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The middle class religious ideology and the underclass struggle :
b a growing divide in black religion
h [electronic resource] /
by Franklin Hills.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
ABSTRACT: The trajectory of religious phenomena has been to give a reflective, yet formative understanding of the ethos endemic to a culture. Pursuant to this thought, the ethos of African American religion can rightfully be described as a religious sociological construct, mired in a myriad of changes. These changes have had a profound effect on how African Americans relate to their God, their world, and themselves. The chief aim of this enterprise is to chronicle the transformation of Black Religion in the United States, noting the social and economic factors that served synergistically to formulate its current mission. I conclude that the advancements made during the Civil Rights Era have served as an impetus, within the past thirty years, that has resulted in a shift in the mission of Black Religion. I contend that this shift is away from the traditional communal appeal to a more individualistic appeal that substantiates middle-class African American religious ideology. I furth er contend that the rise of the African American middle-class religious ideology has contributed to the perpetual state of the African American underclass as illustrated in Black Religion. In undertaking this effort, I have drawn from an assortment of books and articles in addition to church literature, audio sermons, and personal interviews.In establishing a premise for this argument, this thesis will explore the religious modus vivendi of early slaves. The Black Church was born out of the need to combat the atrocities and vicissitudes that were directly and indirectly a result of slavery. Slavery, therefore, provides a meaningful basis in which to begin to understand the embryonic stage of the church. After examining the formative years of Black Religion, I will then construct a cogent argument as to how the Civil Rights Movement employed Black Religion as a tool to empower the Black community, thus appealing to the community. I will then proceed to compare how Black Religion was^ employed during the Civil Rights Era to how it is employed presently. This comparison will provide the premise for my argument.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2006.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 75 pages.
Adviser: Mozella G. Mitchell, Ph.D.
x Religious Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
The Middle-Class Religious Ideology and the Underclass Struggle: A Grow ing Divide in Black Religion by Franklin Hills, Jr. A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Arts Department of Religious Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Mozella G. Mitchell, Ph.D. Sandra A. Garcia, Ph.D. James F. Strange, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 11, 2006 Keywords: African American, Faith, Theol ogy, Prosperity, Preaching, Community Copyright 2006, Franklin Hills, Jr.
In Loving Memory of Franklin Hills, Sr. and LaBronx Hills
i Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two: What Is Black Religion? 9 Chapter Three: An Historical Overview: The Origin and Development of Black Religion 29 The Redemptive Quality of Early Black Religion 29 The Political Quality of Early Black Religion 36 Chapter Four: The Impact of the Civil Rights Era 43 Kingian Ideology 43 Where Do We Go From Here? 1970Â’s 49 Changes in Ideological Forms 51 Chapter Five: A House Divided 53 Social and Economic Factors within Black America 53 Social and Economic Division within Black America 54 The Rise of the Black Middle-Cla ss Religious Ideology and the Perpetual State of the Black Underclass 58 Conclusion: Changing Dynamics in Black Religion 71 References 73
ii The Middle-Class Religious Ideology and the Underclass Struggle: A Growi ng Divide in Black Religion Franklin Hills, Jr. ABSTRACT The trajectory of religious phenom ena has been to give a reflective, yet formative understanding of the ethos endemic to a culture. Pursuant to this thought, the ethos of African American re ligion can rightfully be described as a religious sociological construct, mired in a myriad of changes. These changes have had a profound effect on how African Am ericans relate to their God, their world, and themselves. The chief aim of this enterprise is to chronicle the transformation of Black Religion in the United States, noting the social and economic factors that served synergistical ly to formulate its current mission. I conclude that the advancements made dur ing the Civil Rights Era have served as an impetus, within the past thirty years, that has resulted in a shift in the mission of Black Religion. I contend that this shift is away from the traditional communal appeal to a more individualistic appeal that substantiates middle-class African American religious ideo logy. I further contend that the rise of the African American middle-class religious ideology ha s contributed to the perpetual state of the African American underclass as illustra ted in Black Religion. In undertaking this effort, I have drawn from an assort ment of books and articles in addition to church literature, audio sermons and personal interviews.
iii In establishing a premise for this ar gument, this thesis will explore the religious modus vivendi of early slaves. The Black Church was born out of the need to combat the atrocities and vicissitude s that were directly and indirectly a result of slavery. Slavery, therefore, provides a m eaningful basis in which to begin to understand the embryonic stage of the church. After examining the formative years of Black Religion, I will then construct a cogent argument as to how the Civil Rights Movem ent employed Black Religion as a tool to empower the Black community, thus appealing to the community. I will then proceed to compare how Black Religion was employed during the Civil Rights Era to how it is employed presently. This comparis on will provide the premise for my argument.
1 Chapter One Introduction One of the primary fu nctions of African American religion throughout history has been to address and redress the grave malfeasanc es that plagued the Black community. Indeed, from slav ery to the Civil Rights movement, past scholarship has defined Black Religion as the voice of protest for the Black community. This point has been noted in the writings of W.E.B. Du Bois, an early scholar on Black life. In his prophetic and classic literary work on Black life, The Souls of Black Folk W. E.B. Du Bois explicates how the Black Church served to stimulate congregants through social, intell ectual, and economic uplift. Du Bois believed that Â“the Negro churchÂ” was Â“the so cial centre of Negro life in the United States.Â” 1 As the center of Bl ack life during slavery, Black Religion became the voice of protest advocating the emanci pation of the enslaved. Following emancipation, Black Religion became the voice of protes t in that it became the thrust behind securing educational and em ployment opportunities for the Black community. For many ex-slaves, the chur ch served as a launching pad to further their literacy and leadership skills. As Black Religion became more codified, it strengthened in its ability to produce social political, and economic change within the Black community. During the twentie th century, Black Religion became a more unified institution. At this junc ture, Black Religion was a well-organized 1 W. E. B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folks (New York: Banton Books, 1903), .136.
2 institution with a secure economic base that produced educated leaders that fought for the social, political, and economic rights of its congregants. Current scholarly discourse describes a quintessential element in Black Religion as a protest for liberation. T he theme of liberation in Black Religion can be ascertained in the works of todayÂ’s schol ars. Author Olin P. Moyd, in his book, Redemption in Black Theology describes liberation as Black AmericaÂ’s struggle to overcome social, political, and economic oppression.2 James H. Cone, one of todayÂ’s leading scholars on Black life, posits t hat the liberation element in Black Religion is tantamount with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Cone maintains that the Black community identifie s with Christ as a coheir in bondage. Just as Jesus was liberated from the bondage of this world, so too will the oppressed be set free fr om the worries and woes of this life.3 No treatment of Black Religion can be cont emplated without the groundbr eaking research of C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya. Consi dered to be two of the most prophetic writers on Black Religion, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya proffer their view on liberation as it relates to Black Religion. Their view holds that liberation is one of the core values legitimated in the African American religious worldview. Lincoln and Mamiya view the African Am erican religious worldview, or Â“Black sacred cosmos,Â” as comprised of core valuesÂ—racial parity, freedom, equality, and African heritage (among others), which was etched into existence by the 2 Olin P. Moyd, Redemption in Black Theology.(Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1979), 17. 3 James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1986), 5.
3 African heritage and Christianity.4 There will be a further explanation of Lincoln and MamiyaÂ’s view on liberation and the Bla ck sacred cosmos later in this study. Liberation has been the overarch ing theme in Black Religion, and it is within such parameters that Black Religion is being defined by todayÂ’s scholars. While current scholarship confines and defines Black Religion as a theoretical construct explicit to the reacti ons of a racist societ y, I conclude that Black Religion has changed from its reactionary, communal appeal and is moving towards a revolutionary, indivi dualistic appeal which substantiates middle-class African American religious ideo logy. In light of the aforementioned, this study will attempt to answer the fo llowing question: Has the mission of Black Religion changed as a result of the Black middle-class re ligious ideology? If so, is the Black middle-class religious ideol ogy perpetuating the state of the Black underclass as illustrated in Black Religion? Other points of interest that will be addressed in this study are: What is t he Black middle-class religious ideology? Further, what social elements have led to its development? The interpretive framework for this study will primarily be a sociological analysis that also reli es upon economic data. Moreover, an historical overview of Black Religi on will be presented as the treatment of this study seeks to understand certain developmental themes in Black Religion. The historical overview will, in part, sharply focus on the developments within Black Religion since the Civil Rights Movement. Consequently, the research data that will be c onsidered will predominantly 4 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience
4 date from the past thirty years. Fu rther, I will examine the growth patterns of middle-class African American c hurches and the statistics of low socioeconomic African American churches to investigate how these churches relate to their surrounding co mmunities. It is important to note that the phrase Black community is used throughout this study as a reference to geographical as well as sociological Black community. The source of my data will come from inte rviews I will conduct, texts provided in church literature, from audio sermons, and research data. In their book, The Black Church in the African American Experience C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya espouse t hat the Black Church is the Â“culture wombÂ” of the Black community. Lincoln an d Mamiya further postulate that Black Religion has always served as a multifaceted institution engendering various levels of moral and practical support to its congregants.5 While C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence MamiyaÂ’s view on the involv ement of the Black Church in Black life is unarguably true, the influence of Black Religion on Black life has abated. The decline can be attributed to the legisl ative gains made duri ng the sixties; the momentous gains of the sixties can al so account for the changing dynamics in the Black community. Since the days of Civil Rights Era, the social, economic, and geographical conditions of the Black community have changed drastically. These changes are profoundly affecting the ro le of the Black Church This revolutionary phenomenon comes on the heels of a changing dynamic in the Black community. (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 7.
5 The Black community has been transformed fr om being corporate in nature, to its current status as a community compris ed of individuals. The social, economic, and geographical division of middle-cla ss Blacks and low income Blacks is indicative of this change. C. Eric Li ncoln and Lawrence Mamiya reference this point in their latest manuscript on Black Religion. Lincoln and Mamiya maintain that: Â“There is some evidence that t he present and past central importance of the Black Church may be threatened by t he virtual explosion of opportunities, which are now becoming available to recent Black college graduates.Â”6 As Lincoln and MamiyaÂ’s research indica te, there has been a vast amount of opportunities afforded to African Amer icans that has provided economic prosperity for some African Americans, thus creating an economic divide in Black America. This divide has created a dyadic role for the Black Church that caters to the individualistic appeal more so t han the traditional communal appeal. More specifically, this shift detracts attent ion from the growing Black underclass and diverts it to the middle-class African Am erican religious ideology, which I assert can be seen as detrimental to the Black underclass. The term Black Religion is broad in scope and indeed can be referred to as a general category. As we begin our journey to understand the current mission of Black Religion, there must be a clarificat ion of the word Black Religion. It is my intention here to empl oy the term Black Religion as a kind of sociological and theological reference to the Black Churches in the United 5 Ibid. 6 Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience 383.
6 States. Generally speaking, any Afric an American that att ends a church can be included in the term Black Religion. Howeve r, for the sake of th is study, the term Black Religion has been limited to includ e only independent, historic, and totally Black-controlled denominations which we re founded during and after the days of slavery and catered to the core of Black Christians These historical Black churches include the African Methodist Ep iscopal (A.M.E.) Church; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (A.M.E.Z.) Chur ch; the Christian Methodist Episcopal (C.M.E.) Church; the Nati onal Baptist Convention, U. S.A. Incorporated, NBCA; the Progressive National Baptist Convent ion (PNBC); and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). In defining Black Religion, chapter two will explore the contributions of early AfricansÂ’ indigenous religious pr actices. As Africans arrived in the New World, they brought with them ce rtain religious practices that were interwoven with Christian doctrine to fo rmulate Black Religion. Chapter two will explore those basic African religious practices. Further, chapter two will explore how certain African religious prac tices, the institution of slavery, and Christianity led to the formation of the Â“i nvisible institution,Â” which ultimately gave rise to Black Religion as a viable and vital religious institution. Chapter three will further define Black Religion as it started to take form in the early days of sl avery. There were two di stinctive qualities of the early Black Church: the redemptive qualit y and the political quality. Early Africans had a strong belief in Christian redemption. They believed that just as Christ was redeemed from unear ned suffering, they too would be
7 redeemed; for the Africans felt that, ak in to Jesus, they were suffering unjustly and that their unearned suffering is redemptive. In addition to the redemptive quality, chapter three will explore the polit ical quality of the early churches. The early churches were polit ical in that they provided spiritual leaders who spoke and eventually led prot ests to abolish the institution of slavery. Chapter three will also explore the empi rical characteristics of these two qualities. Chapter four will weigh the impact of the Civil Rights Er a. During the sixties there were many legislative gai ns for African Americans. Many civil rights organizations and leaders were re sponsible for social, political, and economic advancements made during t he sixties. However, one individual in particular, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a profound effect on the Civil Rights Movement and on the Black Church Chapter four will explore his contribution and impact on the Civil Rights Mo vement and the Black Church. The chapter five will examine the pr ogress that was made as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. The pr ogress gained during the Civil Rights Movement reduced the equal ity gap that separated African Americans and their white counterparts. As a segment of the African American populace ascended the social and economic latte r, a social and economic divide appeared. Chapter five will explor e the impact of this phenomenon. Moreover, Chapter five wil l elucidate the impact th is social and economic
8 division has had on the Black community and on the Black Church and how this division has divided the mission of the Black Church.
