Essay Sample: Why Churches Are So Important to the African-American Experience

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Carnegie Mellon University
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With reference to the history of the Black Church, the church, or rather the place of worship is deemed as the institution that became the first source of land ownership for the slaves in America, who particularly consisted of the African Americans. The Christian faith became a primary way of coping with hardships for the enslaved African Americana. Besides, during the decades of slavery, the association of the slaves became a constant concern for the slave owners and more specifically, for a majority of the white society, Black religious meetings were deemed as a threat to the existence of the whites. For instance, their unity, which was symbolized by the African-American Spirituals, was a convenient way of singing through the pain and also instilling hope and faith that something better was to come.

In addition, churches became crucial to the African Americans since a majority of them found solace in the churches. Owing to the fact that many African Americans were forbidden from doing almost everything that was associated with Africa, through churches, the enslaved blacks were able to incorporate African elements into the African-American spirituals. This being said, all through the Civil Rights movement and the post-slavery, the church became the haven where African Americans could come together, socialize and speak freely to one another without fear of persecution. This, in essence, gradually led to the church becoming a place for social gatherings and events and hence bringing about a blend between religious, ancestral, historical as well as the social function of the church. Thus, in a nutshell, the main reason why the church is of great to the African Americans, up to the modern day today, is because a majority of the cultural elements practiced by the black community are mainly stemmed from the church.

The Church, the Family, and the School in the African American Community

According to historians, for the African Americans, the church is considered as a social institution that influences explicitly other crucial social institutions such as the family and school. More specifically, the church, the family, and the school are the three most critical institutions whose interactions have been responsible for the viability of the African American community. Historically, the strengths of these three systems are due in large measure to their essential function as expressions of the most fundamental values of the African American cultural heritage. Precisely, these values are such as spirituality, grand achievement aspirations, as well as the flexible and adaptive functional mechanisms for survival.

In a similar regard, based on a holistic perspective that is particularly inspired by scholars such as W.E.B Dubois, it is evident that the three aggregations, the church, the school and the family primarily operate within the domain of the larger society and are also shaped by their own historical foundations. For instance, being a social institution, the church, plays the significant role of assisting those families that are in need and also as a pillar for supporting educational institutions. In a similar regard, today in the modern day, research done substantiates the specific interaction of the church, school, and family among the African American communities. Based on the holistic perspectives and data collected from the ongoing nationwide studies of church-sponsored family-oriented community outreach programs, results give evidence to the fact that the church is a significant ally for the Black American Family. Therefore, based on the above-discussed premises, in the African American communities, the church serves as an institution that serves as the central foundation for families and educational institutions.

African-American Churches in the Era of Slavery

During the trans-Atlantic period, thousands of people were forced into what is presently known as the United States. Notably, during this time, the African Americans made up the largest population of the slaves. This being the case, religion among the African Americans consistently featured complicated efforts towards innovation, preservation and agential intervention rooted in efforts towards their survival against the structured of racial domination. Besides, although the existence of Black churches during this era was perceived as a threat to the existence of the whites, the African slaves established and also relied heavily on the existence of their churches. Religion, for instance, offered a means of catharsis in which case the enslaved African Americans retained their faith in God and also found solace and refuge in the churches.

Nonetheless, the existence of the Black Churches, during this time, did not go without its own shortcomings. For instance, the white society, which mostly comprised of the slave owners, was not always willing to accept the involvement of slaves in Christianity. For many of them, the existence of black religious meetings symbolized was a symbolic threat to the existence of the whites. In this regard, the spiritual exercises of slaves were carefully monitored to detect any plans of escape or insurrection. Besides, in the eyes of the white Americans, the existence of the Black Churches, which were primarily attended by the African slaves, signified militancy. In a similar regard, the insurrections such as the Nat Turners in Virginia, which were mostly born out of the religious inspiration of slaves, horrified the white Americans.

