One subject that sometimes gets overlooked in Black History Month is the role of historically black churches in the on-going story of liberation of African-Americans, beginning with the time of slavery.
To help you fill in some of those gaps this weekend, I will give you several online resources. They are not exhaustive in what they say about black churches and their historic central role in African-American history, but they at least will give you some important highlights and guide you to additional resources if this subject interests you.
First, here is a brief history of the black church from the African American Registry. The piece isn't especially well edited, but, as it notes, "During the decades of slavery in America, slave associations were a constant source of concern to slave owners. For many members of white society, Black religious meetings symbolized the ultimate threat to white existence. Nevertheless, African slaves established and relied heavily on their churches."
Next, here is the Wikipedia entry on the subject. Although one still must be cautious about the accuracy of Wikipedia accounts, that service's early problems in that regard have in many ways been resolved. As this entry notes, "Most of the first black congregations and churches formed before 1800 were founded by free blacks -- for example, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Petersburg, Virginia; and Savannah, Georgia. The oldest black Baptist church in Kentucky, and third oldest in the United States, was founded about 1790 by the slave Peter Durrett."
The Public Broadcasting System offers this essay on the black church, mentioning high up in that piece the controversy of a few years ago centering on President Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. This article talks about the origin of the phrase "black church" this way: "The term 'the black church' evolved from the phrase 'the Negro church,' the title of a pioneering sociological study of African American Protestant churches at the turn of the century by W.E.B. Du Bois. In its origins, the phrase was largely an academic category. Many African Americans did not think of themselves as belonging to 'the Negro church,' but rather described themselves according to denominational affiliations such as Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and even 'Saint' of the Sanctified tradition. African American Christians were never monolithic; they have always been diverse and their churches highly decentralized." Good point.
Finally, here are various resources from BlackAndChristian.com, including links to the major predominantly black denominations.
It's almost impossible to imagine what America's African-American communities might look like today without the centrality and strength of the black church. But it's also true that, like the rest of the U.S. population, African-Americans are becoming more diverse in their religious affiliations as more convert to Islam and more claim no religious affiliation at all. Still, the black church remains a pillar of America's black communities today and no doubt will for long into the future.
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UNPASTORAL WORDS FROM THE POPE
Pope Francis got lots of press the other day when, in remarks he made on an airplane returning him to Rome from Mexico, he seemed to open up the possibility that contraception might be allowable to prevent the spread of the Zika virus. But as Charles C. Camosy, associate professor of theological and social Ethics at Fordham University, writes in this RNS piece, that wasn't the real surprise in his remarks. Rather, Camosy writes, the real surprise was his harsh, unyielding description of abortion in which he used smack-down words he's usually avoided. His words didn't seem at all pastoral, and maybe weren't meant to be.