9 -Â“A good way to understand a people is to study their religion, for religion is addressed to that most sacred schedule of values around which t he expression and the meaning of life tends to coalesce.Â”Â—C. Eric Lincoln Chapter Two What Is Black Religion? It may be possible, for heuristic purposes, to analyze the human relationship to the world in purely indivi dual terms; however, the empirical reality of human interaction is always a social one. No individual is an island to himself [herself]; collectively humans shape tools, develop languages, adhere to values, devise institutions, and so forth. The individual is, therefore, forever interdependent upon, and must in some manner interact with, the collective. As it relates to religion, this fact is unequivoca lly true, as socialization is a primary function of religion. One of the greatest characteristics of religious phenomena is that they seek to establish communalit y by uniting the individual with the collective. This socializing aspect of relig ion oftentimes afford s reflective insight into a particular culture. This fact is particularly true in regard to the African American culture. Pursuant to this t hought, Black Religion attempts to explicate how African Americans relate to themse lves, the world around them, and their God. There were three major fa ctors that contributed to the formation of Black Religion: the African Religious experienc e, the institution of slavery, and the influence of Christianity. As I begin my efforts to define Black Religion, I will begin with the examination of the impact of African religion, as it would be a grave academic injustice if one made an attempt to understand Black Religion
10 without the influence or impact of the African religion. To be sure, African religion had a significant impact on African American religion. On the vast continent of Africa, there are many societies and cu ltures with a plethora of religious practices. Of the many Af rican religious practices, there were certain underpinning religious elements that were transplanted on American soil and fused with Christianity. The slaves sent to America were seized from all parts of AfricaÂ—South, Central, East, and West. However, a large percentage of slaves were extracted from West Africa and the Congo-Angola region, home to the Mandinke, Yoruba, Ibo, and Bakongo cultur es. Of this region, one central element categorizing the Afri can religion was their belief in an ultimate god. As within Christian doctrine, this ultimate being was an omniscient creator who held power, oversaw justice, and granted eternal life. However, in African religion, often the ultimate god is t he parent of other gods consi dered to be intercessors between god and man. This point is illust rated in the Yoruba culture. For the Yoruba society, Olurum is viewed as being above all other gods. A sacrifice to any of the other gods is to be offered in his name.7 Viewed as the final authority, this ultimate god constitutes the beginning and the end, breathing and nonbreathing, punishment and reward, life and death. Spirit possession is another significant African religious practice that was passed on to African American religion. Spirit possession was evoked in many ways in African religion; one way was through the priest. Acting as an intermediary during a ritual ceremony, the priest or devotee enters into ecstatic 7 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion. (New York: Oxford Un iversity Press, 1978), 9.
11 states, or Â“spirit possession.Â” During this ecstatic state, the devotee dances or acts out the characte r of the god, becoming the Â“godÂ’s mouthpiece.Â”8 Fellow participants clap their hands, leap into t he air and move in a circular motion. During worship, slaves experienced simila r accounts. Mose Hursey, a slave, recalls: On Sundays they had meetinÂ’, someti mes at our house, sometimes at Â‘nother houseÂ….theyÂ’d preach and pr ay and singÂ—shout, too. I heard them get up with a powerful force of the spirit, clappinÂ’ they hands and walkinÂ’ around the place. TheyÂ’d shout, Â‘I got the glory. I got that old time Â‘ligion in my heart.Â’ I seen some powerful Â‘figuratios of the spirit in them days. 9 Much like the spirit accounts noted in We st Africa, slaves have cited similar experiences in America. These similariti es give much credence to the fact that African religious practices were indeed, transplanted to America. Africans also carried over music to t he new world as an important element from their African religious practices. Singing, danc ing, and drumming are all intricately woven into African Religion. For example, among t he Fon culture, the devotee responds to songs and drums while engaged in a revelatory dance to his [her] god.10 Through this ritual, the devot ee becomes spirit possessed, paying homage to his [her] gods and ancestors. Olmsted, a planter who observed Africans in worship, describes the process: Â“It was explained to me that it is their custom, in social worship, to work them selves up to a great pitch of excitement, 8 Raboteau, Slave Religion 10. 9 Ibid., 221. 10 Ibid., 15.
12 in which they yell and cry aloud, and final ly shriek and leap up, clapping their hands and dancing, as it is done at heathen festivals.Â”11 African religion does not s eparate the sacred from t he secular. Worship is an intricate part of African life. Gods are personified as well as personalized, present in the lives of men and women on every levelÂ—environmental, individual, social, national, and cosmic. In the Ibo cult ure, the god Chineke controls rain and fertility. From him the chi or soul of a man, originates. Much like the religious practices in Congo-Angola, Dahomey, Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, and Togo, religion permeates every aspec t of African life, and much like the enslaved African, religion is a unique thr ead intricately woven in the fabric of African life. Albert J. Raboteau summariz ed it best: Â“One of the most durable and adaptable constituents of the slaveÂ’ s culture, linking African past with American present, was his religion.Â”12 As this study illustrates, several elements from the African indigenous religion can be cited in African American slave religion. The religious milieu of the American slave was a system of African religious practices that were passed down through time to first generation slaves. These practices made no distinction between the natural and supernatural or the sacred and the secular. Adopted and modified by first generation slaves, these practices were then fused with Christianity to formulate what is now known as Black Religion. Further, African religion oriented the descendants of slaves to the 11 William E. Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree (London: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 26. 12 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion. (New York: Oxford Univ ersity Press, 1978), 4.
13 New World; it gave the newly enslaved a unique religious perspective and a foundation upon which Christianity was buil t. In Dwight N. HopkinsÂ’ opinion: Â“aspects of African indigenous religions ac ted as a key ingredient for the creation of and constitution of the Black self in t he United States. Black folk in America did not begin in slavery; t hey began in West Africa.Â” 13 As Africans became familiar with Christianity, slaves started holding secret meetings to encourage one another through spir itual uplift. Slaves would meet in discrete settingsÂ—woods, gullies, ravines, thicketsÂ—often referred to as Â“hush harbors.Â” The White master s did not approve of slaves congregating in the name of religion, as they feared such meetings would result in a slave revolt. Henry Bibb was threatened with five hundred lash es for attending a prayer meeting conducted by a slave. Gus Clark, another sl ave, reported: Â“My Boss didnÂ’ Â‘low us to go to church, er to pr ay er sing. Iffen he ketched us prayinÂ’ er singinÂ’ he whupped usÂ…He didnÂ’ care fer nothinÂ’ Â‘cept farmin.Â”14 Despite the danger, slaves continued to meet secretly in what is called the Â“invisible institution.Â” As Moses Grandy stated, Â“they lik e their own meeting better.Â”15 At their [slave] meetings, slaves were able to sing, pr ay, and relate to one anotherÂ’s sorrows. These meetings were significant in that they provided the oppor tunity for African and Christian religious practices to bl end together. More importantly, these meetings paved the way for the Â“invisible institutionÂ” to become a vital and viable religious institution. 13 Dwight Hopkins, Down, Up and Over Slave Religion and Black Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 113. 14 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 214.
14 As briefly explained, African religi on greatly influenced Black Religion. Slavery was the second force that had a vast impact on the creation of Black Religion. As the South thrived under the system of slavery, the Great Awakening of the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds ushered in a religious vigor. At this juncture, the Â“invisible in stitutionÂ” Frazier so rightfully termed was well established. Drawing from this info rmal religious institution, the Baptist and Methodist denominations appea led to the emotional a nd ecstatic needs of the slaves. This appeal created much religious enthusiasm among the slave population. Moreover, this religious ent husiasm was clearly embraced by African slaves and can be cited in church membership. Methodist church records reflect that in 1786, Black membership hov ered around 1,890. By 1797, the Black members soared to11, 682.16 As religious activity among slaves surged, a corresponding increase in Black membership transpired. The increase in Black membership brought about discriminatory pr actices on the part of Whites. Such was the case with Richard Allen and Absalo m Jones in Philadelphia. Allen and Jones, along with other Black parishioners, were kneeling in pr ayer at St. George Methodist Church in Philadelphia, when they were asked to move. When they decided to remain in prayer Allen, Jones, and the other parishioners were dragged out of the sanctuary by white officials.17 Subsequently, Allen and Jones withdrew from St. George signaling the first step to wards a Black independent church in Philadelphia. 15 Raboteau., Slave Religion, 215. 16 Ibid., 131.
15 Under similar circumstances, the firs t Black Baptist Church in America was established. In 1750 in South Ca rolina, under the leader ship of George Liele, the Silver Bluff Baptist C hurch was established. Following the establishment of the Silver Bluff Baptist Church, the African Baptist, or Â“Blue StoneÂ” church, was founded in Mecklenerg, Virginia, in 1758. Other independent Black Baptist churches formed, such as the Springfield Baptist Church in Augusta, Georgia, organized in 1787 under the leadership of Jesse Peters. There were other independent Black Baptis t churches that were established throughout Northern and Southern cities in such places as Williamsburg, Richmond, Petersburg, and Virginia. 18 The establishment of independent Black Ba ptist churches ultimately led to the formation of self-governing Black inte rdenominational organizations. The first of these organizations was the Provi dence Association of Ohio, which was established in 1834. Union Associati on followed with an establishment date of 1836; the Wood River Association was estab lished shortly thereafter in Illinois in 1839. In 1844, the Wood River Associat ion organized the Colored Baptist Home Missionary Society, which led to the forma tion of the Wester n Colored Baptist Convention (WCBC) in 1853. In 1 864, the WCBC was reformed as the Northwestern and Southern Baptist C onvention, and later merged with the American Baptist Missionary Convention to become the Consolidated American Baptist Missionary Convention. It held it s first meeting in August of 1867, with 17 William E. Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree (London: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 8.
16 100,000 members. In subs equent years, this organization divided into three separate organizations: the Baptist Forei gn Missionary Conventi on of the United States of America, the American Nationa l Baptist Convention, and the National Baptist Educational Convention of the Un ited States of America. This split resulted in the establishm ent of the National Baptis t Convention, USA. In Atlanta, on September 28th, 1895, the National Baptist Convention, USA, was formed with Reverend E.C. Morris as president elect. 19 The establishment of the National Bapt ist Convention, USA, is cemented in the historical formation of the fi rst separate, independent African Baptist church. As racism played a pivotal ro le in its establishment, the Baptist denomination catered to psychological, sp iritual, and cultural needs of Black slaves. Slaves were attracted to the Baptist denomination and made it one of the primary religious denominations. As the Baptist denomination grew to formulate the National Baptist Conventi on, USA, there was a schis m that resulted in the formation of the National Baptist Conv ention of America and the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Incorporat ed, which continued to be dedicated to Black Baptist adherents. Prior the formation of the National Baptist Convention of America and the Progressive National Ba ptist Convention, Incorporated, the National Baptist Convention, USA repr esented nearly 3 million parishioners in over 20,000 local churches.20 18 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press), 1990, .24. 19 Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience 26. 20 Ibid., 30.
