The History of the Black Church
This article, written by Ernest Grant II, was first published on his site. Find more great content here. Grant is a pastor at Epiphany Fellowship Church – Camden.
I rolled my eyes in disgust as he raised his voice at her, but deep in my soul, I felt powerless to defend her honor. This wasn’t the first time; his not-so-subtle criticism of her in the past few years has become commonplace.
He frequently mocks her in front of others, but her shame became a public spectacle when his accomplices began to record the verbal assault.
With iPhones in hand, they sneered and laughed at her while he pointed out her flaws and shortcomings. It was shameful.
The young upstart railed accusations against the age-old institution.
In his documentary “Ground Zero,” Dr. Umar Johnson, the self-proclaimed Prince of Pan-Africanism, loaded a banana clip full of disparaging remarks and unleashed a vicious tirade on the Black Church.
The Same Tired Rhetoric
He challenged her “otherworldly” doctrine of hope and what he perceived to be her lack commitment to inner city communities.
He’s not the only one. Others from the Black Consciousness movement, as well as public figures like David Banner and Bro. Polight, have levied the same accusations.
- Are their harsh words warranted?
- Have her efforts to foster change in urban areas been futile?
- Has she failed our inner city communities?
Those are fair questions.
Sadly, many black leaders are ignorant of the black church’s enduring history and they prey on the suspicions of some blacks by spoon-feeding them misinformation.
With that, here are 3 reasons (with more forthcoming) why we need to stop verbally abusing the Black Church.
- She’s An Enduring Institution
The African-American history of oppression in the United States began in the 17th Century when West Africans of a noble lineage were chained and packed onto ships against their wills by White American settlers.
Sadly, many died on the long voyage to the States, and those who survived were sold to the highest bidder on the shipyards of Virginia.
The transatlantic slave trade ended in the early 19th century, but not before millions of Africans were imported and sold as prized commodities.
It resulted in our ancestors being stripped of their culture, heritage, and native language then getting sequestered to live dehumanized existences on the plantations of the southern states.
The institution of slavery lasted over 250 years and did not end until President Abraham Lincoln signed an executive order, known as the Emancipation of Proclamation, to free the enslaved blacks.
Though it led to a brief reconstruction period where the newly freed slaves thrived economically and socially, the institution of racism was reintroduced in the form of Black Codes & Jim Crow in the South while de facto segregation occurred in the North.
Thanks to the herculean efforts of civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther, Jr., who crisscrossed the country to oppose economic and political disenfranchisement, this legal form of segregation collapsed in the 1960s.
But, the oppression of the African-American did not end in the 60’s. It was simply reconstituted as the racially motivated “War on Drugs” of the 1970s, which was more of a war on black people.
It’s “enforcement” resulted in the over-policing of African American communities and landed many in jail with mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses.
Some states, like Colorado and Washington, are enjoying major profits from recent legalization of those same exact drugs.
It’s the “New Jim Crow.”
From the time that Africans stepped foot on the docks of Jamestown in 1617 to evangelical Christians voting for a racist presidential candidate in 2016, we’ve found ourselves as the object of inexplicable prejudice and hostility based on our skin color alone.
This hostility has caused untold multi-generational psychological & emotional trauma.
It Would Be Even Worse Without the Black Church
Though the racial tension of this country has reached a fever pitch, the distress would be even worse if it weren’t for the invaluable, enduring contribution of the Black Church.
Before the institutionalization of Black Churches, “slave exhorters” held “hush services” and proclaimed messages of eschatological hope on the plantations of the South, while affirming the life purpose and equality of all men. 
Since that time, she’s been on the frontlines of “church planting,” and formed her own separate congregations to assert humanity and bestow self-worth upon blacks in a context that denied such recognition.
She taught them that they were children of God and affirmed their value long before the term self-esteem became a part of our vocabulary. 
The Black Church opposed Colonial-based, slave holding Christianity that contended for racial superiority, and the eschatological nature of her theology evidenced her yearning for Jesus to deliver from the hands of her “master” like the Jews longed to be delivered out of the hands of Egyptians.
