on a woman who was not his spouse. From an article I read, once the video was leaked, someone asked the wife if she was the woman in question.
Of course, she said, “No.” What this brings to me is the ongoing [Laughing] hypocrisy of the black church. It becomes, “Oh great, another pastor doing something that they try to discourage other people from doing. They are supposed to follow the cross, but they also tend to be lecherous. They tend to take advantage of the congregation.” It seemed like another day in the life. There was also the question of if he will get away with it. Will his church forgive him? Will his wife forgive him? Many of the jokes were, “Where can I get that healing tongue?” I watched the 1-minute clip (before it was removed online), and from what I saw, the pastor was doing a pretty good job [Laughing]. But that is beside the point. There are still not enough good conversations about sex and sexuality in our communities – what it means to have changing dynamics in relationships, and to openly discuss polyamory in healthy sexual relationships, even among leaders in our communities.
And again, you have these men who preach one thing and then do something else. There is a lot to unpack with this whole situation.
Jacobsen: Why the double standards for men and women, for leaders and laity?
Thomas: I think this double standard comes in an ongoing conversation about male privilege. The idea that “men will be men.” Men have “weak flesh” or what have you. They are expected to be the ones chasing after women and playing around. Even though, they are supposed to be setting examples. They are still entitled to pursue these encounters with women, with little repercussion. Also, of course, as you may guess, if it was a woman at the center of it all, then she probably wouldn’t be forgiven at all. It’s entitlement, privilege, and societal “roles” at the core of it all.
Jacobsen: Do you think that younger adolescent men, and young men, are watching these adult pastors and taking a cue?
Thomas: I think to an extent that is partially true. What is very interesting – I saw a comment on social media about this – it showing how immature many adults are still. There are younger people taking note, and are tired of the church. They are tired of the hypocrisy of the people in the church and the leadership. They are really, really tired of people saying one thing and doing something else. They are really frustrated.
Some young people are also picking up on the behaviour and thinking, “I am just doing what you do.” Others are seeing how messy and how hypocritical and backwards the church can be. Again, this isn’t lost on them. In this age of information, and being able to find different outlets, they’re not taking it anymore. And I can’t say that I blame them.
The scare tactics that were employed years ago, aren’t as effective as they once were. And of course there is nothing wrong with sex, but in such a repressive institution, we know situations will arise. And when you have leaders who engage in reckless behaviour (again, not so much sex itself), it calls for accountability. After a while, they can hold no one but themselves responsible when young people stop listening to them.
Perhaps if they were more honest and owned their mistakes, and said, “This is what happens. This is what people do. I messed up”, then there may be more credibility given. Until that is done, I am not sure things will get better.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Mandisa.
Thomas: Thank you.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists,American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
Image Credit: Mandisa Thomas.