17 The National Baptist Convention of Am erica formed as an offspring of the National Baptist Convention, USA. In 1915, the National Baptist Convention of America was established. Publishing c oncerns were cited as the primary reasoning behind the split. The National Baptist Convention of America is the second largest of the three Baptist Convention organizations. In 1989, the National Baptist Convention of America reported a membersh ip of 2.4 million. Its programs include home missions, foreign missions, Baptist training, National Baptist Publishing, evangelical work, charity work, and educational projects. 21 The Progressive National Baptis t Convention, Incorporated, was established in 1961. There were differences centered on election issues and social change strategies. Upon resolving these issues, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., was formed as a separate entity from its mother organization, the National Baptist Conventio n, USA, Inc. The first meeting was held in Philadelphia and the focus was the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, Black Political Development, Economic Development, Education, Job Training, and Strengthening t he Black Family; it is the smallest of the three Baptist conventions. As of 1989, it has 1,000 clergy with a membership of 1.2 million. 22 The second denomination that gained popularity among African American slaves and helped establish Black Relig ion in America was the Methodist denomination. The first Black Methodist Church has a similar origin to that of the Black Baptist church. Free Blacks in the North organized a separate Methodist 21 Ibid., 33-34.
18 Church due to stultifying and demeaning treatment by White members. White Methodist leaders were, as Lincoln and Mamiya state, Â“i nstruments of the political and social polici es that supported slavery.Â”23 The origin of independent Black Methodist churches can be traced bac k to Richard Allen. In April 1787 Allen instituted the Free Afric an Society, which on July 17, 1794, gave rise to St. Thomas African Episcopal Church and subsequently to the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1816. The move on AllenÂ’s behalf to establish these two religious institut ions signaled a movement for African Americans to create their own separa te, independent Black Methodist religious institutions. 24 The African Methodist Episcopal Church grew rapidly; within two years, church membership grew from 1,000 to 7,000. The African Methodist Episcopal Church as of 1989 is the lar gest of the Black Methodist communions, with a membership of 2.2 million.25 The African Methodist Episcopal Zion C hurch also originated in the late eighteenth century. In 1796, Black members separat ed from the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church in New Yo rk City as result of discriminatory practices on the part of Wh ite members. White mem bers refused to allow full ordination of Black preacher s and did not allow Black preachers to attend their conference. In 1801, the African Me thodist Episcopal Zion Church was established. In October of 1820, the African Methodi st Episcopal Zion Church 22 Ibid., 36-37. 23 Ibid., 47. 24 W. D. Weatherford, American Churches And The Negro (Boston: The Christopher Publishing House, 1957), 37. 25 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 54.
19 and the Asbury African Methodist Episcopal Church, which was established in 1816, adopted their own discipline and co mmonly accepted that date as the official beginning of the African Me thodist Episcopal Zion denomination.26 In 1821, the church numbered 1,400 member s and 22 preachers; these figures increased in 1860 to 4,600 and 105, respectively Currently, the A.M. E. Zion is the second largest of the Black Met hodist denominations; as of 1989, its membership exceeded 1.2 million members.27 The Christian Methodist Episcopal C hurch has post-slavery origins. Established on December 15, 1870, it was originally called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church in America. Howe ver, the Â“ColoredÂ” was replaced with Â“ChristianÂ” in 1954 to have a racially in clusive appeal. The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church split with the Methodist Episcopal Church over the amicable standpoint that Black member s want a church establis hed by and for themselves, with their own ideas and notions. The church was established in 1870. By 1890, membership exceeded 103,000. It is the smallest of the three Methodist organizations. As of 1989, its nati onal constituencies have a membership exceeding 900,000 with 3,000 churches and a national budget of 3 million dollars. 28 Unlike the Black Baptist and Methodist churches, Black Pentecostals began from a Black-initiated movement. The modern Pentecostal movement dates back to 1906, under the leadership of William Seymour. The movement 26 Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, 57. 27 Ibid., 58
20 can be traced back to the Azusa Street Revival held in Los Angeles. The Pentecostal movement, as led by Seym our, involved both Blacks and Whites. As the movement progressed, Whites wit hdrew and a divergence between Black and White doctrinal practices transpired. The Church of God in Christ has over 3.5 million members and is the largest Pentecostal group from the Holiness movement.29 Black Religion, as noted in the se ven major Black denominations, was born out of the stultifying and demeaning actions of whit e members. As a result of the discriminatory prac tices of White congregants, Black Religion became separate and independent of European Christianity. The tenets of Black Religion were therefore designed as a result of protest and survival of the enslaved. In providing for the survival of the ensl aved, Black Religion extends beyond the parameters of religion to include soci al, political, economic, and cultural concerns. Black Religion carried social im plications because it was a vehicle of freedom, first for the Black preacher, and se condly, for the enslaved masses. History is replete with examples of how preachers prior to the Civil War gained their freedom through religious means. Su ch was the case with Josiah Bishop, who preached to a mixed audience in Portsmouth in 1795, and was later given money by his congregation to purchase his freedom.30 Black Religion carried social implications in the founding of early church associations such as the Wood River Association, instituted in 1839. Such associations were instruments in the 28 Ibid., 63. 29 Ibid., 80. 30 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion. (New York: Oxford Un iversity Press, 1978), 4.
21 freedom of the enslaved masses in that they were advoc ates for the abolitionist movement and were active in the Underground Railroad.31 The political implication of Black Religi on can be noted in the right of the enslaved African to call on God for deliverance from the ev il of slavery and the right of selfdetermination. In many cases, slaves would petition God to deliver them from their earthly plight. Such was the case with Bill Collins. As a slave, Bill Collins recalls petitioning his right for self-dete rmination: Â“On Sunday we would go to the barn and pray to God to fix some way fo r us to be freed from our mean master.Â”32 As demonstrated in Bill CollinsÂ’ comment, slaves would petition God to be raised out of the abject misery of slavery. Christianity was the last major ingr edient in the com position of Black Religion. As Christianity was fused with African religious practices and the institution of slavery, five major themes arose as the basis for Black Religion. The first of these themes is freedom. The basic principle of freedom can be noted throughout the history of the Black Church. Whethe r it took on a literal meaning, as in the days of slavery, or a figurative one, as in the freedom to pursue certain rights, freedom has been one of the most basic elements in Black Religion. As history can a ttest, the implication of the word freedom is derived from exigency. During slavery, freedom meant freedom from physical bondage; after the emancipation of sl avery, it meant freedom to explore employment and educational opportunities; in the twentie th century, freedom meant social, 31 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 26.
22 political, and economic justice. Freedom for the African American has always meant the absence of physical and spiritual restraint an d the freedom to be all that God intended one to be. In addition to freedom, unity is another theme that is greatly emphasized in Black Religion. Since the formation of Black Religion, unity has been one of its most critical elements. The Church was an integral function of the slave community through which they found spiritual strength by meeting together. For example, Carey Davenport, a slave who lived in Walker County, Texas, found fellowship and spiritual strengt h while meeting other slaves in the brush arbors (or Â“hush arborsÂ”) of Wa lker County. In The Negro Church in America, E. Franklin Frazier references this point: Â“I n the emotionalism of the camp meetings and revivals some social solidarity, ev en if temporary, was achieved, and they were drawn into an union with their fellow men . religious beliefs and practices and traditions tended to provide a new basis of social cohesion in an alien environment.Â” 33 William Montgomery also make s mention of how slaves found cohesion in church meetings. Montgom ery notes that: Â“In congregations, class meetings, and missions, converted Chri stians bonded together in a community, caring for and helping each other live acco rding to GodÂ’s will through discipline and prayer.Â” 34 Black Religion, to a degree, st ill unifies the Black community. Whenever tragedy strikes the Black community, the Black Church becomes the focal point and unity becomes the theme of the day. Once the Black community 32 Dwight Hopkins, Down, Up and Over Slave Religion and Black Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 139. 33 E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Church in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1963), 2.
23 unifies, protest becomes a tool. This point was illustrated in the 1991 Rodney King incident. During this ordeal, the Reverend Jessie Jackson, along with other preachers and civic leaders, bound the nation together on one accord to protest the brutal treatment of Rodney King. The principle of protest has always been a tool of the Black Church. The very establishment of the Black Church as a separat e, independent institution can be viewed as an act of protest. In 1809, protesters urged Moses, a Black preacher, and his entire congregation in Wil liamsburg, Virginia, to hold church services protesting against a local wh ite associationÂ’s meeting policies.35 In many instances, the Black Church was used as a meeting place to plan strategies for protest. As Olin P. Boyd notes, it was a place where Â“Black people met to organize their economic enterprises, to plan their political strategies, and to design their programs of protest against social injustices.Â”36 Such was the case in December of 1955, when the organizers of the Bus Boycott utilized the basement of the Dexter St reet Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, to formulate strategies for their boycott. T he principle of protes t climaxed during the Civil Rights Era and is probably the most recognizable example of how Black Religion was used as a tool for protest. Thomas K. Grose of U.S. News and World Report wrote of how the protest principl e indelibly changed race relations 34 William E. Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree (London: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 21. 35 W. D. Weatherford, American Churches And The Negro (Boston: The Christopher Publishing House, 1957), 121. 36 Olin P. Moyd, Redemption in Black Theology .(Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1979), 16.
24 in the United States by urging President Lyndon B. Johnson in July of 1964, to sign the Civil Rights Bill into law. 37 Equality is another core principle in Black Religion. In protesting for Â“equalityÂ” or Â“equal rights,Â” Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous Â“I Have a DreamÂ” speech, evoked the Declaration of Independence citing that Â“all men are created equal and endowed by their creator wit h inalienable rights.Â” The fight for equality was paramount during t he Civil Rights Era and was brought into focus as the famous Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court case of 1954 demanded that the nation revisit its principles regarding equality. Among the core elements in Black Relig ion, spirituality stands to be the most important. Spirituality, which is endemic to the African culture, predisposed the African to the spiritual element of Bl ack Religion. Indeed, much like the Akan society in Ghana, spirituality gover ned all of human interaction and the environment. Religion, for the Akan culture, was an in tertwining of the spirit world, society, nature, and humanity.38 Akin to the spirituality of the African, their enslavement fused spirituality in every aspect of life. In Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree: The African-Americ an Church in the South 1865-1900 William E. Montgomery gives his thoughts on spiritualit y in slave religion: Â“As had been true for their African ancestors, folk worship br ought them into cont act with the spirit world, an experience that was understandably joyous and exciting in comparison 37 Thomas K. Grose, Â“Toward Equality For All,Â” U.S. News & World News 22 September 2003, 70. 38 Dwight Hopkins, Down, Up and Over Slave Religion and Black Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 111.
25 to the drabness of their daily lives.Â” 39 These core elementsÂ—freedom, spirituality, protest, unity and equalityÂ—although present in Christianity, took on a new meaning, reverberating throughout the Black community with profound implications. Moreover, these core el ements have establis hed Black Religion distinctively apart from all other religions. Historically, these five core themes have played a critical role in Black Religion; they have helped to define Black Religion. However, the social and economic dynamics of the Bl ack experience has changed dr astically in the past thirty years. Since the Civil Rights Er a, the African Amer ican experience can rightfully be described as divided along soci al and economic lines. This Â“Â’nationÂ’ within a nationÂ” has fractured into two groups: the quasi-affluent bourgeois middle-class and the poor underclass. As these two classes become more established, the core principles of Black Religion must be redefined to accommodate the growing division betw een the Black underclass and the Black middle-class. More importantly, this so cial and economic divide in Black America has created a unique and complex phenom enon within the Black experience, which has obscured the mission of Black Religion. Consequently, scholars vary on their perspectives of Black Religion. A scholar on Black life, Anthony Pinn, describes Black Religion as centered around suffering and attempting to address poignant questions regarding theodicy.40 Olin P. Moyd speaks of Black religion as a redemptive quality. Dwight N. Hopk ins discusses Black Theology as it 39 William E. Montgomery, Under Their Own Vine and Fig Tree (London: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 267.
