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Saturday, September 23, 2023

Black in America

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A Pew Forum study found that African-Americans are the most consistently religious and religiously active ethnic group in the country, stating more than 90 percent of Black Americans have some type of religious affiliation.

With this religious affiliation come decades of spiritual dedication, a historical significance and the nucleus of the African-American community that led Blacks through some of their most challenging times.

“As slaves, we didn’t have much but faith and hope, but that was enough to get us through,” said Mary Wheeler, adjunct instructor in African-American and African Diaspora studies at IUPUI. “Those bush, arbor and early house church meetings with a pot turned down in the center of the floor was where we shared our burdens with God. This is where the theology of hope was spun that has carried us from slavery to the promise of today.”

The church’s significant role in the African-American community created a foundation of inspiration, while being a source of social, educational and economic stability.

According to Edward Wheeler, president of Christian Theological Seminary, though there are other institutions that have carried forward the Black community, he persists in saying where there is hope there is life and the Black church brings forth the repository of all things.

“The church has been the cornerstone of the African-American community primarily because it is the one institution that historically African-Americans have control of, and it has been a storehouse of our hopes and fears our joys and our possibilities,” Edward Wheeler said.

Sources say the formal and informal beginnings of the church was a place that affirmed a person’s value and worth despite their educational level, their lack of acceptance in society or the fact that prior to the Emancipation Proclamation, African-Americans were slaves or in turn considered someone’s property. These beginnings from spiritual songs integrated in daily sermons allowed African-Americans to maintain a religious perspective even while facing adversities.

Mary Wheeler says the Black church has been the incubator and wet nurse for many enterprises that African Americans take for granted in the Black community today, while Marvin Smith, adjunct professor at Martin University, says the church is a hospital of sorts where Blacks can still come with all of their ills to be accepted.

However, even with the church being a cultural womb for Black America some argue that there is a disconnect between the church’s past and present significance.

“The decline in influence in the church in our African-American community is reflected in some of the behavioral patterns that we see in the Black community now,” Edward Wheeler said. “Some of the self-hatred that is demonstrated is directly related to the decline of importance of the church and the decline of the church’s involvement in those communities.”

Looked at as a place to foster social change, address socioeconomic disparities and other ills that plague Black America, the church is often a place of refuge and the center of community and activism. Its prominence has a huge influence on the Black community; however, Smith argues the loss of historical significance of what the church means to the African-American community has greatly affected its importance.

“If we continue to lack this understanding there is and will continue to be a spiraling out of control disconnect,” said Smith.

Even though the church is utilized as an instrument of change and strength, Edward Wheeler says it is the church’s responsibility to reeducate and reintroduce its importance to the community especially with the increase of segmented religious expressions.

“I think the church has an obligation to the community. Where the church has not been as active, I think the community suffers and people’s hope dies, and negative behavior becomes far more likely in those communities,” Edward Wheeler said.

Regardless, if the church has become a first resort or a last resort its prominence in Black America is still evident as it once was an institution that brought the Black culture out of devastation, while it still remains as an institution that provides African-Americans a sense of hope and faith.

“We focus on the failures of people and we look at what the church has and hasn’t done, but I would hate to think of what would happen if the church was not there,” Edward Wheeler said.

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