Tag Archives: Black Church Studies

The Black Church: Menace To Society

Kyle Canty is a married father of three. He works for Lifeway as the P2 Missions and World Changers City Representative for Philadelphia. He is also an assistant pastor at Great Commission Church located in Philadelphia. He holds a B.S. (Bible) and M.S. (Christian Counseling) Degrees from Cairn University and an MDiv (Urban Studies) from Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, PA) and is currently working on an DMin degree in Urban Missiology at Biblical Theological Seminary (Hatfield, PA). As an aspiring blogger he looks forward to writing more around the intersection of Christian theology, African American History and the marginalized. His blog The Rooftop can be found at thecityrooftop.com or follow him on twitter at @kcanman. Check out his interview with Shane Blackshear here

Originally posted here

 

Jesus said to the angel of the church in Philadelphia;

…These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. (Revelation 3:7-8)

The African American church represents various things to many, but one universal irrefutable common characteristic is its strength in the face of oppression. Oppression is noticeable to those familiar with its sting. Sadly, many place oppression in the same category as global warming—a negotiable reality. An inconvenient truth is that slaves walked the streets of Philadelphia. In this city former slaves Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were disrupted from prayer but responded by establishing a unique translation of the church. (Genesis 50:20)  Their response came to be known as the Black church in America. This institution was a response to an oppressive system designed to distinguish Africans as individuals unworthy of real community. A door forced open became a flood gate for change. Dark skinned residents wanted to worship without restriction and so they formally set out to establish liberated space.  Here is Richard Allen contemplating establishing new space for Black worshipers;

I soon saw a large field open in seeking and instruction my African brethren, who had been a long forgotten people and few of them attended public worship…I raised a society in 1786 for forty two members…We all belonged to St. George’s church….We felt ourselves much cramped;…We established prayer meetings and meetings of exhortation, and the Lord blessed our endeavors, and many souls were awakened; but the elder soon forbid us holding any such meetings; but we viewed the forlorn state of our colored brethren,  and that they were destitute of a place of worship. They were considered a nuisance. [1]

The result of the efforts of Allen and Jones is the establishment of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1791 and The African Church established in 1792, later known as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Prior to the establishment of Mother Bethel, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones established the Free African Society, an organization set-up to meet some of the social needs created by dominant class suppression. Oppressed people must be creative in their endeavor to meet the needs around them. Allen and Jones were able to step in and help a city going through a deadly yellow fever crisis. In this particular context planting a new church was a necessary step towards eventually destroying the much beloved American institution of slavery.

 

The elites of Philadelphia wanted a pure worship experience, free of their ‘other’, ‘less human’ neighbor.  These elites carried their Bibles alongside their accounting logs. These Philadelphian’s were prudent entrepreneurs who used others to accumulate and maintain wealth and status. These Quakers, Methodist and Congregationalist were all astute in their theological positions, but it must be said that they were also astute concerning their property; human and otherwise. Many of these religious explorers landed on shores desiring freedom from oppression, but once they achieved a desired order and stature they systematized a comfortable existence through the exploitation of others.

Allen and Jones seemed to recognize two key things; they could no longer acquiesce with the current church paradigm and serving their neighbor was both necessary and godly. The formal genesis of the African American church came out of protest and it just seems right that this would mark the practice of the contemporary African American church. This church was founded under the premise of ‘hearing and doing.’ Although many are convinced that the Christian life is best experienced following one’s favorite expositor or purchasing instructions to obtain the ‘anointed life’ or ‘coming up under’ a personality—in reality these preoccupations devalue the rich past that reach back to the example of both Allen and Jones. The fresh new fades that ‘chuch folk’ like to follow will not keep young black men and women from being tossed on the ash heap of urban life.  Allen and Jones decided against praying in their place, far away from the ‘others’. No more balconies carefully constructed to keep sensibilities intact all while deepening self community scars. These kinds of contradictions work in the world of artistic expression where colors and hues are bounced against one another but these contradictions strike a raw nerve for those enduring inequality and hypocrisy.  The St. George Methodist Episcopal Church of Allen’s day represented a kind of privilege that benefited those in the dominant class but disassociated the ‘other’.