26 relates to theological liberation, drawi ng from the religious experience of the enslaved African American. In HopkinsÂ’ view, Â“Black Theology results from reflection on the SpiritÂ’s will of liberation revealed in various expressions of black folksÂ’ faith and practice within the contex t of Protestantism, American culture, and slave religion.Â”41 In a similar vein, James Cones posits that the overarching purpose of Black Religion is centered on liberation. His thoughts rest in the fact that America unjustly mist reats the African American and he calls on the church and the prophetic role of the preac her to rectify this injustice.42 Gayraud S. Wilmore maintains that Black Religion is t he radical thrust of the Black people for human liberation expressed in theological terms and religious institutions. He thus refers to Black Religion as Black R adicalism. C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya, two of the most profound writers on Black life, view Black Religion in terms of a Â“dialectical model,Â” which defi nes the Black Churches as institutions that are along a continuum of six major dial ectal polarities. The dialectical model of polar opposites includes priestly and pr ophetic; other-worldly and this worldly; universalism and particularism; communal and privatistic; charismatic and bureaucratic; and resistance and accommodation.43 These various viewpoints on Black Religion are indicative of the fact that there is no consensual definition of Black Religion. However, the quin tessential element on which all these 40 Anthony P. Pinn, Edt. Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering. (Ft. Myers: University Press of Florida, 2002), 3-4. 41 Dwight Hopkins, Down, Up and Over Slave Religion and Black Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), VII. 42 James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: Orbis Books, 1986), 5. 43 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 17
27 scholars would agree is that Black Religion is inextricably bound to the Black experience. Depending upon the historic al context, Black Religion has assumed various missions within the Black communi ty. This fact has been evident since the beginning of slavery. For the enslaved, Black Relig ion was a source of inner strength, a mechanism that elevated their souls and spirits out of the sinking sands of human degradation. During the Civil Rights Era, Bl ack Religion was employed as a tool to com bat racism and oppression. For African Americans in the twenty-first century, Black Religion is now at a crossroads and is undergoing a change according to the social, ec onomic, and demographical changing needs of its adherents. Many African Americans no longer see themselves as subjects of racism and oppression. Consequently, there has been a large shift away from the treatment of societyÂ’s ills such as ra cism, oppression, and integration. Civil Rights legislation has brought about social and economic freedoms that were not afforded to African Americans in t he past. These new freedoms have had a profound effect on the Afric an American community. Thes e effects on the African American community have, in turn, changed the mission of Black Religion. C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya referenc e this point when they speak of the new challenge facing the Black Church as a result of the growing social and economic divide within Black America: Â“The gradual emergence of two fairly distinct Black Americas along class li nesÂ—of two nations within a nationÂ—has
28 raised a serious challenge to the Black Church.Â”44 In their research, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya touch upon the fact that t here is, indeed, a growing social and economic divide withi n Black America and the Black Church faces a dilemma in meeting the needs of both. The mission of Black Religion ha s varied, depending upon the context within history. This va riation signals a shift al ong the continuum of core principles which address and satisfy t he needs of the Black community. Black Religion can therefore be viewed as a theological construct influenced by the perpetual change in the social dynamics explicit to the African American community. In the next chapter, I will further est ablish this contention by examining the political and r edemptive quality of Black Religion, which I consider to be two principles that represent t he spiritual and protest value of Black Religion along the continuum. 44 Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience ., 384.
29 -My Lord delivered, pooÂ’ Daniel, My Lord delivered, pooÂ’ Daniel And I know HeÂ’ll deliver pooÂ’ me.Â—Slave Spiritual Chapter Three An Historical Overview: The Origin and Development of Black Religion The Redemptive Quality of Black Religion Any scholar who wishes to have an in-depth understanding of Black Religion, including its formation and contri bution to the Black experience, must seriously weigh the historical framewor k upon which it rested. The advent of slavery supplanted the African and ultimately led to his cultural disembowelment. It began with the trans-Atlantic voyage. During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, millions of Africans were forced to abandon their indigenous cultural practices. For many Africans, the voyage to the Americas was filled with unspeakable fear and unbearable conditions, which led to di sease and death. However, for those Africans who survived the voyage across th e Atlantic, a new world awaited them. By the nineteenth century, there were almost one m illion slaves in the United States, and by 1869, there were roughly two million ex-slaves working in the cotton and rice industries as well as in other economic ventures.45 As ex-slaves sought relief from thei r dehumanizing circumstances, Christianity became the dominant religion among Africans. 45 Anthony P. Pinn, Edt. Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering. (Ft. Myers: University Press of Florida, 2002), 4.
30 The fusion of slavery and Christi anity had profound consequences. For many Africans, Christianity became t he symbol of hope and deliverance from the evil, oppressive forces that consumed t heir existence. Africans interest in Christianity rose significantly durin g Reconstruction. During the era of Reconstruction, Christianity became an organized and independent institution on a massive scale. It was during Â“the formative years,Â” as Olin P. Moyd terms it, that Black Religion became a viable institution. 46 Slaves started assembling secretly late at night in meeting camps to discuss their pligh t. During this time, there was a surge in interest in Black Religion. From 1860 to 1880 there was an increase of two hundred percent in the Black Christian populace. The aforementioned statistic repr esents a boost in the Black Christian population from 300,000 to more than 900,000 during this period.47 As Black Religion became an established institution, there was a depar ture from the European theological line of thought. Black Religion developed its own line of thought which included the reinterpretation of the Â“servant, obey your masterÂ” constr uct. Christianity advocating the submissive slave was, for the most part, reinterpreted through a redemptive theme, which is evident in many of the songs, prayers, and sermons of the Black Church. For example, the redemptive t heme can be clearly cited in the Negro spirituals such as, Â“It is no se cret what God will do, for what He has done for others He will do for you.Â” 48 In this classic Negro hymn, it is expressed that just as God delivered ot her biblical figures from their lot, He will also deliver 46 Olin P. Moyd, Redemption in Black Theology .(Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1979), 74. 47 Ibid., 73. 48 Ibid., 74.
31 you from your earthly woes. The redempt ion theme can also be cited in the early sermons of abolitionist thinkers, such as Absalom Jones. Addressing the St. Thomas Church in Philadelphia back on January 1, 1808, Jones evoked the story of the Children of Israel. He addre sses both moral evil and African American suffering, noting, Â“God is not blind to the misery of African Americans Â…and that God works on behalf of the oppressed.Â”49 Jones draws from Exodus 3: 7 and 8 which states: Â“And the Lord said, I have su rely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrow; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the EgyptiansÂ”.50 Redemption in European Ch ristianity differs in its implications in Black Religion. As Moyd points out, Wester n theology developed in the midst of colonization. During this period, Moyd asserts, states were superior to the church and Â“thus the church has been passive in the area of developing a theology that would be antagonistic to the social, economic, and political practices of the state.Â”51 Redemption in European Chri stianity implies salvation from sin and guilt. This differs from Black Religion in that Black Religion postulates forgiveness from oppression, sin, and guilt. Moreover, Black ReligionÂ’s interpretation of redemption cl osely mirrors the Hebr ewsÂ’ definition of redemption. Much like the HebrewsÂ’ definition, Bla ck Religion denotes redemption as salvation from the state or circumstance that destroys the value of 49 Anthony P. Pinn, Edt. Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering. (Ft. Myers: University Press of Florida, 2002), 37. 50 Exodus 3:7-8.
32 oneÂ’s existence or oneÂ’s existence itself. Deuteronomy 7:8 lends credence to this contention: Â“But it is because t he Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.Â” Such scriptures enc ouraged slaves that Â“trouble donÂ’t last always.Â” As illustrated, redemption in H ebrew thought implies salvation from the present entrapment of earth ly woes and physical and spiritual oppression. In light of this thought, the quintessential fact or in Black Religion is that Jesus is partial to the poor and the oppressed bec ause Jesus is with those enchained by poverty and oppression. Harriet Gresham, an ex-slave from Florida, recalls a song which spoke of Jesus as the divine ruler of heaven and earth and who detests the conditions of the poor and oppressed: TÂ’ank ye Marster Jesus, tÂ’ank ye TÂ’ank ye Marster Jesus, tÂ’anke ye TÂ’ank ye Marster Jesus, tÂ’anke ye Da Heben gwinter be my home. No slavÂ’ry chains to tie me down, And no mo dirverÂ’s hoÂ’n to blow fer me No moÂ’ stock to faster me down Jesus break slavÂ’ry chain, Lord Break slavÂ’ry chain Lord Break slavÂ’ry chain Lord Da Heben gwinter be my home. 52 51 Olin P. Moyd, Redemption in Black Theology .(Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1979), 40. 52 Dwight Hopkins, Down, Up and Over Slave Religion and Black Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 218.
33 In Christian thought, Jesus detested t he oppression of the poor. Mathew 11:28, 30 supports this contention: Â“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.Â”53 Throughout Black Religion this intransigent concept has been the Â“solid rockÂ” t hat has sustained African Americans. Moreover, in European theology, Christ Jesus was given the name Emmanuel, which is translated as Â“the spirit with us.Â” In light of this fact, African slaves believed that their oppressive conditions were transitory, and just as Jesus had experienced persecution and was delivered out of the hand of evil they, too, would somehow be rescued from the atroci ties of slavery. These sentiments echoed in the minds of many slaves. A nderson Edwards, from his memoir about slavery, recalls the following: We prayed a lot to be free and the Lord done heered us. We didnÂ’t have no song books and the Lord done give us our songs and when we sing them at night it ju sÂ’ whispering so nobody hear us. One went like this. My knee bones am aching My bodyÂ’s rackinÂ’ with pain, IÂ’ lieve IÂ’m a chile of God, And this ainÂ’t my home, Â‘Cause HeavenÂ’s my aim. 54 The thoughts of freedom in Christ rang in the hearts and minds of many slaves, and as the physical and spiritual burden of slavery consumed their existence, 53 Mathew 11:28. 54 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 218.
34 freedom in Christ became their refuge. This line of thought is discussed in Anthony B. PinnÂ’s Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering.55 He writes that, Â“slaves perceived in their own experience the paradox of the Gospel, the redemptive power of ChristÂ’s suffering, repeated onc e again in the patterns of their own lives.Â”56 Pinn goes on to note that this hist orical response to moral evil can be categorized into two themes. The first theme is that suffering has redemptive benefits because it is pedagogical in natur e; and the second t heme states that suffering has redemptive benefits because it is punitive in nature and this punishment is deserved.57 Both doctrines embody the thought that God is loving, kind, just, compassionate, right eous, and concerned about humanity. Furthermore, both doctrines espouse the thought that salvation consists of reuniting with God in a teleological sense; that is to say that history develops towards a certain outcome, with the divine reigning as supreme. The following scriptures illustrate PinnÂ’s point regarding God favoring the oppressed and poor: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because he has anointed me To bring good news to the poor, God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To let the oppressed go free, To proclaim the year of the LordÂ’s favor. Luke 4:18-19 55 Pinn rejects the notion of redemptive suffering; however, in dispelling the theory of redemptive suffering, Pinn elucidates several poin ts that lend credence to my argument. 56 Anthony P. Pinn, Edt. Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering. (Ft. Myers: University Press of Florida, 2002), 14. 57 Ibid.
35 As the scriptures suggest, JesusÂ’ purpose embodies a paradigm of servanthood for the poor and outcast. Many slaves look ed upon Jesus not as a spiritual entity that simply came into the world for them but as an entity that called upon them to work with the Spirit of liber ation so that they might be with Him. Romans 6:8 Â– 13 best illustrates this point. It states that whoever dies with Christ will rise with Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. As enslaved Africans sought deliver ance from their earthly plight, redemption became a paramount theme in Black Religion. Through song and personal testimony, it was evidenced that Africans sought redemption through religious means. Mingo White, a slave th irsting after freedom, once uttered the words: Â“Somehow or yuther us had an inst inct dat we was goinÂ’ to be free,Â” and Â“when de dayÂ’s wuk was done de slaves wo uld be founÂ’ Â…in dere cabins prayin; for de Lawd to free dem lack he did chillum of IsÂ’ael.Â” 58 In other instances, slaves sang songs with freedom deeply root ed in their context. Harriet Jacobs describes how slaves escaped slavery thro ugh spiritual uplifting. Slaves often sang songs that had deep overtones of freedom in the lyrics: Ole Satan thought he had a mighty aim: He missed my soul, and caught my sin. Cry Amen, cry amen, cry amen to God! He took my sins upon his back: Went muttering and grumbling down to hell. Cry Amen, cry amen, cry amen to God! Ole SatanÂ’s church is here below. Up to GodÂ’s free church I hope to go. 58 Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 219.