According to scholars, one of the primary reasons why the larger majority of the white population opposed and close watched the Black churches was the fact that the whites were overly threatened by the understanding of the potential end, by the African Americans. However, despite the dominance of the white supremacy during the era of slavery, the Black Americans did not give up on their churches. Instead, in the African American history, the church has, for the longest time, been considered as the central foundation for the Black communities. This being the case, the church has established itself as the greatest institution that serves as the most substantial source of African American religious enrichment as well as secular development.

African-American Churches during the Civil Rights Movement

Arguably, the Civil Rights movement was primarily designed to give the African Americans the freedom and rights that were enjoyed by their white counterparts and also taken for granted. Similar to the era of slavery, during the civil rights movement, the church played a major role in every African American community. In a similar regard, being the most important social protest movement, the civil rights movement was substantially influenced by the existence of the African American churches. In this regard, people who were intentionally locked out of the formal political process as a result of racial barriers got the chance of mounting numerous campaigns over three decades to eradicate racial injustice.

With regard to the influences of the African American churches during the Civil Rights movement, one of the primary reasons behind the success of the Civil Rights movement was its religious leadership. For instance, the African American Reverends such as Martin Luther King Jr, Wyatt T. Walker and Jesse Jackson, among others, were just a few of the gifted religious figures who played a significant leadership role in the movement. Notably, in a majority of instances, the black clergy became the spokespeople for the campaigns that significantly articulated the grievances of the African American people. In the same vein, the African American Church, through their leaders, played a significant role in shaping the objectives and the methods of the movement that sort to redress the grievances which were associated with the Civil Rights Movement. In this regard, the African American churches enabled them to win the allegiance of multitudes of people and also convince them to make great sacrifices for racial justice. Nonetheless, in pursuing these sacrifices in search of racial justice and their freedom, the African Americans suffered great persecution from the white citizens. Therefore, it is during this time of hatred and violence that the church served as a place that gave the African Americans more than just a religious haven, but also a place that gave them hope for a brighter future. According to Phipps, owing to the fact that the African Americans were overly oppressed during the Civil Rights era, there was a common opinion that oppression, rejection, and segregation can leave the human being with no one to turn to, but God. Based on this premise, it is, therefore, evident why the deep-rooted love of religion went back to the days of slavery as the African Americans ancestors looked to God for freedom, as in the times of the Civil Rights movement.

African-American Ministers as Social and Political, Not Just Religious, Leaders

Despite the fact that that the role of the church among African Americans began way before African religious leaders and ministers came to power, history has it that, religion and religious institutions significantly impacted the Civil Rights Movement. Although the core intent of the movement was to end the American Apartheid Rule, Jim Crow, major denominations, with the help of their religious leaders, financially and intellectually supported the movement. The African American religious leaders and ministers were overly passionate about the movement, and as a result, black churches served as sites for organization, education and community engagement. For instance, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which was established in 1957, helped to harness authority and also to organize the power of black churches for them to conduct non-violent protests in pursuit of civil rights reform.

However, despite the fact that the SCLC was centrally involved in the social and political impacts of religion, a great controversy arose with regard to their involvement in the political activism against social ills. This kind of criticism was highly attributed to the fact that many African American religious leaders and ministers thought that the church should not play a political role. Some of the African American religious leaders and Reverends such as Martin Luther King Jr, Wyatt T. Walker and Jesse Jackson, among others, were just a few of the gifted religious figures who played a significant leadership role in the movement.

Differing Approaches to Religious and Political Leadership: Martin Luther King vs. Jesse Jackson

During the Civil rights movement, African Americans held different religious and political approaches in their attempt to emancipate the African American minorities from the many inequalities which were imposed on them by the majority white. Besides, with the roots of the Civil Rights Movement being in a religion, a majority of the meetings held by the African Americans were done in the Black Churches of the South. In this regard, leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr and Jesse Jackson became renowned civil rights activists and religious ministers, among the African Americans.

Approaches Used By Martin Luther King Jr

More specifically, Martin Luther King Jr was a famous African American clergyman, activist and prominent leader during the African-American Civil Rights Movement. With regard to his role in religious leadership, Martin Luther King Jnr was best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and the world using non-violent means. King proposed the use of non-violence and eventually became the leader of a non-violent movement which empowered non-violent protests and ci...

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