Radical Resistance: A Brief History of the Black Christian Church

Guest Post by Dr. Fatimah S. Salleh

In the wake of the recent homeland terrorist attack and massacre at a South Carolina AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church, I need to give a small, condensed history of the black church—why it needed to exist and why it continues to exist.

Upon their arrival here on the auction block, black Africans were subjected to white Christianity. A white Christianity that used their Bible to support black subjugation, a white Christianity that preached of a cursed skin and black bodies adherence to white ownership. Yes, all of this destruction and degradation was cloaked in Christianity.

White Christianity used their white Jesus to tell black folks they were anything but children of God.

But. But.

But, black slaves refused to believe the Christianity presented by their enslavers.

Instead, in what can only be counted as one of the greatest acts of radical resistance they claimed Jesus for themselves. What they chose to find was a God who saw them, what they chose to believe was that God could answer their prayers much like the God of the Hebrew slaves.

In the brush arbors and in the backfields, black slaves began their spiritual subversion of white Christianity—they embraced and named a God for themselves. Here are the roots of the black American Christian church.

Form the clandestine church happenings on plantations to the meeting houses built on black dollars, the black church survived and it found a theology that asked its believers to do the same—SURVIVE.

For decades the black church has been a site of resistance against the oppressive regime of white hegemony expressed explicitly through the teachings of white Christianity.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Duke University Archives. Durham, North Carolina, USA.

The black church was there when white Christians desecrated the cross by burning them as threats to black life.

The black church holds its power from a people refusing to give up on their God.

The black church still exists because there is a need to worship, praise, and lament in a place outside of the white gaze.

The black church exists because it stands as communal hub for both fellowship and organizing in a society that says its post racial.

There are reasons the black church is always under attack. It is as much a presence, a symbol and hallmark of black life and specifically, black life with God that racists desire to destroy.

The black church serves as one of the sentinels within the black American experience.

Black churches have been burned, bombed, and under heavy artillery.

Evil attacks hope.

(Clockwise from top left) Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair: the four girls killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sunday, September 15, 1963.

 Why do the most segregated hours1 still exist? Because 4 little girls couldn’t go to church without dying, and more than 50 years later, 9 people couldn’t survive Wednesday night Bible study

Do you have any doubt you belong to a white Christian church similar to those of old? Listen to your talks, dialogue, and the preaching this Sunday.

Does your Christian church acknowledge that Christians are still dying because they were not just Christians, but black Christians?

Are your Christians willing to do something about the massacre of their brothers and sisters?

Go on ahead, ask these questions of your church and then you tell me…is your Christianity ready to deal with its Christianity?

1 The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

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