36 Cry amen, cry amen, cry amen to God! 59 As slaves sought deliverance from their earthly lot, spiritual redemption became paramount. As demonstrated through song, prayer, sermons, and testimonies, redemption is the core motif in Black folksÂ’ aspirations and expressions. The Political Quality of Early Black Religion The formation and development of Black political leaders can be traced back to Black Religion. Although social control of Africans was well in place through legal means, the church became t he primary institution through which slaves experienced freedom. For religious purposes, slaves would meet in the bayous of the Southern plantat ions, or meet clandestinely in the slave quarters. It was during these meetings that Afric ans would oftentimes develop their own leaders. For example, Nat Turner, in 1831, led a slave uprising which resulted in a number of White casualties. Similarly, Denmark Vesey, just nine years prior, in 1822, led a slave revolt. David Walker was yet another individual who was responsible for political activism during th is time. David Walker raised the Black consciousness of the African Americans dur ing his day. He did so, in part, by evoking the thought that God is Black. In the antislavery Appeal of 1829, David Walker advocated the phrase Â“God of the Ethiopians.Â”60 Turner, Vesey, and Walker are examples of how the Bla ck Church produced leaders in the slave community. For many slaves, the church was the only viable means from which 59 Harriet A. Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. (London, England: Harvard University Press, 1987), 71.
37 to develop any type of educational, politic al, or leadership ability. During the several centuries of slavery, political, educational, economic, social, and cultural institutions were, for the most part, ill egal, and in many cases underdeveloped. As the church became, as W.E. B. D ubois has termed it, Â“the centrality of the Black community,Â”61 Black Religion became a survival mechanism for the enslaved. The fact that Africans employed relig ion as a means of survival carries political implications. Su rviving the dehumanizing aspect s of slavery, as many Africans did, preserved their sens e of manhood and womanhood. This fact served as a prerequisite to political activity in the Black Church. C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya comment on th is phenomenon: Â“After the period of slavery when more political options were possible, the survival tradition among Blacks became largely a pre-political c ondition, but one with po litical potential.Â”62 By surviving the cruelties of slavery, Africans provided the potential to produce political leaders and activity for fu ture generations. For example, during Reconstruction, Dr. William Simmons, a Black clergyman, became a county clerk, county commissioner, and chairman of the county campaign committee in Florida. Other examples in clude Reverend Hiram Revels of Mississippi, who, in 1870, became the first Black citizen and the first Black senator elected to 60 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 177. 61 W. E. B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folks (New York: Banton Books, 1903), 136. 62 Lincoln and Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience, 202.
38 Congress.63 The aforementioned individuals al l represent how Africans endured and persevered under the atrocities of sl avery and afterward, achieved social and political prominence in their respected communities. Most major Black Church denominati ons were rooted in anti-slavery or anti-discrimination rhetoric. As Gayraud W ilmore has stated, Â“the Gospel taught, received, and practiced is as anti-slavery as it is anti-sin.Â”64 In light of this thought, the Black Church encouraged and supported political movements that aided in the freeing of the enslaved. Bet hel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia was one of many Black c hurches that assist ed the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement. There were other ways in which the church was heavily involved in political acti vity. Nathanial Paul, a Black minister who, in 1822, became the first pastor of the African Baptist Church in Albany, New York, used his position in the church to speak out against slavery. Through lectures and publications in the FreedomÂ’s Journal and Rights for All Paul voiced his concerns about the conditions of African Americans and the abolition of slavery.65 Gayraud Wilmore, a noted author on the subject of the Black Church, considered the independent Black Church movement as Â“the first Black freedom movementÂ” in America.66 Indeed, clergymen and pr eachers of the early Black Church utilized their voices for political outcomes. For exampl e, Richard Allen, a former slave and a Methodist preacher, in Ap ril of 1787 establis hed a mutual aid 63 Ibid., 204-205. 64 Gayraud S. Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism (New York: Doubledy and Company, Inc., 1972), 8. 65 Anthony P. Pinn, Edt. Moral Evil and Redemptive Suffering. (Ft. Myers: University Press of Florida, 2002), 45. 66 Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism 102 114.
39 society called the Free African Society. Allen was credited with establishing other organizations which were vital to the Bl ack community during his time. In 1830, Allen organized the first of several Negro conventions to discuss issues pertinent to the Black Church and slavery.67 Andrew Bryan is another example of how the Black Church produced leaders to combat the evil forces of slavery. Andrew Bryan was one of the pioneer Black preachers in the South. Born in 1737 in Goose Creek, South Carolina, Bryan becam e the minister of the first African Baptist Church in that city. Andrew Br yan used his leadership role in the Black Church to speak out against slavery. These and other Bla ck men and women of the gospel used their voices, talents, and leadership to organize political strategies for the benefit of the church. In the church, preachers were the l eaders and the foundation for political life in the Black community. This is lar gely due to the fact that preachers were instantly and automatically received into the Black community as leaders sanctioned by the divine. Given this divi ne status in the Black community, Black preachers were thought to be a unique ph enomenon. W.E.B. Du Bois shares this view. He notes that preachers are Â“the most unique personality developed by the Negro on American soil. A leader, a polit ician, an orator, a boss, an intriguer, an idealistÂ—all these things he isÂ….Â”68 History is replete with examples of how Black preachers used their position within th e Black Church to influence political activity. The career of Bi shop Henry M. Turner serves as an example. Born in 67 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 51-52
40 South Carolina in 1834, Turner acqui red some education through private instruction. He joined the Methodist Church at fourteen and later became a Minister and served as a chaplain in the Un ited States Army. Following the Civil War, Turner transferred to the Afric an Methodist Episcopal Church where he advanced to an itinerant preacher and later to the position of an elder. In the mid1800Â’s, Henry M. Tuner became involved in politics; he organized Negroes in the Republican Party and was elected to the Georgia Legislature.69 Another outspoken preacher who achieved political prominence was Bishop James W. Hood of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. During the Reconstruction period, James W. Hood was elected presi dent to what is considered to be the first political convention assembled by freemen. Hood served as a magistrate and later as a Deputy Collector of Internal Revenue for the United States. Subsequently, Hood was appointed Assi stant Superintendent of Public Instruction of the St ate of North Carolina.70 In addition to preachers becoming evolved in politics, the Black Church wa s a place where Blacks could aspire to become leaders and symbols of st atus. Moreover, the Bla ck Church served as a political arena in that it allowed parishioners the priv ilege to vote in church elections. African Americans were denied voting privileges in local, state, and federal elections and consequently, the Bl ack Church became their political arena. It was through the Black Church Black men and women satisfied their leadership ambitions, their thirst for pow er, and experienced the fulfillment of 68 W. E. B. Du Bois The Souls of Black Folks (New York: Banton Books, 1903), 190-191. 69 E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Church in America (New York: Schocken Books, 1963), 32. 70 Frazier, The Negro Church in America 42.
41 political life. Mays and Nicholson have noted: The local churches, associations, conventions and conferences became t he African Americans Democratic and Republican conventions, his Legislat ure and his Senate and House of Representatives. 71 The Black Church was the po litical heartbeat of the Black community. Through the Black Church, c ongregants experienced the political life that the dominant cu lture denied them. The political and the redemptive qualit ies were early themes in Black Religion. These two principles represent the spiritual and protest principles, which are part of five core principles that make up the basis for Black Religion. Moreover, emphasis on these two principl es signaled a point of departure from European Christianity. Indeed, African slav es reinterpreted Christianity to deal with the cruelties they experienced as a re sult of slavery. As Black Religion became an established instit ution, the protest and spir ituality principles became basic themes in Black Religion and remain so still to this day. From 1800 to 1910, Black Religion fl ourished. During this time, the principles of protest and spirituality manifested themselves in the Black community through various means. As with the other core principles of Black Religion (Equality, Freedom, and Unity), it was not until 1955, the start of the modern day Civil Rights Movement, that the other three core principles in Black Religion were truly legitimated as core principles. In the next chapter, I will examine how Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the key figures in the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X and his legacy, and ot hers brought into focus the equality, 71 Benjamin E. Mays and Joseph W. Nicholson, The Negro Church (New York: Russell & Russell, 1969), 9.
42 freedom, and unity principles in Black Re ligion and legitimated these themes as core principles in Black Religion.
43 -Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy, now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlight path of racial justice; now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood; now is the time to make justice a reality for all of GodÂ’s children. Â–Martin Luther King, Jr. Â“I Have A Dream Speech.Â” (1963). Chapter Four The Impact of the Civil Rights Era Kingian Ideology The Civil Rights Movement engendered many lofty principles; among them were freedom, unity, and equality. These three principles were among the central themes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated as he traveled throughout the South. His cry for all men to be free resonated throughout his epistles, sermons, and speeches as he called for unity and equality for all Americans. In his relentless dedication to bring about a world of peace and harmony among all races, Dr. King utilized principles su ch as freedom, unity, and equality; and these principles were well understood within Black Religion. A closer look at how the Civil Rights Movement began illu minates the fact that t hese principles have deep ties to the Black Church; and Dr. King, as a key orchestrator of the Civil Rights Movement, employed these principles as a means to accomplish his ends. In December of 1955, the Montgomery City Bus Boycott was launched when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white patron on the city transit. Supporting Parks in her brave act of civil protest was Martin Luther King, Jr., the impetus behind the Civil Rights Movement King, who was completing his Ph.D. from Boston University in Philoso phy, employed the nonviolence philosophy promoted by Mahatma Gandhi as a strategy for social reform.
44 Although Gandhi provided Dr. King wit h the method for social reform, Jesus and Christian ethics supplied Dr King with the basis for developing his tenets on nonviolent resistance. Dr. Ki ng writes that it was in the Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that he discovered the method for social reform that he had been seeking: Â“I came to feel that this was the only morally and practically sound method open to oppr essed people in their struggle for freedomÂ”72 Like Gandhi, Dr. King believed it was most effective to implement the philosophy of nonviolence holistically. Yet, in Dr. KingÂ’s view, there is no distinction between sacred and secular, religious and ethi cal, and the individual and social. Accordingly, Dr. King comp rised a philosophy on nonviolence that combined his deep faith in Christianity with intense social involvement. From his student days in the early 1950s at Crozer Se minary, Dr. King was well versed in Christian ethics. T he concept of Christian love that was emphasized so potently in JesusÂ’ Se rmon on the Mount, pervaded, to a large degree, many of the thoughts and writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. For example, Dr. King believed that the Christia n ethic of love could resolve the race problem. He called the love that Christ exemplified Â“the most durable power in the worldÂ” and believed it to be Â“the mo st potent instrument available in mankindÂ’s quest for peace and security.Â” 73 Employing the Christian love ethic, Dr. King developed a strategy of nonv iolence resistance philosophy that 72 Kenneth L. Smith and Ira G. Zepp, Search For the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1974), 48. 73 Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength of Love.( Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 56.
