Before there were new age philosophers, before black Muslims in America, before hip hop religion and the mega-pastor there was the black church. The black church is the oldest and most important body in the African-American experience. The church was and still remains the most authentic African-American establishment able to impact lasting change and preserve traditions and the faith.
In the beginning of the slave trade it was believed that African slaves were sub-human and therefore had no soul that was worth saving from eternal damnation. As time passed that notion was abandoned and missionaries were dispatched to cotton plantations to teach the slaves about Christianity thus black churches were established. A church is a community of believers that believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ as the head of the church and means to get to God.
The teachings of Jesus Christ are known as the gospel translated ‘good news’ from which gospel music is derived. The missionaries thought the slaves to read and write which is central to the Christian protestant experience which believes that every Christian must read their own bible in order to know Jesus Christ and his teachings. The idea of slaves learning to read was controversial among slave owners who believed that the salves would never be satisfied with their status once they learned to read and write. Eventually the Pastors or teachers were slaves themselves who were preaching and teaching their fellow slaves about God.
The slaves were intrigued and given hope from the Exodus story before they could identify with the Israel slave experience in which God sends Moses to inform Pharaoh the leader of the oppressing Egyptians to release the Israelites from slavery. In the same way the slaves believed that God would raise up a modern day Moses who would set them free from slavery.
150 years ago when the news came that President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation the slaves were in churches waiting for the news because they believed that only God would be able to stop such an incredible act.
As the slaves left the south in search of better life moving up north the churches became havens, shelters, information centers, networking centers in addition to providing spiritual guidance to the southern migrants. The northern churches helped southern blacks to assimilate in the North and find jobs as a free people.
Historically black denominations have included the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), African Methodist Episcopal Zion or AME Zion Church, National Baptist Convention and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) and others.
By Anna Mosi-Oa-Tunya 2013
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