Lift Every Voice: Why We Need the Black Church

Lift Every Voice: Why We Need the Black Church

Church History

While in seminary, I remember a young woman telling our theology professor why she felt confused about the existence of the Black church and how she didn’t understand why every church in America wasn’t diverse if we’re all supposed to believe in unity. As the only Black woman in the room, I waited to see if anyone would answer her. When no one did, not only did I feel misunderstood, but I also felt frustrated that I was the only one able to provide her with an answer.

Like the woman in my class, many people outside the Black community often misunderstand it. Some hear the term “Black church” and only think of a building filled with Black people. They raise questions about why we even need a Black church or wonder why Black churches aren’t considered problematic. We’re all supposed to be one, right?

Due to our history of racism, longstanding segregation, and cultural differences, there are many misconceptions surrounding the Black church, which ultimately cause further division among Black and white Christians.

It is possible and necessary for us to be unified, but we have to start by understanding each other.

For those outside the Black church, seeking a proper understanding of the full scope of Christian history and listening to Black voices is a great place to start.

What is the Black church?

The Black church was born out of racism and segregation. Its existence solidified in Philadelphia during the 1700s when Black Christians Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were prevented from worshipping with other members of a predominantly white congregation. In response, Allen formed the first fully independent Black denomination called the African Methodist Episcopal (or AME) Church.

Freestanding Black churches were built as segregation in the United States continued, and many historically Black churches are still in operation. When we use the term “Black Church” today, we can apply it broadly to not only the historically Black denominations like the AME, CME, and COGIC churches, but to any Christian denomination that reflects the traditions and history of the African American experience.

As much as the Black church is rooted in history, it’s also deeply cultural. As Black church communities came together, they became places of refuge. Places of simultaneous freedom and privacy. The church made a way for Black people to raise money, fight for equality together, support Black businesses, and put children through school. The Black church helped Black people not only survive through life, but experience life.

Black Christians maintained a sub-culture that was partially expressed in their church experience. This is what makes the Black church so unique and beautiful—it’s filled with its own traditions, stories, music, and preaching styles that you won’t find anywhere else.

The Black church, therefore, is not merely a religious institution, but its own entity. A culture all on its own with historical roots. It is a lesson in how racism has long-lasting consequences and serves as a reflection of life in the Black community over the course of hundreds of years.

Why We Need Black Voices

Author and historian Tiffany Gill says the Black church is one of the strongest apologetics for the power and faithfulness of the true gospel. It has survived against all odds and remained a beacon of hope for millions of people. But, the forced segregation of Black people within the Christian faith has cut us off from important Black voices. And because of this history, the voices, teachings, and leadership of white theologians have been the preferred voices of authority within our faith.

But if Christianity consists of all nations, tribes, and tongues, then white voices cannot be the standard or sole perspective for Christianity.

Who better to turn to for a theology of survival, lament, or joy in the midst of sorrow than the Black preacher? What better example of faithful endurance than those who were oppressed for centuries? How much more should we appreciate the Black church and its example of how to remain steadfast in your Christ-given identity despite the constant tearing down of your physical identity?

If we believe that God has unified us, making us all equally valuable, then we have to remain diligent in highlighting the ways that African men and women have largely shaped our theological orthodoxy and intentionally emphasize Black teachers in our books, papers, and media platforms.

So, what should we do?

Black church history is a part of Christian history. We all share the same faith and, therefore, should know and learn from the full story of how the church has experienced Christian living throughout the centuries. My hope is that one day, Black Christians will not have to carry the burden of informing others why there’s a Black church by themselves.

So in the pursuit of highlighting, listening to, and learning from the Black church and Black voices, start by recommending Black pastors, preachers, and theologians when friends or congregations ask for resources on any topic—not just race relations. Be intentional about reading books written by Black authors. Pray that God would make the pursuit of racial reconciliation evident not just in our lifestyles, but in who we listen to. Ask for grace as you check for prejudices when you naturally trust white voices over Black ones.

In your own personal study, listen to teaching from Black voices on RightNow Media, like . . .

The consequences of racism and segregation don’t have to define us—we can learn how to simultaneously appreciate what the Black church has done and collectively mourn the reason for its existence. And we can trust that understanding each other can come once we take the uncomfortable step of not choosing what is comfortable.

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Alyssa Gossom

Writer, RightNow Media

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