45 illuminated the principles of freedom, unity, and equality as a means to vociferate and eradicate the blatant racial discrimi nation that pervaded Bl ack America. The Civil Rights Movement evoked a sp irit of unity among its followers. Many American citizens, both Black and White, united in the cause for Civil Rights. This fact became evident as Blacks and Whites across the South united for lunch counter sit-ins, marchers, dem onstrations, and boyco tts. In addition to Blacks and Whites uniting, whole communiti es came together; across racial lines adults and children united to support the cause of the Civil Rights Movement. Unity was an ongoing theme throughout the Civil Rights Movement. However, the concept of unity is accented in Dr. KingÂ’s notion of the Â“Beloved Community.Â” Dr. KingÂ’s conception of a Beloved Communi ty consisted of a Â“transformedÂ” and Â“regeneratedÂ” human society. In 1957, Dr. King explic ated his thoughts of the Beloved Community in the Southern Christian Leadership ConferenceÂ’s newsletter. Dr. King described the pur pose and goals of the Beloved Community as follows: Â“The ultimate aim of SCLC is to foster and create the Â‘beloved communityÂ’ in America where brother hood is a realityÂ….SCLC works for integration. Our ultimate goal is genuine intergroup and interpersonal livingÂ— integration.Â”74 Dr. King envisioned the Beloved Community as an integrated society wherein brotherhood and unity w ould pervade all aspects of American society. Dr. King believed deeply in the concept of the Â“Beloved Community.Â” In some of his early writings, King articu lated his thoughts advocating the Beloved
46 Community. In an article referencing the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King wrote that the boycott Â“is reconcil iation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.Â”75 The concept of the Beloved Community remained the cornerstone of Dr. KingÂ’s philos ophy throughout the movement and can be cited in his last book. Â“Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nationÂ…Â”76 Dr. KingÂ’s notion of t he Beloved Community was an extraordinary way for him to advocate uni ty of a race, community, and nation. Freedom has always been a basic principl e in Black Religion. As the Civil Rights Movement progressed, it became t he foundation of the str uggle. That is to say that the movement transcended the ra cial concerns of Blacks. Indeed, as Dr. King dealt with the social issue of the da y, he made it clear that the struggle was not merely a racial issue, but an issue of morality verses immorality. In light of this view, in addition to freeing Blacks from the cruelties of racial discrimination, Dr. King also saw the mo vement as freeing White America from the guilt of racial oppression. Dr. KingÂ’s thoughts on oppression coincide with Noel Leo ErskineÂ’s view of oppression which expresses that: Â“Every human being by virtue of being a human being has inherent wort h, and no person, society, or culture has the right to deny his/her personhood. One of the sins against humanity is the attempt of people in power to strip the oppressed of their freedom and dignity.Â”77 Erskine believes that it is a sin against humanity to deny one his [or her] freedom. Akin to Erskine, Dr. King felt very strongly regarding 74 Kenneth L. Smith and Ira G. Zepp, Search For the Beloved Community: The Thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1974), 120 75 Smith and Zepp, Search For the Beloved Community: The Th inking of Martin Luther King, Jr. ., 119.
47 denying one his [her] freedom. As Dr. King so emphatically communicated to the American public, the dominance of one cu lture over another and the power of oppression yields segregation, raci sm, and poverty. Dr. King advocated freedom and equality for all Americans; he fo ught to free Black America from the social ills of racism and poverty. And as the movement matured, freedom became an imbuing factor. During the Civil Rights Movement equality became a paramount theme. As with freedom and unity, equality has always been a major theme in Black Religion; however, during the Civil Rights Movement, equality became one of the intransigent themes of the movement. Lunch counter sit-ins in the South are examples of how equality became such a paramount theme of the Civil Rights movement. On March 9, 1960, student s from Atlanta University, Clark, Morehouse, Morris Brown, and Spellman colleges united for the protest of equality for African Americans. In so doi ng, they delineated their grievances in the March 9 edition of the Atlanta Constitution In listing their grievances, they spoke of a separate and unequal educationa l system, the inequality of voting among Blacks and Whites, and the fact that Black hospitals were unequal to White hospitals.78 These, among others concerns, were brought to light as the students in the South struggled to gain equa lity. All throughout the South student and adult organizations were protesting fo r equality. In such cases, SNCCÂ— (Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee) staged sit-ins throughout the 76 Ibid. 77 Noel Leo Erskine, King Among The Theologians (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1994), 147.
48 South advocating equality at lunch count ers and public facilities. The Freedom Riders, in other cases, protested for equa lity in interstate travel. The equality issue between Whites and Blacks galvani zed the nation and forced President Kennedy to confront the issue in a nationally televised speech: This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal; and that the rights of ever y man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened. It ought to be possible, therefore, for American students of any color to a ttend any public institution they select without having to be backed up by troops. It ought to be possible for American consumers of any color to receive equal service in places of public accommodation, such as hotels and restaurants, and theaters and retail st ores, without being forced to resort to demonstrations in the st reet. And it ought to be possible for American citizens of any color to register and to vote in a free election without interference or fear of reprisal. It ought to be possible, in short, for every Am erican to enjoy the privileges of being American without regard to his race or his color. 79 The principle of equality consumed the nat ion and Dr. King, who, along with other supporters and participants of the Civil Rig hts Movement, were instrumental in bringing this issue before the nation. Dr. King was an extraordinary individual with enormous faith. Through his leadership, the Black Church was thru st to the forefront of Civil Rights Movement. Having a historical backgr ound in the Black Church, Dr. King utilized 78 Clayborne Carson, David J. Garrow, Gerals Gill, edts. The Eyes On The Prize. Eyes. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 118-119. 79 Ibid., 160-161.
49 the Black Church as a gra ssroots movement. By intric ately involving the Black Church in the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King and others help raise freedom, unity, and equality to a level of legiti macy within Black Religion. Where Do We Go From Here? 1970Â’s Civil Rights legislati on of 1964 and 1965 charted a new direction for the Civil Rights Movement. As the Civil Rights Movement matured, it became evident to its leaders that the movement was on an inevitable course for change. The seeds for this change were planted, in general by the Nation of Islam, and in particular, by Malcolm X. Malcolm X, an ex-convict and converted Muslim after serving a prison sentence of nearly seven years, rose to national prominence as the national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. U nder the auspices of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Malcolm X advocated the Nation of IslamÂ’s ideology of Black Nationalism. As a national spokesman for the Nation, Malcolm advocated that the Black man was a victim of America instead of a citizen. Malcolm did not see the Â“American Dr eamÂ”; rather, he saw the Â“American Nightmare.Â” Through his message to Black America, he communicated his thoughts accordingly: We have a common oppressor, a common exploiter, and a common discriminator. But once we all re alize that we have a common enemy, then we uniteÂ—on the basis of what we have in common. And what we have foremost in common is that enemyÂ—the white manÂ…We need to stop airing our differences in front of the white man, put the white man out
50 of our meetings, and then sit down and ta lk shop with each other. ThatÂ’s what weÂ’ve got to do.80 Malcolm X was a staunch propon ent of the separation of races. His philosophy was rooted in the understandi ng that Blacks should control the political and economic elements within their communities. With his superior oratorical skills and his prehensile acuteness on self-pride and self-determination, Malcolm X ushered in a new racial pride that consumed many young Black Americans. Among those young Black Americans we re the leaders of SNCC, Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In the fall of 1964, Malcolm met with SNCC representatives John Lewis and Don Harris; this meeting is just one of the many meetings Malcolm had with young Bl ack Civil Rights leaders. Under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael, S NCC led a campaign that advocated the relinquishing of white par ticipation in the Civil Ri ghts struggle. Malcolm X had brought to the forefront of Black America the concepts of pride in Blackness, the necessity to know Black history, Bla ck separation, the need for Black unity, and Black political and economic control of institutions in the Black communities.81 By the mid 1960s, there was a new racial consciousnessÂ—a positive emphasis on self-identity, African Am erican history, and the desti ny of African Americans. This new black consciousness, Black Powe r, as Stokely Carmichael dubbed it, legitimated Blackness. Moreover, this new Black Power consciousness became materialized in Black art, music, and literature; it al so fostered an unpredicted 80 Ibid., 249. 81George C. Bedell, Leo Sandon, Jr. and Charles J. Wellborn, Religion In America .(New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1975), 351.
51 intellectual and cultural development in Black America. Armed with the newly acquired right to participate in the electora l process, in addition to a new pride in self-image, Blacks were embarking upon a frontier never before treaded. This new black consciousness set the stage for Af rican Americans to flourish in the mainstream of American life. Changes in Ideological Forms As Â“Black PrideÂ” swept through Black America, it brought about a sense of Black independence among many African Americans. This new enthusiasm regarding Black pride was encapsulat ed in C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence MamiyaÂ’s thought on Black Power. Lincoln and Mamiya write: Â“Black Power, therefore, means black fr eedom, black self determinati on, wherein Black people no longer view themselves as animals devoid of human dignity but as men, human beings with the ability to carve out their own destiny.Â”82 As Black America became consumed with Black pr ide, there was a shift fr om the Â“idealÂ” of the Beloved Community set forth by Dr. King to economic empowerment which consisted of making strides in educati on, economics, and equality. Throughout the 70Â’s Black Americans made momentous strives in educational attainment and economic achievement. For example, in Atlanta under Mayor Maynard Jackson, the percent of Black municipal employees rose from 40 percent in 1973 to 55.6 percent in 1978.83 Other statistics show that Black professionals in Atlanta had doubled since 1970, which is re presentative of an increase of more 82 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 4.
52 than 40 percent.84 The legal profession witnessed a dramatic increase of Blacks in the field of law. According to an A ssociation of American Law SchoolsÂ’ survey of minority students, in 1969-70 there were 2,128 Black American students enrolled in law studies compared to the 5,503 of Black students in 1976-77.85 This represents a significant increase in African American representation in the legal profession. There were other pr ofessions such as medicine and politics that saw significant increases in Afri can American participation. Such gains made by African Americans are indicati ve of the fact that many African Americans, although emboldened by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr.Â’s thoughts of the Beloved Community, sought realistic and reachable goals in the areas of education, economics, and equality. 83 Clayborne Carson, David J. Garrow, Gerals Gill, edts. The Eyes On The Prize. Eyes. (New York: Penguin Books, 1991), 594. 84 Ibid. 85 Ibid., 626.
53 Â“Religion is not exclusively either an obligatory ph ilosophy or a practical discipline: it is both one and the other at the same time. Thought and acti on are closely linked to the point of being inseparable. Religion corresponds to stage of so cial development where these two functions are not yet dissociated and established apart from each ot her, but are still so interrelated that it is impossible to draw a clear line of demarcation between themÂ”Â—Emile Durkheim Chapter Five A House Divided Social and Economic Fact ors within Black America African AmericansÂ’ gaining of econom ic opportunities is typically associated with the gains of the Civil Rights Movement. Following World War II, the United States job mark et and government agencies we re two of the primary factors that helped pave the way for bette r employment opportunities for African Americans. Such employment opportunities served as catalysts for the social and economic advancement of African Amer icans in America. Consonant with this thought, other areas that became ava ilable to African Americans were the armed forces, industrial labor, and universit ies. Opportunities in these areas were made further available to Afric an Americans by the passing of antidiscrimination laws and Affirmative Action legislations. One ch ief factor that had a profound effect on Black Americans Â’ mobility in education was the Brown vs. the Board of Education Supreme Court ruling of 1954. This historical decision struck down white supremacy which was c odified in law by the Supreme CourtÂ’s Â“separate but equalÂ” ruling in the Plessey vs. Ferguson case in 1896. This historic ruling greatly infl uenced minority repres entation in universities across the nation. As a result of African Am ericans gaining access to employment
54 opportunities afforded to them through nat ional and state agencies, African Americans initiated the process of soci al and economic advancement America. Social and Economic Divisi on within Black America As African Americans made soci al and economics advancements in American society, a slow but steady bifu rcation in Black America started to emerge. Circa 1950, Black America started to resemble two distinctive classes, defined by socioeconomic factors. This c haracteristic of Black America can be best capsulated by updating FrazierÂ’s term Â“A Nation in a NationÂ” to Â“Two Nations within a Nation.Â” There are several factors that contributed to this socioeconomic divide. Education was one of the primary fa ctors. According to William R. Scott and William G. Shade, since 1940 Â“the me dian years of school completed by Blacks have doubled and is close to that of Whites.Â” Scott and Shade further reported that Â“more than 80 percent of Blacks had four or more years of high school, and one in nine African Americans had four or more years of college.Â” Both these statistics represent a si x fold increase from 1940 to 1975. 86 Other statistics support the content ion that there appears to be a socioeconomic divide in Black America. Between 1960 and 1965, 380,000 African Americans acquired white-collar employment. This data is indica tive of the fact t hat the Black middle class rose to about four millionÂ—one fifth of the total African American population. Moreover, by 1980, Harvard po litical scientist Martin L. Kilson reported that Blacks working in whitecollar jobs had increased by 40 percent.87 These figures indicate a steady incline in the Black middle-class. In contrast, the 86 William R. Schott and William G. Shade, edts. Upon These Shores .(London: Routledge, 2000), 307.
