The Black Church: A Religious Journey
There are so many layers with regard to looking at World Religion from a Historical Perspective. Faith, Spirituality and Religion continue to be the most complex subject to decipher. As a matter of fact, it’s actually impossible to contain “Spirituality” in a box. Religion, being the cultural system that it is, has no universal start date. Various cultures and races have their own faith. Of course every culture doesn’t have an official Religion. Historians and Scholars estimate that there are over 10,000 different Religions. For individuals who haven’t studied Religion, this information probably seem unreal or unimportant to you. Just for perspective, over 84% of the World Population is affiliated with the five large religions, namely Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and forms of Folk Religion. Abrahamic Religions (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) started to spread globally in the 4th Century by the Roman Empire. In my opinion, every culture would like to believe that their “Belief System” is one that should guide man into the ultimate Utopia and enlightenment. Followers of various Religions have even put their lives on the line. I tell you my people; Religion is deep, especially for Black People.
When I use the term “Black People” in this collection of thoughts, I’m talking about people of African descent. Black People are very “Spiritual” and have been since the days of hieroglyphics. Throughout the Continent of Africa, you can find traces of Spirituality that predate what many would call “Organized Religion.” Africans passed down oral traditions in regard to medicine, belief in spirits, supreme creators, and various rituals before invaders introduced Religions that were popular in Europe, The Middle East and even Asia. There is rich Religious history in Ancient Egyptian Societies. You can still see their preserved culture (Pharaohs, Pyramids, Symbols and Documents) thousands of years later. For those familiar with the ancient deity Horus (Egyptian), you already know the influence and stories that were later adopted by other World Religions, but I digress. I will save that perspective for another time. I have debated with other historians in regard to Africans originating Christianity (I don’t agree) and our place in World Religion. At any rate, Black People are not strangers to Spirituality. We have always been conscious with regard to Nature (Sun, Moon, Stars, Natural Herbs etc...) and how we are one with our environment.
As we fast forward to our complicated arrival to America, Religion became one of the foundations that would eventually create a sub-culture in America. Slavery was brutal and we don’t need to get deep into the essence of this atrocity. We know that Africans were stripped of their language, family, and culture by Europeans. Yes, there were some Africans who practiced Christianity before the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade as Northern Africa did have Christians. Migration did come in the form of Crusades. With that being said, this is still thousands of years after Horus, Osiris, and many figures we followed that predate our introduction to Christianity and Jesus. Again, this is all up for debate by individuals who care to research. Slave Masters taught Slaves “The Bible” and about obedience to God. Slave Masters painted an image of Jesus that reflected them. In the African American Community post Slavery and Civil Rights, you would still see the often Blonde Hair and Blue Eyed Jesus (at our Parents and Grandparents home) that was cemented into our consciousness from Slavery. You can also see these images in Black Churches throughout this Nation even though The Bible is very clear on the physical features of Jesus. During Slavery and immediately after Slavery, Black Pastors and Congregations were still regulated by White Christians. At one point, you couldn’t have a “gathering” without a white overseer. When these practices ended, The Black Church started to feel more like home.
The Black Church (Protestantism) is one of the most important foundations we have in America. The Black Church provided a since of pride to Black People. The Black Church provided a sense of ownership to Black People. The Black Church assisted the surrounding communities and became a place of refuge for Black People in the mist of injustice provided affectionately by the Federal Government. The Black Church provided Jobs to Black People. The Black Church provided education, mentorship, counseling, and family to Black People. The Black Church is great. The Black Church is also complicated to say the least. We’ve seen corruption in the Black Church. We’ve seen families torn apart because of the Black Church. We’ve seen Ministers abuse their Power in the Black Church. We’ve seen Women still treated as second class citizens in the Black Church. If you know the history of Religion, Women were generally treated as second class citizens. On a side note, have you ever seen a female Pope? Anyway, The Black Church in a lot of ways has been the gift and the curse for Black People. The “Gift” is your Spirit and Faith is satisfied when you find a Church that is righteous and avoids corruption. The “Curse” is African Americans often fail to educate themselves on African History. We have a rich history of African Traditions that we show no credibility to. If you see a Black Person who follows Religious Traditions from Africa, we look at them like they are “lost”, “crazy”, “Going to Hell”, and that we need to “Pray for them.”
In Modern Day America, the Black Church is generally the “Cornerstone” of our communities. We rely on the Black Church as a place of refuge for our people. I respect that and trust me; I “Get it.” To me, the Black Church comes in many forms. You don’t need a congregation of 1000 people to feel like you’re in Church. I know this might be debatable but to me, you can have Church alone. You can have Church with your family. Church has no true definition. Church is not always going to be from a Christianity perspective either for all Black People. All Black People are not Christians. There are Black Muslims, Black People who practice Buddhism and other forms of Faith. There are Black People having “Church” all over the World because again, there are over 10,000 Religions on Earth. We are a product of our environment. We generally praise the way our parents and loved ones before us praised. We also follow what’s popular for the most part which becomes a conflict for some. There are Black People who go seek their own enlightenment and that is a form of “Church” to me. At the end of the day, your “HEART” is more important than any book you read or song you sing, and that’s Church.
Peace and Blessings
Photo: Ebony Magazine