The church needs to rediscover its past. Revisiting the early black church (much like the first Christians in the first century), we observe leaders willing to experience the discomfort of going where no one has gone before. Looking at history through the experience of Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, we observe real disciples willing to follow Christ into systems of injustice in order to establish ‘shalom’ where social and relational confusion shapes the ungodly narrative. These men were prophetic in their action—they recognized, like Elijah and Elisha, that working outside of the established system can be more Christ-like than the elites would have you to believe. Paradigm shifts can be beneficial, and oftentimes, necessary.

 

I recently had the opportunity to talk to some church planters in Philly and burbs about their efforts and why they’ve established new works in specific neighborhoods. Those who have spent any significant time in Philly will be aware that there seems to be a church on every corner. I’m sure there are some who would suggest that more churches are unnecessary. I would have to agree—we don’t need any more buildings occupied by concert goers or preacher groupies. However, there is a real need for liberated space where those in real need can come in contact with the Savior and find freedom. Its sad that there are places in this great city where the burdens of tradition are heaped onto the backs of wearied people. Folk need freedom from sin and stale expressions of religion. What if there were ministries grounded in sound Biblical teaching, authentic community and vibrant worship of the Savior?  What if there were churches not afraid to ask questions and listen in order to meet real tangible needs knowing that we must not only share good news but be good news.? Imagine a city that produced women and men who recognized the culture and demographics of neighborhoods and held a strong commitment to Christ and understood that a marked up Bible does not necessarily equal real discipleship or Christ like living but “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

We need leaders who understand what systemic injustice looks like in all its forms and are not afraid to claim that Jesus speaks to real social issues that black people face as a perpetually marginalized people. The boldness to found the Free African Society proved instrumental in the effort to establish shalom for a broken people. Allen and Jones were the fathers of a prophetic Church which was seen as a menacing religious presence in a White Supremacist society. It is remarkable that these two men and those who followed their leadership did not give up on the church that persecuted them. They were able to establish the true church as a means for liberation and sanctification rather than one of oppression and comfort.

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  1. Mays, B. E., & Nicholson, W. J. (2003). Origins of the Church. In C. West, & J. E. Glaude, African American Religious Thought; An Anthology (pp. 14-28). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press. p.15

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Hotep Twitter

Tristan Samuels is a MA student in Egyptology via the Near East Studies progam at the University of Toronto. His major research centers on race in antiquity and the relationship between Kemet (ancient Egypt) & Nubi‎a. This post is the first essay for Tristan’s new column for us, With Malcolm, a space to discuss Africana studies and cultural engagement, which you can follow also on Twitter @WithMalcolm.

 

I’ve noticed, frequently, on my twitter timeline a series of tweets in a hashtag #ThingsIHateAboutHoteps which was rather ironic because I was venting my thoughts about the latest anti-Black erasure of Kemet (ancient Egypt) in Hollywood in Spike TV’s TV special Tut in the #BoycottTut hashtag. More recently, there was a Huffington post discussion that was decent, but had limited diversity in perspective. From my understanding (based on the tweets that I’ve observed), ‘Hoteps’ refers to black pseudo-intellectualism and pseudo-Black nationalism. I’m down for all the criticisms (some of which were especially funny), but to call these people ‘Hoteps’ in a matter of slur is anti-Black. I will provide this list illustrating why the naming of this group as “Hotep” is problematic and anti-Black. This list by no means is exhaustive, but should be seen as an introduction to the idea of “Hotep” within Africana studies.

 

Fact #1. “Hotep” is a classical African word, specifically from Medu Neter (ancient Egyptian Language) meaning ‘peace’. E.g. famous Kemetic intellectual ‘Im-hotep’ can be rendered as ‘in peace’. The problem remains two-fold: people who do not care to do rigorous study of Kemet are hi-jacking the term; also, those who criticize them as Hoteps perpetuate anti-Blackness by dissing an ancient African language and concept which is remains misunderstood.

 

Fact #2. There are alternative terms to describe pseudo-intellectualism & pseudo-Black Nationalists. For example, Fake-Deep & Fake-Conscious (I prefer the former because it’s shorter). These posers are fake in that they co-opt academic language and use pseudo-intellectual scholarship in order to prove how much blacker they are than the next person. I’m also open to other ideas that do not disparage any Black cultural traditions (ancient or modern), maybe even as these interviewees at the Huffington Post referred Fake Deep as No-Tep or other have called it, Faux-Tep.

