I think these last two readings from Sernett are good last chapters of the book. It sets you up to think about African American churches and how they’ve grown since the beginning of the century but then also where the congregations may go in the future. The biggest challenge for African American congregations is keeping up with the needs of the people who are involved and how the world is changing around them which is something I believe the church will be able to handle.
I really enjoyed the final reading for this week, and yes, partly because it was short. I think that Harvey’s epilogue very neatly wrapped up the semester. The one thing that I was vey drawn to in Harvey’s conclusion was his elaboration on the former president of the United States. I remember the day when pretty much all the news sources were covering pastor Jeremiah Wright’s sermon that was taken out of context by the media when the issue was covered by a segment on NPR. I also took the time to look up the speech that Obama had to give in defense of Wright’s words, and honestly, it was great. I remember when my mom and I were first hearing about this and she told me something that I still think about; this is the generation that can get offended by anything and everything. That’s still very true today, just as they did with Wright’s words, society maintains this habit of cherry-picking whatever makes them look the best. Having gone through Obama’s entire defense for Wright, he made some very valid points. People took offense to his words because people misunderstood the context of them. As Harvey points out, Wright’s words on condemning society and their almost complacency for allowing religion to condemn slavery has been heard in the voices of African Americans since the diaspora began from Africa. Many people took this sermon to mean that God was going to punish all of America, but that wasn’t the point at all. The fact of the matter is, Wright again worked to make the point that Christianity had been passed down to the slaves as a “white-mans religion” and as a result of this, people no longer felt the guilt of having to feel guilty for enslaving other human beings. Furthermore, I found it very interesting that Harvey worked to note that Obama didn’t come from an extremely devote background, he found his way to this community and found an identity through it. The cultural references were important as well because it goes to show that even in the modern age there are musicians who are still working to bring into the light that past actions do need to be answered for. Overall, Wright’s sermon started a spark in the United States, and I honestly think that this incident actually ended up helping Obama to be elected, because it proved how gifted and poised he was when communicating to the American people on very touchy subjects.
I thought it was interesting how Jones stated in his chapter that there is no black church “in the conventional understanding of the term.” He talks about who there are black congregations and black branches of churches, but no definitive singular black church. I thought this was a point that was really important to bing up because most of the readings we have done this semester refer to a black church like there is a single entity of black religion. However, this obviously is not the case, and it is an important distinction to make. It would be irresponsible to talk about the black church as a whole without fully understanding what that really implies, and what the reality of “the black church” is. As Jones says, “there are denominations, composed of congregations of black persons and under their control, and there are countless free standing congregations, but there is no one entity that can be called the black church.” Jones touches on a point here that no one else really has, which I think is strange because of how significant it is.
James E. Cone’s questioning of whether to embrace the Black Power movement mirrors my personal questioning of Black Lives Matters. The Black Power Movement was a rejection of the integration that was the foundation of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a rejection of Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategy of non-violence and the belief and imagery of Jesus being white. Primarily, it rejected the term “negro.” This controversy of not wanting to lose the support of MLK Jr. is how I felt and still feel about Black Lives Matters. The underlying and empirical movement is justified, but in my opinion, you cannot fight fire with fire. Standing firm and remaining peaceful has better outcomes overall. I find it interesting that even then at the heart of true oppression in the United States people thought the same way I do. When I tell people now that I don’t support some of the motives of Black Lives Matters, I get filthy responses. I could only imagine the struggle.
I believe James H. Cone was for African Americans and black theology. James H. Cone and all African Americans were inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. I believe all of them liked how Martin Luther King Jr was courageous and brave fighting for their civil rights. The African Americans wanted to be treated equally like everyone else. They wanted their own beliefs and traditions. James H. Cone along with the African Americans believed that they should not follow white churches. They all thought that they should not follow white churches and follow in their own black churches because they thought their black theology was born with them. African American did not want any other race controlling their beliefs or the way they live. I like James H. Cone ideas of following and creating their own black church and not following the white church. They wanted to follow their beliefs and be treated equally as everyone else in the world.
Perhaps a lot of people see religious history or studying religions in purely “past” ways. They don’t see it still a part of the world presently around them, don’t see the effects of historical movements and the implications. I really enjoyed James H. Cone’s excerpt, because I liked the theme of “Where Do We Go from Here?” I think he made a lot of great points about the religious history of African-Americans, and also emphasized that it was not yet over. I think this idea can be seen in so many places, with so many religions…Once the history books end and the documentaries stop, where do you go as a community? The choices made will likely either preserve survival or guarantee its failure.
