Academic journal article Michigan Academician

The African American Church Experience in Black and White Denominations: A Historical Profile of Political Differences

Academic journal article Michigan Academician

The African American Church Experience in Black and White Denominations: A Historical Profile of Political Differences

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

This study will examine the historical background of various Black religious denominations and the possible connection that exists between these histories and the political activities of contemporary African American churches in metropolitan Detroit. The purpose is to explore the historical conditions under which these denominations evolved and determine if a possible link exists between the historical events that shaped their founding and the political differences that Detroit area churches exhibit in contemporary society. This study is part of a much larger work on Black churches in Detroit that seeks to analyze the degree in which these churches function as political institutions in Detroit neighborhoods.

Joseph Fichter (1965) has suggested that African American religion in America is by categorization segregated religion, but that it embodies a vast array of forms, models, and characteristics. At one extreme are the totally separatist religious sects. These organizations claim that the African American man is superior to the White man and ridicule the idea of rapprochement or unity with White Christians. At the other extreme are Black churches established in White denominations as a response to the fear of many Whites during the Civil War and Reconstruction that independent Black churches were a political threat to White authority.

The church denominations that will be examined in this study historically all fit along this spectrum of separatist to inclusive, with the African Methodist Episcopals and the Baptists somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Although independent of the White denominations, they have not sought total isolation from mainstream American political and religious thought. However, their political motivation must be examined based on the historical fact that they were established during the Revolutionary era and have inherited much of the underpinnings of that period. The Church of Cod in Christ and the Black Apostolic churches, although independent from White denominations, were formed during the beginning of the twentieth century, a period of severe repression for African Americans, which may have a bearing on their often mentioned otherworldliness. The Black Presbyterian and Missouri Synod Lutheran churches are within White denominations that sought to retain Blacks after the Civil War while providing the m little input into the churches socio-political agendas. This has influenced their political and social outlooks in a different way than African American independent churches.

African American members of United Methodist, United Church of Christ and Nationalistic/Messianic churches represent a further departure from traditional Black churches in that all were formed well into the twentieth century, with many of Nationalistic/Messianic churches and the United Church of Christ churches being founded during the height of the Civil Rights movement. Additionally, some of these churches were the result of reunification of churches that had separated during the Civil War or resulted from a unification of various denominations.

Each of these denominations has a unique history within the Black community and cannot be analyzed politically without some understanding of their historical roots. These histories provide the basis for many of the present practices and policies of each congregation. This study will be devoted to analyzing these histories at the national level as well as examining the demographic characteristics of twelve individual churches in the greater metropolitan Detroit area.

THE HISTORIC BACKGROUND OF AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCHES

The Baptist Churches

The attraction of the Baptist church for uprooted Africans was possibly an outgrowth of a culture influenced more by emotion than rational inquiry. Slaves were understandably drawn towards a type of worship in which they were active players rather than bystanders. …

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