Black church

Black church

The term black church or African American church refers to predominantly African-American Christian churches that minister to predominantly black congregations in the United States. While some groups of black churches, such as African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Churches, belong to predominantly black denominations, many black churches are part of predominantly white denominations, such as the United Church of Christ (which formed from the Congregational Church of New England.) [cite book |title=Pass It On: Outreach to Minority Communities, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of America |last=Sutton |first=Charyn D. |year=1992 |url=]

Historically, after Emancipation blacks established separate church facilities and congregations to create their own communities, escape white control, and worship in their own culturally distinct ways.Fact|date=May 2008 They had already created a unique and empowering form of Christianity that creolized African spiritual traditions, a Christian tradition which developed more fully during the late 19th century.Fact|date=May 2008 Within the black churches, they built strong community organizations and held positions of spiritual and political leadership. In addition, African American churches have long been the centers of communities, serving as schools in the early years after the Civil War, taking up social welfare functions, such as providing for the indigent, and going on to establish schools, orphanages and prison ministries.Fact|date=May 2008


To make them easier to control, white slave owners systematically stripped African slaves of their Muslim and animist cultural heritage, sometimes passing laws prohibiting native African and Islamic African religious practices.Fact|date=May 2008 Despite these efforts, slaves managed to retain elements of their culture. In the context of religion, expressive and ritual elements included call and response interactions, shouting, and dance.cite book |url= |title=Religion and the Black Church |series=Introduction to Afro-American Studies |publisher=Twenty-first Century Books and Publications |location=Chicago |edition=6th |author=Abdul Alkalimat and Associates]


Slaves often learned about Christianity by attending services led by a white preacher or supervised by a white person.Fact|date=May 2008 In such settings, whites used Bible stories that reinforced the sense of place that each group had in society, urging slaves to be loyal and to obey their masters.Fact|date=May 2008 During the later 19th century, they used stories such as the Curse of Ham to justify slavery.Fact|date=May 2008 They promoted the idea that loyal and hard-working slaves would be rewarded in the after-life. Sometimes slaves established their own Sabbath schools to talk about the ScripturesFact|date=May 2008 and, in some cases, those who were literate taught others to read, as Frederick Douglass did while still enslaved as a young man in Maryland.

Slave revolts in the early 1800s, often inspired by passages in the Bible promising deliverance from slavery, as with the Exodus out of Egypt, or by black preachers, led to southern states' passing laws barring exclusively black churches, black preachers and assembly of blacks in groups unsupervised by whites.Fact|date=May 2008 Slaves organized underground churches and hidden religious meetings, where slaves were free to mix evangelical Christianity with African beliefs and African rhythms and turn traditional hymns into spirituals.Fact|date=May 2008 The underground churches provided psychological refuge from the white world. The spirituals gave the church members a secret way to communicate and, in some cases, to plan rebellion.Fact|date=May 2008 In 1831, Nat Turner, a slave and Baptist preacher, killed about 50 white men, women, and children in an armed rebellion in Virginia.cite web |url= |title=The Church in the Southern Black Community |last=Maffly-Kipp |first=Laurie F. |month=May | year=2001 |accessdate=2007-05-21]

Where it was possible, free blacks organized independent black churches to practice religion in their own ways. Free blacks in Philadelphia established churches before the end of the 18th century. Along with white churches opposed to slavery, they provided aid and comfort to slaves who escaped. [cite web |url= |title=The Underground Railroad in Indiana |last=Rimsa |first=Kelly |accessdate=2007-05-21]


After emancipation, Northern churches founded by free blacks, as well as those of predominantly white denominations, sent missions to the South to minister to newly freed slaves, including to teach them to read and write.Fact|date=May 2008 The AME and AME Zion churches gained hundreds of thousands of members.Fact|date=May 2008 In 1870, the Southern-based Colored Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church was founded.Fact|date=May 2008 The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., now the largest black religious organization in the United States, was founded in 1894. These churches blended elements from the underground churches with elements from freely established black churches.Despite early efforts to integrate freed slaves into American society, racial segregation quickly became the norm in many states.Fact|date=May 2008 The black communities, with the black churches as focal points, developed along lines partly independent of white communities.Fact|date=May 2008 Black preachers provided leadership, encouraged education and economic growth, and were often the primary link between the black and white communities.Fact|date=May 2008 The black church established and/or maintained the first black schools and encouraged community members to fund these schools and other public services.

