History of Black Americans and the Black Church Episode #78

This is Daniel Whyte III, president of Gospel Light Society International, with episode #78 of the The History of Black Americans and the Black Church podcast.

Our Scripture Verse for today is Galatians 2:20 which reads: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Our History of Black Americans and the Black Church quote for today is from Lee June, a professor at Michigan State University and the author of the book, “Yet With A Steady Beat: The Black Church through a Psychological and Biblical Lens.” He writes, “THREE PITFALLS TO AVOID: Pitfall One: The Functional Autonomy of Christianity. In observing what is occurring in some circles today, could one say that many churchgoers are searching for a “religious” experience devoid of the historical biblical expectation and expected commitment to Christ? That is, it seems that for some there is an awareness of the deep and rich faith heritage of our fore-parents, a concomitant desire to continue that heritage, but without replicating the historically deep commitment.

Where this happens, one finds only the symbols of Christianity, the trappings of Christianity, the aura of Christianity, the sounds of Christianity, the dress of Christianity, the words of Christianity, the beat of Christianity, and the “entertainment” of Christianity. One thus finds as an old TV commercial once highlighted “Parkay, but no butter.” I will describe the phenomenon as the functional autonomy of Christianity. Where this happens, the result is that the maximum benefits of Christianity have moved outside of the “Black Church.” When this happens, church attendance and membership may still be high, offerings may be higher, and the songs at first glance may sound the same, but upon closer scrutiny they are devoid of the deeper meanings and feelings. The pastor may still say the same things, but the words may produce different results. When this happens, the church has lost some of its grip on the people—or the salt still looks like salt but has lost its savor. When this happens, the church has lost its ability to be the healing community.

Many Christians and congregations do not fit the above descriptions. Such are still deeply committed, authentic, and providing the benefits of a healing community. Jesus Christ and the full spiritual and psychological benefits for them are still in the church. But even for those who are authentic and committed, it becomes increasingly difficult to reap and enjoy the full benefits of the healing community within this overall new environment.”

In this podcast, we are using as our texts: From Slavery to Freedom, by John Hope Franklin, The Negro Church in America by E. Franklin Frazier, and The Black Church In The U.S. by William A. Banks.

Our first topic for today is titled “Colonial Slavery, Part 12: The Middle Colonies, Part 3” from the book, “From Slavery to Freedom” by John Hope Franklin.

In Pennsylania there was some respect for blacks as human beings, and this attitude led to an early movement for manumission. Even those to whom the institution was acceptable shrank from the wholesale and indiscriminate enslavement of black people simply because it was possible to do so. Pennsylvania was not only relatively free from violence and interracial strife, but the blacks there made strides toward genuine accommodation to their new environment. The lines of communication between blacks and whites were not altogether closed, and the former gained much through these contacts. Schools and churches were a part of the lives of blacks, the institution of marriage was generally respected, and the black family achieved a stability unlike that reached by blacks in most English colonies.

Meanwhile, as early as 1636 slavery existed on the right bank of the Delaware. Since Delaware was a part of Pennsylvania until 1703, the laws of the latter colony applied to Delaware. After that date Delaware was on its own, and the slave population increased at a somewhat more rapid rate than it did in Pennsylvania. As this occurred, Delaware drifted away from the parent colony and became more closely identified with the interests of the neighboring colonies to the south.

Slavery was never really successful in the Middle colonies. Their predominantly commercial economy, supplemented by subsistence agriculture, did not encourage the large-scale employment of slave labor, and many of the slaves that cleared through New York and Pennsylvania ports were later sent into the Southern colonies. Even where there were extensive agricultural enterprises there was no desire for slaves, for the Dutch, Swedes, and Germans cultivated their farms with meticulous care and seemed to prefer to do it themselves. There were those, moreover, who had moral scruples against using slaves. Thus, many in the Middle colonies welcomed the arguments against slavery that became more pronounced during the Revolutionary period.

If the Lord tarries His Coming and we live, we will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.

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Our second topic for today is “Negro Religion in the City, Part 27: Negro Cults in the City, Part 13” from “The Negro Church in America” by E. Franklin Frazier.

