Being Black, Another Thought on Faith

Black folk — during the days of Harriet Tubman, shared folk tales via singing to describe Christ’s coming to save them from Egyptian bondage; it was Tubman (black Moses) who emerged in the days of the Exodus to guide the enslaved across the Red Sea into the northern region; she was guided by the northern star – the one followed by the wise me of Christ’s days. Such religious tales illustrated a “sense” of religiosity” that still exists among black folk, yet no longer carries the same fervor.

Edward Blum’s work speaks to the religiosity of Du Bois as a spiritual intellectual. Cornel West’s writings often discuss the soulful needs of faith and the church as a process of survival for black folks in a world dominated by white supremacy. In an age of reason, one that places too much attention on academics for profit, such as the late Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, the norm of thought is that intellectuals lack a faith in God — particularly white academics. The thought of blacks being nonbelievers used to be uncommon, however, that has shifted in the post-civil rights age.

During the age of Jim Crow, black folks congregated in the black church, as many do today. For some it is a form of spiritual “togetherness” and a show of political and economic solidarity. The church once served as the center of political and social lifer for black Americans. Though still true for some, the rise of secular culture, academic life, science, and materialism has changed that dynamic.

What is different about black theology?

According to James Cone, “it is due exclusively to the failure of white religionists to relate the gospel of Jesus to the pain of being black in a white racist society.”

For nearly three hundred years, the enslaved house worker had been listening to their owners’ prayers and Bible readings….They were able to interpret their own inexplicable situation and give themselves reasons to stay alive. This notion has transformed itself from the plantation to the political arena as seen by such actors as Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

While many African-Americans seem to belong to the general segment known as Baptists, the first African Baptist church began this trend in Richmond VA, in 1838 when the pastor and members of the First Baptist Church of that city debated its growing difficulty: What to do with the growing black population in the church. Perhaps one of the reasons so many African Americans today consider themselves Baptists is because of its orthodox and conservative nature as a branch of Christianity.

It is at this point one might see a division between those of religious academic type and those of a more spiritual devotion. The religious academic types see the church as a vehicle to bring about social justice in eradicating poverty, racism, and social ills that permeate society. This type of black folk tend to be far more progressive than those rooted in the deep southern tradition of the orthodox Baptist church.

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