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The Old Black Church’s Influence is Immeasurable: Here’s Why

Updated: Oct 10


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The Old Black Church’s influence is immeasurable and here is why.

I. The Time Has Come

II. Old Black Church History Began with Free Blacks

III. Groundwork for the Slave Version of the Black Church

IV. Old Black Church and Civil Rights

V. The Church and Secular Music Influence

VI. African Americans and Black Church Flight

VII. Conclusion


The Time Has Come

I have spent the last five (5) years honing my writing craft through a Bachelor's (Special Education) and Master's in Christian Apologetics.


Although I have several classes left in the M.A., I have become more aware of the need to get certain information to us as a people.


This was crucial because there are issues the world should be aware of with respect to how we, as Black Believers, are tread upon by "good christians."


Further, the Old Black Church has an interesting part in shielding us from some of these human right's abuses by the 'real followers of jesus.'


I have thus far, over the last four (4) months, written approximately 160 articles just like this, though with different keyword focuses. These compromise 200,000 words or so.

Further, by year's end, another 200,000 words will be added.


The reasons are many but most of all, I had an experience eight (8) years ago which reminded me of the need to still "fight the good fight." We cannot separate our modern struggles in white corporate America, Black History, and the Black church from one another.


You may remember the greatest civil rights leader in this country’s history was a “Pastor!”


Remember this legend?

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Old Black Church History Prior to Slavery

Let’s begin with basic history.


Black Americans pre-date any form of church. Most African Americans are descendants of Africans who were brought to the Americas as slaves. However, there was a another much smaller group of Black people many have never heard of.


The Jamestown, Virginia colony was established in 1609. This new colony was British.

A handful of Black people, perhaps twenty (20), were a part of this colony. Far from being slaves, they consisted of both indentured servants and free people.


Indentured servants worked for a certain number of years but eventually were freed. Most narratives on how Blacks came to be Christians suggest our conversion as a forced experience. "Wicked slave masters who forbade the practicing African religions" was the story!


Although largely true, it is not totally accurate. There is no record of Christianity being forced on the earliest Black settlers in America.


Slavery, obviously, was a much different experience than the earliest black “settlers.” Colony records indicate pre-slavery Black people were free to worship as they pleased.


There has yet to be historical confirmation of white Jamestown leaders forcing religion on early colonist.


Although the later slave experience did produce forced conversions, the earliest Black people were willing Believers. Because they were not forced, it makes sense the black worship experience has its roots in the free Black experience - not slavery.


Groundwork for the Slave Version of the Black Church

As the 17th century ended, the Jamestown colony grew. White farmers began to need more labor. To secure this labor, both whites and Black people served as indentured servants.


Further, farms were growing so fast that non-paid labor was required.

It is at this point the transatlantic slave trade began.


These slaves were people of rhythm, dance, and song. Once introduced to Christianity and under duress to convert, these downtrodden people did so.


Black people brought their own nuance, practices, and traditions into the Christian worship experience. Was this a terrible thing? No.


In Black churches, Jesus was shown as an image of a tall, straight haired, blue-eyed Savior.


There are few African American traditional church goers not familiar with ‘white’ Jesus. As a Black Pastor, removing this grossly misrepresented image from our church gave me extreme pleasure!


When slavery ended in 1865, former slaves, and their descendants, continued the religious practices of their forbearers. When given a choice to modernize to a European style of worship, most refused.


Those traditions largely continues today.


It must be mentioned that for at least the first 100 years of the Black church, it also served as a sanctuary from the ever-present white masters. Having been born in the


1970s and knowing nothing of the previous struggle, I also feel “safe” there.

This is not to say violence wasn’t committed by “good white Christians” on Black church folk.


Churches have been burned and people murdered by the white followers of 'jesus.' I shudder to think how many died lost, as racist bigots and ended up in hell. Of course, these same 'christians' have an 'escape clause' built into their religious worldview.


This teaches no matter what they do, Jesus will accept them into Heaven "if they just believe in Him." How convenient. They haven't answered how they can believe Jesus yet hate others as of yet.


The Bible asks: "how can one love God whom they have not seen and hate their brother who they see every day."


Scriptures speaks against this mindset. It is interesting that Lucifer, an angel, who no longer wanted to be in God's presence, disobeyed God and was thrown out of Heaven. Further, these same have never answered why after the 'millennial' kingdom those who followed Satan once last time will be forever lost.


These are people who worshipped God, and lived with Jesus after His 2nd coming as well. Militant Black organizations, such as the Nation of Islam, were partially founded on this glaring religious hypocrisy.


Even now as a Pastor/Preacher, I better understand the safety felt around other Black folk.


I once worked at a place with “good white Christians.” For some years, it was the most awful experience. During this time, I read a book by Fredrick Douglas and was stunned.


As I read this escaped slave’s narrative, I couldn’t believe that things had changed so little since the 1850’s for Black people.


There were a few other Black Believers working there and we all had the same testimony. Even the few who were “buck dancing” for these “good Christians” found out, in the end, they were still Black!


