By 1899 most black Americans saw that the solution to the problem of racial issues could be found in Christianity but not the white version of it. They believed that the black race had a destiny in America. Centuries later as the experience of the church grew, black preachers found in the bible real answers to the black experience. Theologians fashioned a black theology that placed the presence of God with the poor, the oppressed, and the outcast–an echo to the slave’s experience of redemptive suffering (Raboteau 72; 75). Martin Luther King Jr. went so far as finding social justice and religion inseparable, allowing the church to be a headquarters for the fight against racism.
Well, we, whoever we are, must come to realize that African American history has become our history–12 months out of the year. We must learn it, embrace it, and find great pride that our grandfathers were and lived near some of the greatest humans who have ever existed. And, the church especially must find a way to integrate, such that the brilliance of the black and white churches remain. Christian love has nothing to say if it has nothing to say about our racial division. Our distance and perceptions of one another mock Jesus’ death. Well, after all, our world has changed. It is no longer black and white. And we have little time left to forge a unity where we can walk into the global future hand in hand. These years may be our last chance.
In the “Christian” church, we have a unity sickness. The walls of division stand tall while the world points out the ridiculous nature of our racial and denominational fray. These divisions do not nullify the power of the church (God moves on in his mission), but the disparity between his peoples dilutes her witness significantly.
Unity, in the Christian faith has never equaled uniformity, but we must find ways to cross the boundaries, which keep Sunday morning at 11.00am the most segregated part of the American weekday. In what is dubbed as the great “Ephesians Moment”, St. Paul builds upon the foundations for Christian unity:
“For Christ is our peace. He made what was divided into one and rent the partition wall, the enmity, in his flesh. He dispensed of the “official” law of the commandment. He did it all so that he might create the two into one new people, in him, making peace. He did it all so that he also might reestablish the two into one body to God through the cross, snuffing out the division in his death.
As a wise person once said, “you can never move forward without looking back, though if you move walk ahead with your head turned, you are bound to get a bloody nose.” The divergences in style and perception standing between the black and white churches of America have a long history. The story of the black church is the story of how black slaves in America adopted the core of Christianity and branched toward their own understanding of the faith. The African indigenous tradition and the Christian tradition were merged creating a “slave religion.”
Black Christians would meet manifold obstacles in their quest as a legitimate organization. As of 1792, the Free African Society and the African Methodist Episcopal church had been formed (Albert J. Raboteau 1995, pp. 79;82). These groups focused on the importance of human rights, the spread of denominations, and Evangelical Christianity (81). Ultimately, the quest for independence found them providing meaning and identity for black Americans as they realized the bitter truth that race did matter in the church. The difference was that the Whites saw themselves as a New Israel, but the slaves saw the whites as the New Egyptians and themselves as the New Israel…