Another large theme in Cone’s work was the idea of religion being seen through the lense of freedom. He first described himself and his community as “descendents of a black religious tradition that has always interpreted its confession of faith according to the people’s commitment to the struggle for earthly freedom.” Like some others we’ve read and discussed, Cone sees it time not only to continue with African-American religions, but also to take back control of its narrative. It’s his religion, his community’s religion, and because of that, it cannot be dictated or managed by an outsider.
Black theology, for him, was a “theology of black liberation…not created in a vacuum…born in the context of the black community as black people were attempting to make sense out of their struggle for freedom.” It’s all about the black experience, shaped by the past and prepared to shape the future.
I think that Cone was a piece to end on because of his message of a future of change and taking back identity. “To dream is not enough,” he wrote. “Since humanity is one, and cannot be isolated into racial and national groups, there will be no freedom for anyone until there is freedom for all.” I don’t believe it could be better said.
As with all readings during this course, I believe that there is a common narrative thread that goes through all we have learned which is, namely, that religion for black people fills a role as it does for all people- to explain the situations and life experiences of those who have hardship and would like an explanation for the world around them. However, it is imperative to note the lack of uniformity in the ways in which black people (a group indefinable as a unit on its own) have turned to religion, or have not. Contrary to the idea of a “black religion”, black people have struggled with the idea of religion and individual religions have divided off into sects of people who believe certain ideas over others. This is not to say that the religions of African American people are in a micro-cosm; far from it, the religions practiced by most African American people are influenced largely by the migrational patterns of others practicing different religions and the ways in which people reconciled new beliefs with their own. All in all, it is important to realize that a singular view of religion is never the correct way in which to analyze religious patterns of a group of people: just like all people, black Americans deserve the respect of individuality and dignity in any analysis of their lives.
I thought it was very interesting in the Sernett reading that the speaker focused on the physical needs of the people. It focused on what they pragmatically needed in order to live a healthy, stable life. This mentality allows them to avoid an attitude that might be dismissive of these needs and simply used religion as a temporary escape as they wait for the afterlife. It does well in trying to find that balance between both spiritual and physical needs and the interplay between the two, discussing how simply because fullfilment of physical needs is the first step is does not mean that it is the most important one.
Malcolm X was a man of many words, cause he had a lot to say (obviously) but Malcolm’s goal was to talk enough to get most of the population talking and one example where it worked was “The message to the Grassroots”in 1963. He did not only address the racism, but conflict within black communities. Not only did he mention lack of intelligence, but also the intelligence of black people and they were pretty upset, but it got them talking. It did boost till later, but it got people thinking. Even though Malcolm X is a man of many words, his words have some meaning.
I found the Wallace D. Muhammad chapter this week to be interesting, mainly because of the attitude regarding progress, goal setting, and conversion. Wallace D. Muhammad speaks several times of setting goals, with notes such as “His first aim was to get us firmly grounded in reality…” and “Master Fard told the Honorable Elijah Muhammad to get the people to come into the temple at any cost.” (Sernett 504). He also mentions steps to reach a final goal, saying “Revolution is not the final object or the final aim of his great work, revolution is a means for reaching the final object.” and “The emphasis has to be taken off of revolution and put on objectives and aims one day.” (Sernett 506).
I found this passage interesting because it reminded me heavily of a lesson I was taught in training for my job. We were discussing goal setting, and the steps to creating an efficient goal. We were told about the ‘SMART’ method, in which goals are structured to be reachable and precise. This passage made me think of goal setting primarily in a visualization sense, particularly when Wallace D. Muhammad spoke of ideals and pictures that were spoken of, such as “He said to tell us that there was real gold over there.” and “He said that we would get money, good homes, and friendship.” (Sernett 502). It then brought to mind the ‘SMART’ goal-setting method because of the sequential aspect of the progress discussed in the chapter. It seemed to be spoken of in a step-by-step idea, where the overarching goal was divided into smaller, more reachable goals such as welcoming more people. I found this particularly interesting, as it seems to be a very realistic and practical mindset. I remember in the early readings this semester, such as the Francis Le Jau reading, many writers spoke of various efforts made to convert and welcome more and more people to their church. Each strove to accomplish this goal in various ways, but few seemed to take the same step-by-step approach as Wallace D. Muhammad.