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Discuss the role of the Church in the Lives of African Americans.

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  1. I.                   Introduction

Over the years, the Black Church has brought a tremendous impact on the lives of African American communities within the United States. The church has redefined the cultural and racial identity of the African American communities. Moreover, the church has created an enabling environment for undertaking socio-economic activities such as supporting education, fighting poverty and crime among the minority community. Since the end of the American civil war, the church has witnessed unprecedented growth characterized by the establishment of several religious organizations and denominations such as protestants, Black Catholic Churches, African Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of God in Christ across various regions such as Philadelphia and Chicago. The church has played a great role in providing spiritual nourishment, divine intervention as well as socioeconomic assistance to African American communities.

The Black Church after the end of the Civil War

The history of the Black Church dates back to the slavery period in the late 18th century and early 19th century. African Americans were not permitted to worship together in that period. Although slave owners felt that it was beneficial for slaves to attend churches, they did not permit them to worship with whites in the same church (Blum, 2012). During the Reconstruction era in the 19th century, the Jim Crow period and the civil rights movement, this separation persisted. Although many whites developed immense hatred towards the Black people during those years, little attempt was made to unite the two cultures. The traditional practice was to train some Black men into missionaries in the Black community by the white congregations. The fact that neighbourhoods still practiced racial segregation and discrimination which was a great obstacle to unity between the white majority and the Black minority communities. Just as groups of people who speak a common language grow various slangs, accents and dialects, as they are centuries apart, communities of Christians, divided by the same denomination for centuries, have developed various ways of worship. So, while there are no legal or social grounds for not consolidating the church, it has been too difficult to transcend the cultural barriers. Those who have been brave enough to cross the lines to worship the other party always say that it was a good experience, but the fact that the differences remain proves that relatively few are willing to abandon their areas for the sake of Christian unity.

During the South Pre-Civil War, slave owners prohibited African Americans from congregating. As a result, blacks in the South worshiped only with other servants on their plantations (Nelson, 2001). And in the Southern post-war era, the Jim Crow laws barred Black people from gathering with Whites and forced them to worship by themselves. Also, in the north, there was no slavery or segregation rule, combined with bigotry and racial segregation, forcing blacks to establish their own congregations, many of which still remain today. This is mostly true of American Protestants. Moreover, the South experienced an increase in the number of Black churches. Regions such as North Carolina and New Orleans became the primary areas where the African American churches gained immense dominance. During the civil rights movement of the 1960’s the church played a great role in fighting against racial injustice. Social activists used the church as an arena for fighting for the rights of the African Americans.

Contemporary Black Church

The modern Black Church is characterized by several denominations such as the protestants and the Catholics. The churches are dominated by African Americans who congregate every Sunday to listen to the Word of God from the pastor. For example, in a typical Sunday Mass in Brooklyn, one discovers that while about 60 percent of the community is white, 40 percent are blacks, Latinos, East and South Asians (Black et al., 2002). Pentecostal religion attaches great significance to the Holy Spirit, and they even rejoice in their way of worship because of this. Note that this conveyed joy and music can also contribute to the trance in the community and in religion, so some of the less trustworthy leaders in Pentecost also use it to mimic the blessing. It has much to do with how slaves persisted after conversion and existed for their descendants in the Churches of South Baptism. First of all, the historical reason. The black and white were separated by law in the States where most colored folks lived until 90 years ago. Black people could not join white churches, so they had to have different churches themselves. While legal segregation ended 50 years ago and churches had to welcome anyone of any colour, the black churches remained nearly completely black and the white churches remained almost all white. The second explanation is that of modernity.

Spreading the Word of God

Due to black people being forced to be separated and oppressed by white slaves during slavery and white societies after slavery, the style of worship in black churches differed greatly from the worship style of most white churches. According to Douglas & Hopson, (2000), most blacks prefer a black church’s traditional style and many whites prefer a white church’s traditional style. There are black churches today and they satisfy many black Americans’ preferences and needs. These days, the Gospel songs are played by men and women of all ages as a solo or by small or large ensembles. Both whites and blacks sing the range and the possibilities for instrumentation are endless, from synths and drums to complete symphony orchestras. Almost every chapter of the African American history has been affected by the Black Church and Black identity continues to be animated by the worshippers and the unbelievers. In this same concept, the African American church operates on several stages as a spiritual centre a hope and redemption.

Role of the Black Pastors

Historically, African-American clergy have played a critical impact on the fight for fundamental human and civil rights. According to Edwards & Kim (2019), the commitment to changing communities, addressing the needs of their religious communities and genuinely showing the significance of service is associated to the Black ministers and pastors. In current Black Church, there are several Black pastors that have shaped the development and expansion of the African American church in the US. The church found on the south side of Chicago have become the epicenter for holistic life. They are the embodied model of the shadow of Christ who are dedicated to spreading the word of God. Wright has developed over 60 ministries to serve the church and the world around it. This included HIV/AIDS Ministries, the recovery of drugs and alcohol, hospice services, health care for seniors, accommodation and childcare, a reading of the vulnerable and 22 ministries for young people.