55 Black underclass has grown in size. T he phrase Black underclass refers to a segment of Black America whoÂ’s isolat ed from mainstream America and locked into poverty over an extended period of ti me, with the status of poverty occurring from generation to generation. From 1937 to 1978, the welfare portion of the national budget has grown from approxim ately $146.9 million to $25 billion, and continues to grow.88 Other factors that contribute to the growing underclass are single family households. In 1992, 46 per cent of all Black households were headed by females. This corresponds wit h the 47 percent decrease in dualparent households since 1940.89 The aforementioned statistics on the Black underclass are consonant with Scott and ShadeÂ’ s research, which reveals that as of 1984, in metropolitan areas such as Chicago, females, head 90 percent of families with children and 83 percent of t he project families receive welfare.90 This problem was first reported on a nati onal scale in the mid 60Â’s. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan diagnosed the probl em in its infancy. In his report, Moynihan commented on this glaring problem in Black America. He reported that, Â“There is considerable ev idence that the Negro community is in fact dividing between a stable middle-class group that is steadily growing stronger and more successful, and an increasingly disorganized and disadvantaged lower-class group.Â”91 As the Black underclass grew there were subsequent reports published such as the one written in 1987 by University of Chicago sociologist William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged. In his publication on the 87 Schott and Shade, edts. Upon These Shores 322. 88 Douglas G. Glasgow, The Black Underclass (London: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1980), 12. 89 William R. Schott and William G. Shade, edts. Upon These Shores .(London: Routledge, 2000), 307
56 underclass, Wilson wrote about the many fact ors that resulted in the joblessness, hopelessness, drugs abuse, and societal ills that transf ormed neighborhoods across America into a Â“phantasmagoria of disintegrating family life.Â”92 The deteriorating social and economic condi tions of the Black underclass, most scholars speculated, was one of the prim ary motivating factors for middle-class Black America to distinguish themselves from underclass Black America. In Upon These Shores Scott and Shade discussed this phenomenon. Scott and Shade recorded Black middle-class resi dential patterns over the past twenty years, citing that todayÂ’s Black mi ddle-class have distanced themselves geographically from the Bla ck underclass. These residential patterns were also noted in an article in the New York Times In a June 14, 1992, article in The New York Times Magazine, David J. Dent reported on this phenomenon. According to Dent: What some consider the essence of the American dreamÂ—suburbiaÂ— became a reality for a record number of blacks in the 1980Â’s. In 1990, 32 percent of all black Am ericans in metropolitan areas lived in suburban neighborhoods, a record 6 percent in crease from 1980Â…. These blacks are moving to black upper-and middle Â–class neighborhoods, usually pockets in counties that have a white majority. 93 DentÂ’s thought regarding the Black middleclassÂ’ flight from urban settings to suburbia squarely aligns with C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. MamiyaÂ’s 90 Ibid., 343. 91 Ibid.,312. 92 Ibid., 343.
57 thoughts regarding the migration of Bla cks to suburbia. Citing this phenomenon, Lincoln and Mamiya note that sinc e the 1960Â’s, 48 percent of the Black population in Atlanta has moved out of the central city to the surrounding counties. 94 The consequence of such separati on in Black America has resulted in middle-class Black Americans becom ing more physically and behaviorally distanced from the ghetto. Consequently members of the Black middle-class feel Â“embattledÂ” and are less reluctant to make commitm ents to the Black underclass and be associated with them. In his book, The Black Underclass, Douglas G. Glasgow noted similar sentiments. Glas gowÂ’s view is that middleclass Black professionals are so busy meet ing the demands of their professional roles and of mainstream life that they si mply do not have time to contribute to treating the ills of the Black underclass. He writes, Â“Even though the more recent growth of the Black middle income group has in large measure been the consequence of the social upheavals of the 1960Â’s, their involvement in mainstream activities nearly eliminates t heir ability and, in some cases, desire to attend to the crisis of the underclass.Â” 95 The gap between the Black middleclass and the Black underclass is presenti ng new challenges in dealing with race, poverty, and upward mobility for the Bla ck underclass. This Â“new schismÂ” as Andrew Billingsley has dubbed it, has bec ome a pervasive and acute problem in Black America. 93 Ibid., 325. 94 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 384. 95 Douglas G. Glasgow, The Black Underclass (London: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1980), 14.
58 The Rise of the Black Middle-class Religious Ideology and the Perpetual State of the Black Underclass In recent history, many scholar s and social scientists have shared dialogue on the topic of the Black Church and the state of Black America. The May 23, 1988 issue of the New York Times called attention to this problem. The article stated that: Â“Increasin gly, the black church has st epped in to try to repair the breaches in Black family life by so cial, economic, and political change. Their efforts range from complex, foundation-supported child development programs to simple but sensible ad opt-a-family projects.Â”96 Similarly, there was an article in the November 1993 issue of Ebony Magazine highlighting 15 of the Â“Greatest Black PreachersÂ” in America. Ebony Magazine lists such preachers as Gardner Taylor, the late Samuel D. Proctor, Jeremiah Wright, and Charles Adams, among others. The article stated: Â“all th ese preachers were highly educated, community-minded activists, and each of their churches operates extensive community outreach programs.Â”97 Investigating the issue of community outreach among Black churches, Dr. Andrew Bi llingsley posed the question, Â“How widespread is this community outreach?Â” In a survey Billingsley conducted, he found that of 315 churches, 69 percent actively engaged in one or more outreach programs. BillingsleyÂ’s survey produced similar results in the Midwest. In surveying the Midwest region, he noted t hat of the 320 churches, 66 percent conducted similar programs. Billingsley also reported that, in a national survey, Lincoln and Mamiya found that 71 percent of urban churches conducted such 96 Andrew Billingsley, Mighty Like A River. (New York: Oxford Univer sity Press, 1999), 87.
59 programs.98 Although BillingsleyÂ’s re search indicates that there is a considerable amount of outreach pr ograms in churches across the nation, his analysis of the effectiveness of these pr ograms proves problematic in that there is no documentation indicating the efficacy of such programs. A more precise indication of the effectiveness of t hese programs is needed to successfully approximate their usefulness. Billings ley puts forth a convincing argument regarding the quantity of chur ch programs in the Black community. However, the Black ChurchÂ’s role in the Black communi ty should not be based on the quantity of programs, but rather the quality of such progr ams. For it is the quality of such programs, and not the quantity, that determines their effectiveness. Indeed, the aforementioned programs are not as social ly and politically potent as the ones that were established by the Black Church during the Ci vil Rights Era. BillingsleyÂ’s research concludes this fact: We also conclude that the nature of that outreach acti vity is different from the community activity of the civil rights era. During the 1950Â’s and 1960Â’s, black churches outreach was mo re likely to be social action and protest against the oppression from forces external to the black community. Contemporary black c hurch community outreach, on the other hand, is more likely to be social service or community development, addressing problems within the black community.99 Furthermore, in his conclusion, Billingsley notes that: 97 Ibid., 88. 98 Ibid., 88-89 99 Andrew Billingsley, Mighty Like A River. (New York: Oxford Univer sity Press, 1999), 89
60 Thus the external strategies or reform of the earlier era have been supplemented by internal strategies of reform today. The rationale for this change is that the nature of the cr isis facing the African American community has shifted dramatically. The earlier problems have not been solved, despite extraordinary progress. But new problems have overtaken the old ones in saliency and immediacy.Â”100 Although Billingsley is correct in the latter part of his conclusion that the old problems have not been remedied and the new problems in Black urban America have created an exigency that has prompted new strategies, what Billingsley and other scholars fail to note is that while t he urban Black crisis is increasing in size and depth, the Black Church is turning it s attention to another segment of Black America: the Black Middle-Class. As this distinct and definite socioeconomic divide between the Black middle-class and the Black underclass becomes more defined, the Black Church has assumed a dyadic role which, unfortunately, caters to the needs of the Bl ack middle-class more so than to those of the Black underclass. C. Eric Lincoln and Law rence Mamiya note this fact: As we mentioned, some studies point out the increasing bifurcation of the black community into two main class divisions: a coping sector of middleincome working-class and middle-cla ss black communities, and a crisis sector of poor black communities, involving the working poor and the dependent poorÂ…The gradual emergence of two fairly distinct black 100 Ibid.
61 Americas along class linesÂ—of two nations within a nationÂ—has raised a serious challenge to the Black Church.101 In addressing the socioeconomic divide in Black America and the Black ChurchÂ’s ability to address the needs of two s eparate Black Americas, Brian Sanders proffers the following: The needs of the middle-class Blacks are simply not the same as those of the lower-class. The problem of an inner city Black community living in government housing are simply not the problems of suburban black homeownersÂ…Since the needs of the Bl ack underclass are seemingly so different from those of the growing middle-class, the church has had to make a choice about who they would serve, balance those needs, or find a way to synthesize them.102 As Lincoln and Sanders have pointed out, th e Black Church is at a crossroads. While traditionally the Black Church has been the cornerstone of the Black community, addressing the internal and exte rnal societal ills that threatened the culture fabric of Black life, currently, it is assuming a role in Black life unparalleled to its past. This new role identifies with the needs of the Black middle-class. As the Black Church caters to the values of middle-class Black America, the emphasis on family functions, social acti vities, community services, opportunities for self-expression and validation of t he mental and physical well being of the less fortunate is diminished. 101 C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the Af rican American Experience (London: Duke University Press, 1990), 384.
62 For decades, leading scholars and social scientists such as Billingsley and Lincoln, to name a few, have documented t he distinctive role religion has played in the lives of African Americ ans. In a journal article titl ed Â“Religious Socialization and Education Attainment Among African Americans: An Empirical Assessment,Â” Diane R. Brown of Howard University and Lawrence E. Gray of Virginia Commonwealth University note several func tions that I believe are critically salient to the socialization ex perience of African Americans: 1) Psychological affirmation (provi des a source of personal comfort and consultation, emoti onal support, etc.); 2) Identity (links the individual to the past and the future; provides group values, a place in the univers e, and a sense of recognition or Â“somebodinessÂ”); 3) Social support (provides advice, material aids and services, exchange of services and assistance); 4) Protest (provides political education, advocacy, and political ideology); 5) Economic activity (provi des employment opportunities, expenditures for church operations, and fund raising); 6) Education (provides Sunday sch ool, adult education seminars, and forums for development of l eadership and organizational skills); 7) Creativity (promotes the development of spirituals, plays, rich and poetic sermons, and gospel music) and ; 102 Brian D. Sanders. Power And Sacrifice: The Tran sformation Of Black Theology As Reflected In Black
63 8) Social intercourse (sponsors pi cnics, church dinners, sports informal gatherings, sharing, rehearsals, and church trips)103 These eight critical functions of relig ious socialization serve as processes through which an individual learns and internalizes attitudes, values, and behaviors within the context of African Amer ican life. Without the presence of the Black Church, which historically pr ovided these functions for the Black community, there is no other institution st anding ready to function in this capacity in the Black underclass community. The slow-but-steady diverging of Black Religion to middle-class Black ideology means the absence of the Black Church in the underclass Black community. Pursuant to that thought, it stands to reason that the absence of the Black Church in the Black underclass community means a perpetuation of the many so cietal ills that plague the Black underclass. As Brown and Gray have noted in their res earch regarding the Black Church, religion plays a profound role in the s haping and defining of individuals and their communities and that Â“ Â… literature shows that religion, and particularly the Black church, exerts an important influence in the socialization of African Americans both from an individual as well as societal perspective.Â” 104 As the Black middle-class becomes established, a Â“New MandateÂ” takes precedence, as Brian Sanders has suggested. This new mandat e refers to the Preaching Since The Civil Rights Era Masters Thesis, University of South Florida, 2002. p. 46. 103 Diane R. Brown and Lawrence E. Gray, Â“Religious Socialization and Educational Attainment Among African Americans: An Empirical Assessment,Â” Journal of Negro Education 60, no. 3(1991): 412. 104Brown and Gray, Â“Religious Socialization and Educational Attainment Among African Americans: An Empirical Assessment,Â” 415.