 

Fact #3. Disagreement with Twitter’s version of intersectionality is not inherently bigoted. The fake-deep community cites youtube videos as ‘evidence’ for their faux academic Black nationalism, but many people misabuse ‘intersectionality’ to look ‘progressive’ with limited knowledge of the discourse itself. Twitter Intersectionalists refuse read/acknowledge serious criticisms of intersectionality from post-intersectionalists or multidimensionality theorist perspectives.  Part of the problem that Rod and I have noticed is that intersectionality in online discourse is understood in primarily individualist, private, experiential terms. Any criticism of a person using intersectionality in an online context will be seen as a personal attack.

 

Fact #4. The bigotries associated with ‘Hoteps’ can be found anywhere on Black Twitter. As heterogeneous as Black Twitter is, not all Black women and men are AntiRacists or Womanist thinkers. Black Twitter is a reflection of Black Life in the African diaspora and its diversity should be recognized as such.

 

Fact #5. The concept of Black male privilege has no support from empirical evidence. For good arguments to back up this criticism, please see Dr. Tommy J Curry  ‘The Myth of Black Male Privilege and ’“‘Black Male Feminism’: a debate between Dr. Tommy Curry and Dr. David Ikard”  Perhaps this is my most controversial statement, but it must be said.  Fake-deep people certainly are sexist, homophobic, etc., but this is not only Black men & gendered discrimination is not one way.  It is impossible for Black men to be patriarchs in a society where Black men wield little institutional power as well as demonizes Black masculinity, e.g. observe the rate of police brutality against Black men.

 

Fact #6. It is a patronizing argument to continue to say: ‘why focus on Ancient Egypt, what about other African cultures’?’ Unfortunately,  Mainstream discussions of ‘Black/African History’ do not include Kemet.  Kemet’s Blackness is constantly contested in comparison to other African cultures, e.g. I don’t have to argue that medieval Mali is a Black culture. Kemet is the oldest attested Black culture & yields a vast range of primary sources that are more accessible and more diverse than most pre-modern Black cultures (e.g. ancient Nubia, Medieval West African Kingdoms, etc.). Black LGBTQIA scholars have asserted Kemet’s African context based on their understanding of ‘other African cultures’ as well as , via African-centered thought, Kemet scholarship offers us unique ways to think about the contemporary Black world. It would be best for critics to say that they personally are not interested on Kemet – and they shouldn’t disparage others who are.

 

Fact #7. There is a very lazy argument that is quite popular these days: “This ‘we were kings and queens’ shit is ahistorical and celebrates oppressive systems” Okay, first of all, it’s just a popular way of saying African societies had complex socio-political systems – Duh! Chiekh Anta Diop demonstrated this over & over. I’d recommend looking at PreColonial Black Africa . These Black rhetorics of royalty are, in fact, subversive to Western notions of ‘democracy’ as Pan-Africanist scholar Greg Thomas argues  in “Queens of Consciousness & Sex-Radicalism in Hip-Hop: On Erykah Badu & The Notorious K.I.M.” JPAS 1.7 (2007), pp. 31-32. In contrast, Classical Athens, the idealized democracy, included only Athenian males as citizens (with situational exceptions). Some “democracy!”The slave class was racialized (but not only Blacks) and ethnicized (non-Athenian Greeks). The U.S. prides itself on being the a descendent of ancient Athens, and I presume readers know all about American democracy & white supremacy. So democracy – read historically – can be shown to be inherently tied to exclusion. I’d prefer critics read the work of actual African-centered scholars – like Chiekh Anta Diop, Jacob Carruthers, Theophile Obenga, Mario Beatty [1] – to critique fake-deep twitter, not personal assumptions, and come to their own conclusions concerning the complexities of pre-colonial African political life.

