The Church in African America Pre-1954

Resistance to a Racial Empire

Metropolitan AME Church, founded in 1838 as Union Bethel AME Church.  The African Methodist Episcopal Church was the first Protestant independent denomination founded by black people, who wanted independence from white Methodists in 1816.  African-American churches nourished faith, hope, and love as well as organizations like the NAACP, Urban League, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  Photo credit: Agnosticpreacherskid | CC3.0, Wikimedia Commons (cropped, color adjusted).


the church in african america pre-1954: resistance to a racial empire

The selection of perspectives on church history in this section has been guided by three factors: (1) to demonstrate that Christianity has not been a “white man’s religion”; (2) the study of empire as a recurring motif in Scripture by recent biblical studies scholars; and (3) explorations of biblical Christian ethics on issues of power and polity, to understand how Christians were faithful to Christ or not.  Christian relational ethics continues a Christian theological anthropology that began with reflection on the human nature of Jesus, and the human experience of biblical Israel.

Messages and Essays on the Church in African American Post-1954

The Role of Jesus in Revolution and the Pursuit of Justice This is an evangelistic message that highlights the Christian-led and Christian-influenced non-violent resistance movements throughout the world in the 20th century.  They show the connections and spiritual vitality of Christian faith under empire or empire-like oppression.


The Theology of Marvel’s Black Panther (45 - 60 minute presentation, or 2 hour presentation with discussion) A fun exploration of the movie as social commentary, reliance on actual African and African-American history affected by Christian faith, and concepts of good and evil which are ultimately theological. Why is Wakanda like Ethiopia? How does the T’Challa vs. Killmonger dynamic play out like the MLK vs. Malcolm X dynamic?

Books and Articles on the Church in African-America Pre-1954: Resistance to a Racial Empire

Wikipedia, George Lisle (Wikipedia article) pastor and missionary, ~1750 - 1828; see George Liele, Negro Slavery's Prophet of Deliverance (The Baptist Quarterly) and first American to be ordained as a missionary to any other land, see Boston University School of Theology, George Liele (Boston University School of Theology)

Marcia Y. Riggs and Barbara Holmes, Can I Get a Witness?: Prophetic Religious Voices of African American Women : An Anthology (Amazon book, 1997) featuring Ida Wells Burnett, Mary McLeod Bethune, Fannie Lou Hamer, and many other women - a valuable resource

Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (originally published 1845, Amazon book, 2016) and The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (originally published 1889, 1892, Amazon book, 2003)

Jone Johnson Lewis, African American History and Women Timeline (Women's History website)

Tera W. Hunter, To 'Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women's Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Amazon book, 1997)

Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited (Amazon book, 1949) an impactful and still relevant presentation of Jesus in his socio-political context

Albert J. Raboteau, Slave Religion: The "Invisible Institution" in the Antebellum South (Amazon book, 1978) pieces together what we can know historically about early African-American Christian worship, and how it became black Christianity today

Carl F. Ellis Jr., Free at Last?: The Gospel in the African-American Experience (Amazon book, 1983, 1996) explores the black church's historic emphasis on exodus and exile motifs from Scripture, also suggests that Malcolm X was actually moving back to Christian faith

Albert J. Raboteau, A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History (Amazon book, 1995) describes the struggles and preaching of the black American church from slavery to the Civil Rights Movement, and explores its significance for American history and self-understanding

C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya, The Black Church in the African American Experience (Amazon book, 1990) a thorough history, especially of the major black church denominations

David D. Daniels, Why Pentecostalism's Multiethnic Beginning Floundered (Christianity Today, 1998)

Editors, Black Christianity Before the Civil War: From the Editor - The Trojan Horse Gospel (Christianity Today, 1999)

A.G. Miller, A Timeline of Black Christianity Before the Civil War (Christianity Today, 1999)

Yolanda Smith, The Musical Theology of Spirituals (Christianity Today, 1999)

Ted Olsen, By Any Means Necessary: Black Abolitionists Were Tired of Waiting for a Gradual, Peaceful End to Slavery (Christianity Today, 1999)

Milton C. Sernett, African American Religious History: A Documentary Witness (Amazon book, 1999)

Milton C. Sernett, The Expatriate Option: Some Blacks, Like George Liele, Had to Emigrate to Live and Minister Freely (Christianity Today, 1999)

Will Gravely, You Must Not Kneel Here: One April Sunday, Richard Allen and Other Black Methodists Decided They Wouldn't Stand for Prejudice Anymore (Christianity Today, 1999)

Carolyn McCulley, Baptist Power: How the Largest African-American Denomination in the World Got Its Start (Christianity Today, 1999)

Mark Sidwell, Black Christianity Before the Civil War: A Gallery - The Fruit of Freedom (Christianity Today, 2009)

Albert J. Raboteau, The Dignity of Faith: What Does the Experience of Black Christians Before the Civil War Have to Say to American Christians (Both Black and White) Today? (Christianity Today, 2009)

Cheryl Sanders, Faith and Justice: What Does the Experience of Black Christians Before the Civil War Have to Say to American Christians (Both Black and White) Today? (Christianity Today, 2009)

Robert L. Stevenson, Need for Community: What Does the Experience of Black Christians Before the Civil War Have to Say to American Christians (Both Black and White) Today? (Christianity Today, 2009)

Tim Stafford, Frederick Douglass’s Crusade Against ‘Soul-Destroying Religion’ (Christianity Today, Feb 2009)

Raphael G. Warnock, The Divided Mind of the Black Church: Theology, Piety, and Public Witness (Amazon book, 2013)

Reggie L. Williams, Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance (Amazon book, 2014)

Mark Galli, The Inconceivable Start of African-American Christianity: Why Slaves Adopted Their Oppressors' Religion - and Transformed It (Christianity Today, Feb 21, 2014)

Patrick Young, When a Ban on the Chinese Was Proposed and Frederick Douglass Spoke Out (Long Island Wins, Feb 8, 2017)

Jonathan M. Hansen, In W. E. B. Du Bois, Finding An Identity Politics We Can All Believe In (WBUR, Feb 16, 2017)

Janna Malamud Smith, How A Black Businessman Helped Save William Lloyd Garrison's Newspaper (WBUR, Feb 2, 2017)

Eric Washington, Jarena Lee: Trailblazing African-American Preacher and 'Self-Made' Woman (Christianity Today, May 2017)

Dante Stewart, Why the Enslaved Adopted the Religion of Their Masters—and Transformed It (Christianity Today, Feb 2018)

Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, Black Spiritual Traditions Have Long History in Catholic Church (Global Sisters Report, National Catholic Reporter, Mar 19, 2018) tracing back Catholic faith among West Africans enslaved and brought to the US from Catholic Kongo

Nikole Hannah-Jones, Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals Were False When They Were Written. Black Americans Have Fought to Make Them True. (NY Times Magazine, Aug 14, 2019) “And to this day, black Americans, more than any other group, embrace the democratic ideals of a common good. We are the most likely to support programs like universal health care and a higher minimum wage, and to oppose programs that harm the most vulnerable. For instance, black Americans suffer the most from violent crime, yet we are the most opposed to capital punishment. Our unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white Americans, yet we are still the most likely of all groups to say this nation should take in refugees.”

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church and empire: reflections on faithfulness and compromise: topics