I found The Black Church by Henry Louis Gate Jr. soon after reading The Cross and The Lynching Tree a few years ago. It is an interesting read, particularly considering my Anabaptist inclination. I say that because The Black Church is a historical survey of the African-American church, which means that it covers a wide range of the African-American religious experience, mainly the Christian faith and how the church intersects with the political, as well as the cultural and social spheres of the emancipation and beyond. It explores the evolution of the Christian faith within the black community in America starting from the times of slavery till the Obama presidency until the Coronavirus pandemic. It surveys the impact of the Christian faith on the social, political and cultural lives of the black people over the past 2 centuries. Socially, the impact of slavery impacted how the black community evaluated the Christian faith and embraced it. Politically, the segregation that the black community experienced ensured that the equality of all men that black Americans saw in the bible was a hopeful aspiration that contradicted their lived experience but gave them a reference with which to fight for change. Culturally, they reshaped the gospel they were given by infusing their aspects of the black culture from their African ancestry. The Black Church highlights how the black culture has fed the music and dance worship experiences of the black church. As a person for whom the Negro Spirituals have had a profound meaning, the ability to infuse hope into a bleak situation is captured in tracks like Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child. After Emancipation, the Black church retained its importance in nurturing Black culture and helped to foster political action. The pulpit became an extension of the campaign arena as Black Americans sought not just the end of slavery but sought the vote, an end to segregation and even an end to police brutality in the present day. The Black Church highlights the pivotal role that the church has played for black Americans.
The Black Church like The Cross and The Lynching Tree highlights the social impact of the Christian faith in the context of black American society, it also raises many questions about the complicity of the church outside the black church then and now. In bringing it home, while I am unequivocal about my belief that the church and the state should be separated, it is obvious the role the black church has played in the emancipation of the black man in the American polity, it then begs the question the dubious role that a large portion of the Nigerian church keeps playing in perpetuating evil within the Nigerian polity and propping up wicked political leaders.
The Black Church is excellently structured and paced. It may be lacking in depth and overly reliant on the works of W. E. B. Du Bois, and being a companion of a TV documentary, it is quote-heavy, it is a good introduction to a very important and illuminating topic. Very good read.