Since the male hierarchy denied them opportunities for ordination, middle-class women in the black church organized missionary societies to address social issues. These societies provided job training and reading education, worked for better living conditions, raised money for African missions, wrote religious periodicals, and promoted Victorian ideals of womanhood, respectability, and racial uplift.

Civil Rights Movement

Black churches held a leadership role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Their history as a centers of strength for the black community made them natural leaders in this moral struggle. In addition they had often served as links between the black and white worlds. Notable minister-activists included Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, Bernard Lee, Fred Shuttlesworth, and C.T. Vivian. [cite web |url= |title=We Shall Overcome: The Players |accessdate=2007-05-29]

Politics and social issues

The black church continues to be a source of support for members of the African-American community. When compared to American churches as a whole, black churches tend to focus more on social issues such as poverty, gang violence, drug use, prison ministries and racism. A study found that black Christians were more likely to have heard about health care reform from their pastors than were white Christians. [cite web |url= |title=The Diminishing Divide ... American Churches, American Politics |date=June 25, 1996 |accessdate=2007-05-16] Black churches are typically very conservative on sexuality issues, such as homosexuality. [cite web |url= |title=Gay Blacks Feeling Strained Church Ties |last=Fears |first=Darryl |publisher=Washington Post |date=2004-11-02 |accessdate=2007-05-16]

Most surveys, however, indicate that black churches as a whole are less socially conservative than white evangelical churches.

Black liberation theology

One formalization of theology based on themes of black liberation is the Black liberation theology movement. Its origins can be traced to July 31, 1966, when an "ad hoc" group of 51 black pastors, calling themselves the National Committee of Negro Churchmen (NCNC), bought a full-page ad in the "The New York Times" to publish their "Black Power Statement", which proposed a more aggressive approach to combating racism using the Bible for inspiration. [ [ Barbara Bradley Hagerty, "A Closer Look at Black Liberation Theology"] , National Public Radio]

Black liberation theology was first systematized by James Cone and Dwight Hopkins. They are considered the leading theologians of this system of belief, although now there are many scholars who have contributed a great deal to the field. In 1969 Cone published the seminal work that laid the basis for black liberation theology, "Black Theology and Black Power". In the book, Cone asserted that not only was black power not alien to the Gospel, it was, in fact, the Gospel message for all of 20th century America. [ [ Obama and His 'White Grandmother'] from "The Wall Street Journal"] [Cornel West and Eddie S. Glaude, ed., "African American Religious Thought: An Anthology", 2003 ISBN 0664224598, p.850]

In 2008, approximately one quarter of African-American churches followed a liberation theology. [Powell, Michael. " [ A Fiery Theology Under Fire] ", " [a [The New York Times] ", May 4 2008.] The theology was thrust into the national spotlight after a controversy arose related to preaching by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to presidential candidate Barack Obama at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago. Wright had built Trinity into a successful megachurch following the theology developed by Cone, who has said that he would "point to [Trinity] first" as an example of a church embodying his message. [ [ TUCC Talking points] ; see also [ Margaret Talev, "Obama's church pushes controversial doctrines"] , "McClatchy Newspapers", March 20, 2008]

As neighborhood institutions

Although black urban neighborhoods in cities which have deindustrialized may have suffered from civic disinvestment, [" [ Root shock: The consequences of African American dispossession] " Journal of Urban Health. Springer New York. Volume 78, Number 1 / March, 2001] with lower quality schools, less effective policing ["The Neighborhood Context of Police Behavior" Douglas A. Smith Crime and Justice, Vol. 8, Communities and Crime (1986), pp. 313-341] and fire protection, there are institutions that help to improve the physical and social capital of black neighborhoods. In black neighborhoods the churches may be important sources of social cohesion. [Church Culture as a Strategy of Action in the Black CommunityMary Pattillo-McCoy American Sociological Review, Vol. 63, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 767-784] For some African Americans the kind of spirituality learned through these churches works as a protective factor against the corrosive forces of poverty and racism. ["Gathering the Spirit" at First Baptist Church: Spirituality as a Protective Factor in the Lives of African American Children" by Wendy L. Haight; Social Work, Vol. 43, 1998] Churches may also do work to improve the physical infrastructure of the neighborhood. Churches in Harlem have undertaken real estate ventures and renovated burnt-out and abandoned brownstones to create new housing for residents. [ [ Abyssinian Baptist Church Development Corp.] ] Churches have fought for the right to operate their own schools in place of the often inadequate public schools found in many black neighborhoods. [" [ A Harlem Church Sues to Operate Charter School] " by Azi Paybarah Published: October 25, 2007]


Like many Christians, African American Christians sometimes participate in or attend a Christmas play. "Black Nativity" by Langston Hughes, is a re-telling of the classic Nativity story with gospel music. Productions can be found at black theaters and churches all over the country. [ [ Black Nativity] ] [ [ Black Nativity] ] The Three Wise Men are typically played by prominent members of the black community.