Notes

[1] Recommended sources:

(a) Mario Beatty has a great discussion which makes a great overview: Part 1 –  ; Part 2 –  

 

(b) The Journal of Pan African studies has some articles that discuss Kemet itself and/or in context of other African cultures: (click ‘archives’ tab)

c) there is also ANKH: (NOTE: some articles are written in French)

(d) great overview of the meaning of Africana studies in general:  “What Black Studies Is Not Moving From Crisis To Liberation In Africana Intellectual Work

Marginalized within the Marginalized – Thoughts on contemporary black culture & theology

A Guest Post

“Harry Samuels is a student at UNC Asheville majoring in Environmental Management & Policy. He’s also very much obsessed with this Jesus guy – his politics, religious sensibilities, and the implications his teachings have for existential reality. Having been born in sunny Charleston , SC and raised in verdant Richmond, VA, he has spent his life in the American South- where many less-than-flattering portrayals and ideas of Jesus seem to prevail. Still, though, he has managed to “hold on to what is good” and seeks to explore , find, and maximize the intersection that lies between following Christ, sustainability of this gem of a planet, and environmental ethics.”

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Much of the talk that goes on within liberation theology involves such things as racial reconciliation and race politics – as it should. On a basic level, the endeavor of liberation theology (racial, gender, etc.) to set those free who have been oppressed mirrors Christ’s own ministry in his dealing with those who have been pushed to the fringes and have been “othered”- such is the point! When we think of those groups of people who have historically been margminalized and othered, it has been (most obviously) skin color/race and gender. So, specifically with African Americans, from the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the Jim-Crow laws & Civil Rights Era, it has been their being black that has been both the axis upon which they have been oppressed and the manner in which they grouped and assembled together in brother and sisterhood. Many reverends and clergymen of the black church ( i.e. Dr. King) began to see the implication and real thrust of Christ’s message for a group of people being marginalized for their skin. Of course, however, WITHIN this marginalized group- the axis of race, lies the axis of gender. We’ve all heard the adage, “you’ve already got two strikes against you- you’re black AND a woman”. This, of course, is something we see resonating to this day in such books as Keri Day’s Unfinished Business – where the reader is taught extensively the role of the black church in being a community of transcendence, refuge, and empowerment. Thus, many black churches , black clergymen, etc. responded to this and saw the real thrust of Christ’s ministry for a group of people who had been marginalized for both the color of their skin and their gender (See the parallel?).

I realize nothing I have said up until this point, is really all that earth-shattering/ground-breaking. However, what I am suggesting in setting up this parallel structure with the “axis of marginalization” , is to prove that we could come up with many different combinations within the black community. The title of this post containing the word, “contemporary” is to contrast those manners of marginilization which have been historically seen – racism and sexism. I am in NO WAY suggesting, however, that we are beyond this, America ( and all the world) is a far cry from being post-racial or post-misogynist. My point in bringing this up is that in all our effort to reconcile race and gender- there are more communities within the black community/church that are being “othered”. This is why I say “contemporary”. Within the black community you have those who are “othered” for their sexual orientation (homophobia in the black church is a topic of increasing concern, especially amongst black teens/youth), those who are “othered” for the fact that they’re not “black enough”(perhaps Blerds could fit into this category) –i.e. they speak proper and wear proper-fitting clothing ( this tends to be moreso within the contemporary black community as opposed to the church- where such behavior tends to looked upon favorably by black clergymen seeking to liberate blacks from academic oppression.), those who are “othered” for their complexion – (the brainless Team Lightskin vs. Team Darkskin “war”.) and many others I could spend all day listing and talking about.

Yes, being black has and continues to be a common point of oppression and insititutionalized racism. We must conintue to work towards racial reconciliation through black liberation theology. We must continue to work towards liberation of black women through Womanist theology. Much of the primary focus on racism and sexism often is born out of the especially malicious nature of those being oppressed because of being black and/or being a woman. Though, we should realize there are still other tremendous psychological burdens by other groups within the black community. All I am suggesting, is that we realize that the contemporary world has gotten increasingly complex in terms of relationships, means of communication and attitudes towards the church. Just as the black church was created out of neccessity from the racism of whites and their clergy, we shouldn’t be surprised to see something similar for other groups within the black community. The consequences we’ve seen often boil down to a forsaking of the faith in general and/or a distrust of black churches & black christians. Key to Christ’s ministry is stopping the vicious cycle since the dawn of human history of human beings being “othered”. Ensure that no one lies on the fringes.

I welcome/ would really like comments and feedback, a lot of this post is me thinking aloud!

Editor’s note: See Rod’s review of Keri Day’s Unfinished Business here.