Black Pastors are currently continuing the efforts on poverty alleviation, environmental justice, debt relief for students, housing, health and wellness, as well as other matters which are significant to the Black community. Since religious institutions are the primary sources of valid moral instruction in our society, this perspective suggests that substantial and beneficial changes will occur if intra-city Churches meet people, involve them in church activities and thus contribute to their lives transforming (Rubin et al., 1992). The church has undergone tremendous changes characterized by the adoption of new doctrines and preaching techniques.

Relationship between the church and the faithful

Across the United States, the Black Church is one of the most prominent Black socio-cultural organizations, providing spiritual, social and economic benefits to the Black community. The African American church is therefore a complex and multidimensional entity composed of religious identity and doctrines based on two elements; Black theology and Jesus Christ. The institution has led to the creation of several Protestant churches and other religious movements founded in the emancipation of African Americans and the pursuit of the God’s will. In spite of decades of mistreatment and racists attacks, black churches have prospered by serving black communities hence expanding their popularity and influence within the United States.

Combating racial injustice

This suggestion poses interesting questions for students of social change about theory, facts and ethics. As one calls for divine intervention, one sees the features of religious institutions which might in theory make them efficient tools of behavior change and which cannot be found in secular circles (Brewer & Williams, 2019). Furthermore, what evidence supports the argument that the range of Church participation in the city center and its effects on the actions of church people are sufficient to make a significant difference in the communities. In addition, aside from instrumental calculations, one might question why Churches should in particular bear the awesome duty to help renew the most barren backwaters of our society. Each of us, both as scientists and citizens, has for some time been interested in the idea that religion can foster growth in low-income communities. Facts and ethics in this crucial but not yet fully explored field of social policy studies. The black people are linked to those who remain trapped in the urban slums through links of tradition, family, consciousness and collective understanding in the eyes of outsiders. There must be a lonely young soul in black politicians, priests, academics, business people and common people, we must strive to restore those societies, we need to become our brother keeper. To say this, of course, is not to exclude the larger American public from their obligation to devise good and cautious social policies that help all, irrespective of race or faith, languish on the social margins. The ultimate objective is to feel that we must become the guardian of our brother to be spread more widely. When considering the role of Churches in restoring civil society among urban poor people, however, we find moral considerations, such as those here described, unavoidably an essential part of the dialog which is so urgently necessary now.

Uniting the different races

Most African American Christians usually deny the belief that Christianity imposed on the slave by the slave master. While in their churches and houses the majority of African American Christians had a white Jesus painting openly before the 21st century, each Christian church has different denominations such as the Catholic Denominations. Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor of Atlanta’s Abyssinian Baptist Church (Lincoln, & Mamiya, 1990). There are various groups of Christians with different doctrinal beliefs and church practices. As one Christian sect in parts of Europe was dominant, many Christian denominations were formed in various parts of the world at different times. They include Protestants, Jehovah Witness, Calvanists, Anglicans, Seventh Day Adventists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Methodists, Eastern Orthodox, Pentecostal, Unitarians. Many religions struggle to survive or dominate one another.

At one point in history, one group could have enslaved another group. It is a genius strategic move for the people to follow a religion that dehumanizes you, and then outdoes them in holiness, showing how dedicated and wise a particular religion is in comparison with other religious denominations (Pattillo-McCoy, 1998). The African American church has also played a pivotal role in shaping the politics of the United States. Although the members of the African American racial group are usually considered to be racially inferior, the 2008 general elections brought in a new era. During the general elections, Barack Obama, an African American became the first Black president. The legacy highlighted the role of the Black church in the United States political environment. Moreover, African Americans have continued to hold various political positions across the federal and state government. Therefore, it is imperative to assert that the church has nurtured African American political leaders. Since the time of Fredrick Douglas and Jesse Jackson, the Black community has undergone changes that has influenced the church.

Provision of Spiritual guidance

The entire country was faced by several religious-based rebellion which eventually ended slavery completely. Christianity may also be viewed as a religion of slaves.

