The Sanctified Church and the Color Line: Reorganization, Social Change, and the African American Religious Experience
Cheryl Townsend Gilkes
Religion is an important window through which to understand changes in the political economy and the social dislocations these changes create in people's lives. While change may be global in its connections and consequences, people experience change and crisis in the particularities of family, congregation, community, and society. The responses of particular peoples in particular places to the forces of dislocation and disruption can sometimes contribute to the repertoire of recovery and resistance for all of humanity. African Americans in the United States are a very small part of the world's population; they are a numerical and social minority within the United States. Yet the songs of African American religious life and political movements are sung around the world. Student activists in the People's Republic of China sang the civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome," and mourners in Sweden sang the spiritual "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" at the site of their prime minister's assassination.
Black religion in the United States is a highly diverse phenomenon whose multiple contours have been shaped in response to and in spite of the violent dislocations of racial oppression: slavery, Reconstruction, the rise of racist legislation, migration, and ghettoization. Currently the fastest-growing segment of "the Black Church" is in that area traditionally called "the Sanctified Church" --predominantly black holiness and pentecostal denominations and congregations, exemplified according to Lincoln and Mamiya ( 1990:76-91) by the Church of God in Christ. Zora Neale Hurston ( 1981) pointed to the Sanctified Church as the locus of a revitalization and song-making movement that represented the reorganization of African and slave religions in the face of the anglicization of black America in the early twentieth century. Cheryl Sanders ( 1996:5) defined the Sanctified Church as "an African American Christian reform movement that seeks to bring its standards of worship, personal morality, and social concern into conformity with a biblical hermeneutic of holiness and spiritual empowerment." The Sanctified Church is all of that and more; it is the root of a complex, branching, and growing