I have previously written about my experiences working for this version of White Christianity. This is a true story with much more to come with accompanying documentation.


Let me be clear – as is always true, there were REAL Christians among them although few.


Old Black Churches and Civil Rights

The most obvious example of the old Black church influence is found in the civil rights movement. Long before this, churches were places where a segregated, subjugated people gathered to form social circles.


During the civil rights movement, the Black church was ‘ground zero’ for planning. The leader of this movement was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


Here is a sample of one of those meetings with Dr Ralph Abernathy, a friend of Dr. King’s:

However, long before he was a famous leader, Dr. King was Pastor Martin Luther King Jr.

Many of his most famous speeches were lifted right off the pages of the biblical narrative.


For example: “until justice rolls down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream” is from the Book of Amos.


Further, another way the Old Black Church influenced African Americans is through public speaking. Pulpits were/are training grounds for many of our most renown national figures.


All one had to do to affirm this, was listen to the speech cadence of President, Barack Obama. I am not suggesting Barack is a preacher, but any with a history in the church understands his reference point.


Who can forget President Obama after the church shootings in Charleston South Carolina? He stood up, spoke, and sang 'Amazing Grace'. What a moment!


Let me be clear - I didn’t agree with his views on same-sex marriage, abortion, etc. However, it was still an emotional experience. Another way in which the Black church has influenced culture is through music.


When I was younger, most R&B singers began their career singing in a Black church choir. The greatest of these, Whitney Houston, honed her gift singing to Jesus.


There are other well-known examples are Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin as well. Knowing each of these women are world famous, the Black church has influenced the entire world through them.


The Black Church and Secular Music

There was a time when jazz, rhythm, and blues, was viewed by more spiritual African Americans as the devil’s music. These early, post-slavery preachers gave hell fire sermons to those who listened to such music.


Although words in Christian songs remained relatively spiritual, the accompanying music began a shift around the late 1960s. The same music, earlier frowned upon by church leaders now began to overtake more traditional church sounds.


Around the early 1980s, this practice was universally accepted. There was truly little difference in the music, and by music, meaning instruments played, and secular music.


African American Churches and Black Flight

There is another, less noticed area of this influence as well: Black flight from BLACK CHURCHES!


As economic opportunities began to become more numerous for African Americans, we began to set our sights beyond formerly segregated experiences. An unintended effect of the Civil Rights Movement was to position more readily progressive African Americans to leave our churches.


I am not sure whether early civil rights leaders understood the impact of “receiving our seat at the lunch counter.”


With new freedoms gained in the 1960s, many forsook traditional churches for a more diverse worship experience. Is this okay? Yes.


However, as a Pastor, it is heartbreaking to see the ‘upwardly mobile’ leave. They take their time, talents, and resources to build other communities. This flight extends to church leaders as well.


This is interesting because black millennials are still much more religious than there “good Christian” counterpart.


Check this Pew Research out:

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Nevertheless, many young African Americans have been taught that a multi-racial church is more pleasing to God. These, much less likely to tolerate a segregation, view church diversity as a natural addition to their lifestyle.


Those who teach that diverse, flesh-based worship is more pleasing to God have erred. I will fully provide the apologetics case later but let’s challenge it briefly.


One cannot preach: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against things spiritual,” yet hold there is a “flesh-based” answer to a “spiritual problem.”


Any spirit-based solution stands against the flesh and any flesh-based solution stands against the spirit. There is no cohesion between the two, at all.


How, then, can both flesh and spirit, being in direct conflict with one another, combine for a stronger spirit-based worship experience?


The ‘strength through church diversity’ argument is flawed, therefore, must be rejected as truth. Nevertheless, reasons for this trend are discussed among Black pastors. One theory is that many ‘spiritual migrants’ believe the “white man’s water is colder than ours.”


This means that white Pastors provide something we either do not, or because we are Black (and thus seemingly less intelligent), cannot.


Conclusion

Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear knows the older generation of preachers had more wisdom than we do currently.


Our generation is more educated but less “bright” in the Word. My mother said it best: “boy, sometimes you so smart you are right down stupid.”


The current generation is as interested in ‘what’ we believe as much as ‘why’ we believe it.


Do I think Black churches, in general, are at risk of shuttering because of this trend? No. It is obvious, nevertheless, that over the next 20 years, many traditional churches will shutter.


Ultimately, we should review the term ‘Black church.’ Let me be clear: there is no such thing. There is simply ‘the church.’ We tend to focus so much on demographics, that we lose sight of mission.


We must focus more on God’s Word, and less on who is sitting in the congregation. The Old Black church’s influence on American culture is close to complete. The influence of the Old Black Church is still unfolding before our eyes.


The blessings of this refuge in the wilderness of North America, is slowly coming to be understood.


Header Image Courtesy of Jill Nissen @ Pixabay

Pastor Martin Luther King Jr Image Courtesy of Wikicommons under “Public Domain”

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