The Moorish Science Temple represents the most radical secularization of Negro religion or of the Negro church in the city. While the regular denominations have increasingly focused attention upon the solution of the Negro’s problems or his salvation in this world, they have the essentials of traditional Negro religion. Likewise, in the ‘storefront’ churches, there is an attempt among the lower class to re-create in the urban environment a type of religious organization in which they can find warm and sympathetic association and status. In a sense these changes in the traditional religious life of the Negro are an attempt to escape from the hard conditions under which Negroes live in the cities and to find a meaning for living. This escape is most marked in those cults in which the Negro becomes a new person, as in the cult of the Black Jews and the Moorish Science Temple. This latter cult is especially important both because it provides the Negro with a kind of national identification and because of its extremely secular outlook. This secular outlook is becoming common among the masses who are without church affiliation and scorn the saying which was once popular among the humble masses: ‘Take the world and give me Jesus.’ It is also evident among those who though still affiliated with churches do not trust to the Providence of God alone, but hope that the ‘numbers,’ or chance, will bring them security or fortune. Among those who depend upon chance there are many who have a purely hedonistic outlook on life and organize their lives around ‘good-timing’. But most of them aspire to middle-class ideals and want to ‘get ahead’. All of this is the result of the uprooting of the Negro from his traditional social organization in which the Negro church was the most important institution and set the patterns of behaviour and thought and the values for the majority of Negroes.

If the Lord tarries His Coming and we live, we will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.

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Our third and final topic for today is from “The Black Church in the U.S.: Its Origin, Growth, Contributions, and Outlook” by Dr. William A. Banks.

Today we are looking at part 21 of Chapter 5: “Radicalism: 1915 – 1953”

The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin editorialized, he

has achieved what many more formally organized denominations cry for–that the followers give up all that they have and commit themselves to the faith without stint. The cult has been, too, especially in its earlier days in the Depression, a sort of private war on poverty. It lifted people out of poverty, got them higher wages, gave them country estates…A New York alderman in 1939 estimated that Father Divine was saving the city 2 million dollars a year in relief payments alone…The honesty, obedience to law and diligence of his followers became a trade mark. And long before racial integration became a national issue he made it seem as natural and innocent as life in Eden…The Philadelphia area has lost one of its most memorable men.

The organization’s attorney said, “No matter what any body says, he has done a lot of good.” W. Martin replies,

One of the most common objections raised by many erstwhile do-gooders, who are almost totally ignorant of Biblical theology, is that Father Divine, while certainly in error, or mentally unbalanced regarding his obsession of his “deity,” has apparently done many wonderful works for others. Therefore these persons maintain that he is doing, in a sense, the works of God, ignorant though he may be of their origin and operation. To this apparently reasonable objection the Scriptures offer a complete refutation, for it was the Lord Jesus Himself who, when asked by the Jews, “What shall we do, that we might work the words of God?”, replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom he hath sent”. All of Father Divine’s good works are not the work of God, which is believing in and living for Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. This work in turn results in works that God reckons good, because they are done through Him, and not through the selfish motive of self-justification or personal glory.

If the Lord tarries His Coming and we live, we will continue looking at this topic in our next episode.

Let’s have a word of prayer.

In closing, allow me to say that like many of you, I grew up in a very religious and church-going family, and during that time, I often heard the phrase “Being Saved.” Now, much of what the church people whom I grew up around said “being saved” was I now know is wrong according to the Bible. For example, joining the church, being baptized, doing good things, or being a good person does not mean you are saved. I wrote an article about this matter titled “On ‘Being Saved’ in Black America” which is available for you to read free of charge on our website, gospellightsociety.com. Right now, I want to share with you very briefly what the Bible says “being saved” really is.

First, understand that you need to be saved because you are a sinner. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”

Second, understand that a horrible punishment eternal Hell awaits those who are not saved. In Matthew 25:41, Jesus Christ said that God will say to those who are not saved, “depart from me ye cursed into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Third, realize that God loves you very much and wants to save you from Hell. John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

If you want to be saved from Hell and be guaranteed a home in Heaven, simply believe in Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose from the dead for your sins, and then call upon the Lord in prayer and ask Him to save your soul. And believe me, He will.

Romans 10:9-13 says, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

If you do that today, then you can truly sing in the words of the Old Negro spiritual: Free at last, Free at last, Thank God Almighty I’m free at last.

Until next time, may God richly bless you.

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