There are many more passages from the Bible which indicate that God loves slaves rather than slave masters, and slavery can be viewed as a spiritual direction. This seems to be what was happening in the slave countries, where a higher percentage of the people were slaves. It is also a myth that Christianity was imposed upon other parts of the world by the Western religion (Baumann, 2016). The Christianity method of southern slave masters was inspired by enslaved African people, Protestantism, which only occurred a hundred years ago. In reality, Christianity came to Europe for the first time many centuries before, and some countries had missionaries from Africa coming to it. The number of black priests and black religious leaders among public leaders has grown over time. The Black clergy have traditionally been some of the most educated, persuasive and natural leaders in the church. People searched for leadership, not only in matters of religion, but in every aspect of life. With its complicated hierarchical structure, the Baptist designation provided for the greater flexibility in the formation of Churches and the qualification of ministers than the Catholic Church. Researcher explained how the speech style of black leaders was influenced by the black preacher’s cadence, repetition and rhythm (Sanders, 2008). Clergy have several qualities which give their congregations the potential of political power, such as engaging in a more ideological way than their congregation and being conscious of and shaping the ethical implications of problems in society. They often gain from their religious communities a high degree of respect and confidence and are placed to establish, pass on and sustain community norms and attitudes. Because of their role, the clergy may have resources and a chance to provide political indications and political contact from the pulpit. More research on how to penetrate the African American community beyond the black church should be conducted. The most critical needs of the Black Church are to improve African American youth’s personal and cultural identity and self-esteem at all socio-economic levels and provide opportunities to get involved.

V. Provision of socio-economic help to the needy

Provision of Education-centered Assistances

The challenge is for the Black Church, overwhelmingly of the middle and working classes, to reach poor and vulnerable members of the society effectively and to resolve disputes and differences that exist amongst denominations and philosophical ideology in the Black Community. The redeeming feature that Black churches can offer is the role models and a connection to the economic, social and political system of the unchurched and oppressed. Today, more now than ever, the black church must continue in its rich, historic mission with those members. The church has also played a great role in the establishment of institutions of learning that are affiliated to the various denominations. The churches have established influenced kindergarten, high school as well as university education. Therefore, African Americans can now easily access education irrespective of the prevailing economic condition.

Provision of food to the homeless

Black churches have also been instrumental in the provision of food to the poor and the homeless across the United States. Within the various region such as California, Los Angeles and New Orleans, there are several church-funded aid programs that are targeting the disadvantaged in the society (Billingsley, 1999). By providing food and shelter to the homeless, the Black church has helped in improving the socioeconomic welfare of not only poor African Americans but also homeless whites in the society.

Provision of healthcare support to the needy 

The church has also helped in the provision of affordable health care services to the poor African American people. The Black churches coordinate actions with health care organizations to provide free medical care to the homeless people in both rural and urban centers. Although the Affordable Care Act was adopted to enhance the access and quality of health care within the United States, people from low socioeconomic background cannot access high quality care. Hence, the church has stepped in to help in improving access to healthcare especially among the disadvantaged in the community. The Black church moreover helps in reintegration of juvenile offenders back into the community. The church has adopted programs that provide counselling and health care services to the needy African Americans. The program has helped thousands of people from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

It is evident that the Black church has played an instrumental role in the lives of African American communities. Among the African American community, the church has acted as the source of spiritual growth and guidance which draws people closer to God. The church doctrines have shaped the everyday life of the Black community. The church has established programs aimed at improving education and economic welfare of the Black community. The church has also played a great role in shaping political landscape of the United States. The Black Church has continued expanding to various regions across the nation due to the work of the clergy.

References

Baumann, R. (2016). Political engagement meets the prosperity gospel: African American Christian Zionism and Black church politics. Sociology of Religion: A Quarterly Review, 77(4), 359-385., https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srw050

Billingsley, A. (1999). Mighty like a river: The Black church and social reform. Oxford University Press.

Blank, M. B., Mahmood, M., Fox, J. C., & Guterbock, T. (2002). Alternative mental health services: The role of the Black church in the South. American Journal of Public Health, 92(10), 1668-1672.

Blum, E. J. (2012). Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianity God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War Tri-Faith America: Sociology of Religion, 73(2), 233–235, https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srs038

Brewer, L. C., & Williams, D. R. (2019). We’ve come this far by faith: the role of the Black church in public health. American Journal of Public Health, 109(3), 385.

Douglas, K. B., & Hopson, R. E. (2000). Understanding the black church: The dynamics of change. Journal of Religious Thought, 56(2/1), 95.

Edwards, K. L., & Kim, R. (2019). Estranged pioneers: The case of African American and Asian American multiracial church pastors. Sociology of religion, 80(4), 456-477. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/sry059

Lincoln, C. E., & Mamiya, L. H. (1990). The black church in the African American experience. Duke University Press.

Nelson, T. J. (2001). Fire in my Bones: Transcendence and the Holy Spirit in African American Gospel. Sociology of Religion, 62(3), 408-408. https://doi.org/10.2307/3712361

Pattillo-McCoy, M. (1998). Church culture as a strategy of action in the black community. American Sociological Review, 767-784.

Rubin, R. H., Billingsley, A., & Caldwell, C. H. (1994). The role of the black church in working with black adolescents. Adolescence, 29(114), 251.

Sanders, C. J. (2008). Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African American Religion. Sociology of Religion, 69(1), 118-120. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/69.1.118

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Discuss the role of the Church in the Lives of African Americans.

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