Historically black denominations

Throughout U.S. history, religious preferences and racial segregation have fostered development of separate black church denominations, as well as black churches within white denominations.

African Methodist Episcopal Church

The first of these churches was the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). In the late 18th century, Richard Allen, a former slave, was an influential deacon and elder at the integrated and affluent St. George's Methodist Church in Philadelphia. After white members of St. George's started to treat his people as second-class citizens, in 1787 Allen founded the all-black Mother Bethel AME Church. The charismatic Allen had attracted numerous new black members to St. George's. White members had become so uncomfortable that they relegated black worshippers to the balcony.

Over time, growing numbers of African-American congregations withdrew from the Methodist Episcopal (ME) Church. In 1816, representatives of these congregations convened to establish the AME Church and consecrated Allen as their bishop.cite web |url= |title=Africans in America: The Black Church |accessdate=2007-05-21]

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Zion or AME Zion Church, like the AME Church, is an offshoot of the ME Church. Black members of the John Street Methodist Church of New York City left to form their own church after several acts of overt discrimination by white members. In 1796, black Methodists asked the permission of the bishop of the ME Church to meet independently, though still to be part of the ME Church and led by white preachers. This AME Church group built Zion chapel in 1800 and became incorporated, subordinate to the ME Church, in 1801. In 1820, AME Zion Church members began further separation from the ME Church. By seeking to install black preachers and elders, they created a debate over whether blacks could be ministers. This debate ended in 1822 with the ordination of Abraham Thompson, Leven Smith, and James Varick, the first superintendent (bishop) of the AME Zion church. [cite book |title=History of the A.M.E. Zion Church in America. Founded 1796, In the City of New York |last=Moore |first=John Jamison, D.D |location=York, Pa |year=1884 |publisher=Teachers' Journal Office |url=]

National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.

The National Baptist Convention was first organized in 1880 as the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention in Montgomery, Alabama
, Alabama. Its founders, including Elias Camp Morris, stressed the preaching of the gospel as an answer to the shortcomings of a segregated church. In 1895, Morris moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and founded the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., as a merger of the Foreign Mission Convention, the American National Baptist Convention, and the Baptist National Education Convention. [cite web |url= |title=History of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. |accessdate=2007-05-29] The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., is the largest African American religious organization.cite web |url= |title=African American Religion, Pt. II: From the Civil War to the Great Migration, 1865-1920 |accessdate=2007-05-29]

Church of God in Christ

In 1907, Charles Harrison Mason formed the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) after his Baptist church expelled him. Mason was a member of the Holiness Movement of the late 19th century. In 1906, he attended the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. Upon his return to Tennessee, he began teaching the Pentecostal Holiness message. However, Charles Price Jones and J. A. Jeter of the Holiness movement disagreed with Mason's teachings on the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Jones changed the name of his COGIC church to the Church of Christ (Holiness) USA in 1915.

At a conference in Memphis, Tennessee, Mason reorganized the Church of God in Christ as a Holiness Pentecostal body. [cite web |url=|title=The Story of Our Church |accessdate=2007-05-22] The headquarters of COGIC is Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. It is the site of Martin Luther King's final sermon, "I've Been to the Mountaintop," delivered the day before he was assassinated. [cite web |url= |title=Chronology of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr |accessdate=2007-05-22]

Other denominations

*African Methodist Episcopal Church
*African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church and Connection
*Apostolic Faith Mission
*Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
*End Time Age Deliverance Ministries Worldwide, Inc - Toronto, Canada
*National Baptist Convention of America, Inc.
*National Missionary Baptist Convention of America
*Pentecostal Assemblies of the World
*Progressive National Baptist Convention
*Spiritual Israel Church and Its Army
*United House of Prayer for All People
*United Holy Church of America, Incorporated
*Roman Catholic parishes throughout the United States

ee also

*African American culture
*African American
*Black Madonna, certain European depictions of a dark-skinned Virgin Mary
*The Josephites, a Roman Catholic religious order established to minister to African Americans


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