Simply put, she has endured the most racially oppressive times in the dark history of the United States, and when humanity was stripped from blacks, pastors and deacons in the Black Church proclaimed Scripture in a way that reaffirmed that all men were created in the image of God and slaves, like other men, were valued in God’s sight.
- All African-Americans Owe Gratitude
African-Americans owe gratitude because we are beneficiaries of the black church’s progress in social, economic, political, and educational spheres.
The church as helped brothers and sisters become psychologically liberated from negative and destructive social habits, assisted in overcoming social and economic oppression, provided leadership development opportunities when they were largely absent in majority white context churches, developed a family structure, and provided opportunities for social networking for businesses within urban communities to thrive economically.
Furthermore, throughout history, Black Churches have built retirement homes & schools, created mentoring programs for “at risk” youth, provided job development skills, offered millions of dollars in scholarships, built recreation centers, provided prison aftercare, drug prevention programs, and housing for the poor, among other things.
She’s created credit unions to provide low-interest loans for potential businesses and worked with HUD and local housing authorities to provide home ownership opportunities for poor urban minorities.
Historically, the Black Church has been the primary agent of socioeconomic and religious empowerment since the post-slavery era and she’s trained, nurtured, and launched virtually all the credible leaders from a broad range of disciplines including religion, business, politics, music, and education. 
- She Protected and Educated Us of Our Rich History
For centuries, the Black Church has stood as an educational pillar in urban communities. She’s known what recent studies confirm: poor people will not experience academic success without strong families and a leading effort by the Church.
Consequently, the Black Church founded educational institutions like Morehouse College & Spellman Seminary (now known as Spellman College), Shaw University, Virginia Union University, and Bishop’s College to promote learning within and outside the church. 
That led to denominational publishing houses that enabled African-American writers to print material about their history and place our faith in Christ within the larger historical context.
The publishing houses protected unsuspecting laity from racial propaganda & caricatures like the “Black Sambo,” “Aunt Jemina,”& “Uncle Ben,” that portrayed men and women of color as lazy, irresponsible, docile, and unattractive.
She celebrated our history and traditions rather than allowing self-hatred and cultural complacency to destroy it, and because of her visionary educational leadership, she’s produced theologians, philosophers, lawyers, engineers, educators, and a president, among other things. 
Does she stand outside of the spectrum of critique? Absolutely not! Constructive criticisms of her traditions are warranted, but can her impact be disregarded? No!
We owe her a debt of gratitude, and we all are beneficiaries of her efforts to fight injustice.
She’s done much more than interrupt presidential rallies, deface confederate statues, and loot poor neighborhoods during riots, so let’s seek ways to improve, not pillage, her rich foundation.
Let’s not verbally abuse the Black Church with unfounded, uninformed remarks, especially when her legacy has been leveraged for our benefit.
I have so much to say on the matter. I couldn’t do it all on one post.
Until next time, let’s stop the abuse!
Grace and peace.
 LEONARD, BILL. BAPTISTS IN AMERICA. NEW YORK: COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PRESS, 2005, 27
 LANE, EDDIE B. THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHRISTIAN MAN: RECLAIMING THE VILLAGE. DALLAS: BLACK FAMILY PRESS, 1997, 49.
 HARRIS, JAMES. PASTORAL THEOLOGY: A BLACK CHURCH PERSPECTIVE. PHILADELPHIA: FORTRESS PRESS, 1990, 115.
 PARIS, PETER J. BLACK RELIGIOUS LEADERS: CONFLICT IN UNITY. LOUISVILLE, KY: WESTMINSTER/JOHN KNOX PRESS, 1991, 17.
 LEONARD, BAPTISTS, 27
 PARIS, PETER J. THE SOCIAL TEACHING OF THE BLACK CHURCHES. PHILADELPHIA: FORTRESS PRESS, 1985, 77-78