Deena V. Ene
March 3, 2010
As you enter through the door on the first level of this San Francisco-based Baptist-rooted church, you become overwhelmed by the warm hug and kiss of Sister “What’s-her-name?” as she bold and kindly greets you, “Good morning! God bless you!” Walking up the stairs heading into the Worship Center, Brother and Sister “So and so” affectionately embrace you, just as an aunt or uncle would at a family function. In an instant, you are drawn in by the harmonious singing of the choir over the upbeat sounds of musicians playing the drums, keyboard, guitars, organ and tambourines. As you look around, you may not recognize everybody, but you sense a powerful family-like bondage. Although the love of Christ is all-inclusive to any and everyone, this non-exclusive church is predominantly African American in population. There is a noticeably implied bond which seems to be more genuine, the more melanin you contain. This tremendously impacts individuals within the congregational community. Why is it that the most segregated hour in America continues to be 11:00am Sunday morning? Research directs us towards clues on how church origins and U.S. history has and still is heavily influencing African Americans in the Modern Church of today.
In James P. Eckman's Exploring Church History he writes about the foundation of the church starting with the Apostolic Age, which began around 30 B.C. and immediately followed the death of Jesus Christ in the first century, through the modern church of the 21st century. Reviewing the timeline from the Apostolic Age (1st century) to the Church Fathers (95-300s), onto Ancient Church and Theology (4th century), following the Medieval Church (400-1500s), through the Reformation period and Catholic Church (16th century), to the Scientific Revolution (1600-1700s) onto the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century, we discover that many events influenced the building and forming of the "black church" in America. Tracing these events we can see a thread of the Christian Church trailing through European countries for several hundreds of years. In the latter of events above, we learn that Europeans began enslaving Africans and started to migrate over to a land that we now know as America. During the developmental period of the first African American Churches in the 1700-1800s slavery was very prevalent in the United States.
Henry H. Mitchell, author of Black Church Beginnings, predisposes how though enslaved Africans had their own religious traditions and practices, there were some overlooked factors that contributed to their fascination in Christianity which soon took route in the African American Society. He goes on to state that the typical West African town was a community of faith. The tribesmen generally assumed that if they lost a war to another tribe or nation, the god of the triumphant party ought to be included in their beliefs since the conquerors' god was strong enough to grant them victory (Mitchell, page 33). He discusses how they found commonality between their expressive African culture and the unheard of, free expressiveness for whites in their churches. The Africans became more and more interested as they began interpreting the Bible for themselves and found parallels in traditional African religion. They were able to relate to the Old Testament stories [like the enslavement of Hebrews by the Egyptians] and saw hope in Moses and Jesus as mighty deliverers.
The above mentioned were significant factors which ultimately led to African slaves placing their hope in "the white man's" God and Bible:
The Black church in America had its origins in the slave religion of the American South. Deprived of their identity, oppressed by their masters, and unable to establish their own institutions, many slaves turned to Christianity. Faith in Jesus Christ gave them hope for the future when His justice would right the...
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