64 Black middle-class concept of Â“Getti ng OutÂ” as opposed to Â“Getting Over.Â”105 This virtual new phenomenon in Black T heology is commonly referred to as Â“Prosperity Theology.Â” Prosperity Theolog y is a relatively new form of theology that is becoming increasingly popular among middle-class African American churches. Prosperity preaching can be tr aced back to Kenneth Hagin. Simply put, prosperity preaching expresse s the fact that God is t he giver of all things and He can Â“BlessÂ” you with an abundance of wealth if you exercise t he proper faith. Since its inception, Pros perity Theology has spread throughout churches across racial lines, influencing such spiritual le aders as Oral Robert s, Kenneth Copland, Fredrick Price and Creflo Dollar. Although Â“pros perity preachingÂ” is not mainstream in all Black Churches across the nation, increasingly it is becoming the norm in mainstream middle-cla ss Black churches. According to Essence Magazine, in 1970, the nation had ten megac hurches with congregations of 2,000 or more members. By 1990, ther e were 250 megachurches. According to John Vaughan, the founder of a consultant an organization that consults and monitors megachurches, the total number of megachurches has surpassed the 1,000 mark.106 More specifically, ther e are approximately 300 Black megachurches across the country. T hey appeal, for the most part, to middle-class churchgoers. Their attendanc e is growing at a rapid rate. For example, Creflo DollarÂ’s World Changing Ministries, an Atlanta based church, started out in 1986 with eight followers; as of December of 1995, it has exceeded 105 Brian D. Sanders. Power And Sacrifice: The Transformation Of Black Theology As Reflected In Black Preaching Since The Civil Rights Era Masters Thesis, University of South Florida, 2002. 54.
65 a membership of 23,000.107 Other Black megachurc hes with large memberships include T.D. JakesÂ’ PotterÂ’s House, with a membership of 30,000 and Betty PeeblesÂ’ Jericho City of Prai se, with a membership of 19,000.108 As data reflects, there has been a large movem ent in middle-class Black America towards megachurches and to hear a gospel that focuses on self-help, positive thinking, and prosperity. This construct, which is commonly known as Â“prosperity preaching,Â” is quickly becoming the c hoice of many middle-class Black Americans. Brian Sanders makes a cogent ar gument about how Black Theology has changed from a communal appeal to more of an individualistic appeal as a result of prosperity theology becoming a main focus of the middle-class religious ideology. I follow and agree with Sanders on this matter. However, I would like to expand upon his thesis. Thus, a point of departure is at hand. The core values in Black ReligionÂ—freedom, uni ty, protest, spirituality, and equalityÂ—have played a pivotal role in slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, and in other significant periods in African American history. Since the establishment of the Black Church, these values have helped shape and define Blac k life. As the Black Church increasingly caters to the needs of the Black middle-cla ss, Â“the lived experience of coping with a life of horrifyi ng meaninglessness, hopelessness, and lovelessnessÂ” in the Black underclass, which Cornel West described as Â“Nihilism,Â” will continue to worsen. A growing number of Black middle-class 106 Isabel Wilkerson, Â“A Dollar & A Dream,Â” Essence, 01 December 2005, 170. 107 Wilkerson, Â“A Dollar & A Dream,Â” 171. 108 Wilkerson, Â“A Dollar & A Dream,Â” 171.
66 churches and an overwhelming number of Black megachurches subscribe to the concept of prosperity theolog y. As prosperity theology becomes the theme of the day, the Black ChurchÂ’s traditional theme of social justice wanes. Case in point, Revealing Truth Ministries, a local church which advocates Â“prosperity theology,Â” lists their outreach ministries on their church pamphlet; these consist of such ministries as the membership ca re department, partnership department, and television production. Of the 34 ministries none appeared to be for the uplift of the community or society at large. As Black Churches become consumed with the notion of prosperity, community up lift becomes obsolete and the churches take on the semblance of a genuine business. Such is the case with World Changers Ministries, which is headed by Cr eflo Dollar. Dr. Dollar is one of the leading proponents of pr osperity theology; he is also the chief executive officer of the World Changers Ministries, an $80 million dollar enterprise with 400 employees. Within World Changers Minist ries there are flow charts, cabinet meetings, audits, and auditorsÂ—all which resemble a fortune 500 company. 109 In stark contrast, Black Churches, who serve low to working class members, have a different view of prosperity and co mmunity outreach. In an interview I conducted, the President of the Progressive M and E B aptist State Convention of Florida, Reverend Bartholomew Banks, discredited prosperity theology as advocated by Fredrick Price and Creflo Dollar among others. Reverend Banks explains that community outreach and political /civic efforts are top priorities at St. 109 Wilkerson, Â“A Dollar & A Dream,Â” 166.
67 John Missionary Baptist C hurch where he pastors.110 At the Harvest Time Worship Center in Tampa, Apostle David Boyd shared similar sentiments. In an interview, Apostle Boyd cited community outreach as a primary focus of his church.111 Black Churches in low and undercl ass communities appear to focus on community uplift. The abandonment of community building by middle-class religious institutions further isolates both socially and culturally, the Black underclass. As this problem pervades Bl ack America, the cultural and social values of the Black underclass are great ly diminished, breeding hopelessness. In regard to the Black underclass, I shar e the thoughts of Cor nel West: Â“In fact, the major enemy of black survival in America has been neither oppression nor exploitation but rather the nihilistic threatÂ—that is, loss of hope and absence of meaning. For as long as hope remains and m eaning is preserved, the possibility of overcoming oppression stays alive.Â”112 In Race Matters, Cornell West advocates the need for institutions such as the Black Church to address and redress problems of the Black undercla ss. Espousing his t houghts regarding the Black Church and the Black underclass, West notes that in the past, Blacks utilized the church as guard to prot ect and strengthen the Black community against oppressive forces West explains: The genius of our black foremoth ers and forefathers was to create powerful buffers to ward off the nihilistic treat, to equip black folk with cultural armor to beat back t he demons of hopelessness, 110 Personal Interview. February 22, 2006. 111 Personal Interview. March 26, 2006. 112 Cornel West, Race Matters. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), 15.
68 meaninglessness, and lovelessness. T hese buffers consisted of cultural structures of meaning and f eeling that created and sustained communities; this armor constituted ways of life and struggles that embodies values of service and sacrifice, love and care, discipline, and excellenceÂ….These traditions consist prim arily of black religious and civic institutions that sustained familia l and communal networks of support. 113 In dealing with the underclass crisis, many scholars agree that the Black Church, which has been the source of strength fo r the Black community, is the primary institution to adequately deal with such a perverse and pervasive problem. Robert Franklin, in Another DayÂ’s Journey talks about the Black Church confronting the African American crisis. His thoughts mirror those of Lincoln, Billingsley, and West. Franklin Â’s view is that the church is, by far, the primary institution to deal with the i ssues facing Black America. He writes, Â“I firmly believe that the key to restoring urban civil so ciety depends on the vitality of the faith community, including but not limiting to the black church.Â”114 Franklin strongly advocates faith-based initiatives to help re store the Black community. Akin to the thoughts of Franklin, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya also believe heavily in the fact that the church is the key to solving the urban crisis. In The Black Church in the African American Experience Lincoln and Mamiya discuss how the Black Church was one of the few inst itutions that reached and unified urban America; in their view, as the Black C hurch becomes divided in its role in the 113 Ibid. 114 Robert M. Franklin, Another DayÂ’s Journey (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997), 54.
69 Black community, the challenge is set bef ore the Black Church and Black clergy to make an attempt to reach the Black underclass. In writing about the reform that must take place in urban Americ a, Andrew Billingsley echoes these thoughts. He agrees with Lincoln and Mamiya that: Â“the black church must be at the center of that reform.Â”115 Billingsley feels str ongly about the Black Church and the urban crisis and the future of Bla ck America. In di scussing the issue of the Black Church and the stat e of Black America, Bill ingsley posed the following question: Â“The question for the future is th is: Can the black church garner enough strength from its rich, fr uitful past and its struggles in the present against widespread social turmoil to lead the Af rican American community into a viable future?Â” 116 Billingsley feels that unless the Black Church comes to the rescue of the Black community, the Black community faces internal and external forces Â“that threaten the viability and well-being of the black community.Â” Many civic leaders and scholars alike have put forth th eir expressions of how the church is the force that sustains the Black communi ty. One such man is Leon Sullivan. A true soldier for the cause and betterment of Black life, he proffered the following: I believe in God. I believe God is working now in the nation and in the world in an extraordinary way. I be lieve that God can do anything. I believe God wants me to help men (w omen and children) to live better on earth. I believe not only in milk and honey in heaven but in eggs and ham on earth besides. I believe in the fu ture. For though we grope through the maze of dark passages, I see the light. And I know the light will conquer 115 Andrew Billingsley, Mighty Like A River. (New York: Oxford Univers ity Press, 1999), 186.
70 the darkness. I believe in the Bla ck man (woman and child). I believe that he has the brain power, t he heart power, the soul pow er, to equal in every enterprise or activity any other man on the face of the globe, and to match him accomplishment for accomplishment and ability for ability. All the Black man needs is the opportunity to prove fully and freely, and without obstacles and restraint, what he can do. Indeed, I believe in America. I am, in many ways, a patriot. I am proud of my Americanism. America, with all her faults, is still our country and the country of our children. As far as I am concerned, it is up to us to straighten out what is wrong with it. 117 Leon Sullivan expressed his belief in God to help remedy the ills of this great nation. There are others, who, just as Sullivan, feel that through the power of religious means, many of t he ills that plague our nation in general, and our Black communities in particular, can be restored. The Black Church has always been the source of strength for the Black community. The divergence of the Black ChurchÂ’s role in the Black community on behalf of middle-class Black America has overlooked a critical segment of Black AmericaÂ—the underclass. Should the Black Chur ch increasingly continue to identify with the middle-class Bla ck populace, the needs of the Black underclass will continue to be ignored, and thus be perpetuated. In 1993, in honor of her fatherÂ’s birthday, Bernic e King challenged Black people and the Black Church to a new era of dedication and activism. Her view is that the activism of the Black Chur ch will determine the viabilit y of the African American 116 Ibid.
71 community and its well-being in the future King was candid in her challenge to the nation and the Black Church. I would like to close with a quote from Miss King: Â“My brothers and sisters, it is not enough to say that we marched with Dr. King 25 years ago. We need to ask our selves, Â‘What are we doing now?Â’Â” 118 Conclusion Changing Dynamics in Black Religion Black Religion has withstood the test of time; it has aided Africans and African Americans alike in their quest to understand their reality her e in America. In so doing, Black Religion legitimated a core set of principles to include: Freedom, Unity, Equality, Prot est, and Spirituality. These five principles have shaped and defined, to a lar ge degree, the Black experienc e here in America. Prior to the 1970Â’s, such principles were the bedrock of the Black Church. The social and economic dynamics of t he Black community has changed; consequently, the dynamics of Black Re ligion has changed in its efforts to address the changing needs of the Black community. As the Black community continues to divide along social and econom ic lines, these five core principles that were legitimated by slavery and the Civil Rights Movement are being superseded. Moreover, as Black Americans transcended from the lower to the middle-class, there has been a secularizati on process which has taken place in regard to these five principles. For mi ddle-class Black Americ a, the significance 117 Ibid., 110. 118 Ibid., 194.
72 of these five core principles in Bl ack Religion have diminished and are being supplanted with a new principle, which is being legitimated by middle-class Black America. This new construct in Black Religion is referred to as Â“Prosperity Theology.Â” Prosperity Theology is gro wing among middle-class Black Americans, and as it continues to grow, the core pr inciplesÂ—freedom, unity equality, protest, and spiritualityÂ—will continue to diminish. Wh ile I believe it is safe to argue the point that the middle-class values of a culture have a better chance at survival than those of the lower-class, it stands to reason that the core principles in Black Religion, which helped Black America in general and the Black underclass in particular, are being seriously threatened. As Black America continues to diversify, Black Religion must find a wa y to transcend class barriers or take her place in antiquity as an instituti on that once unified a culture.
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