By Rev. Willie A. Douglas
The unfolding drama of how Afro-Americans took the raw material of their lives and organized what has become their strongest institution – the church – must be viewed by the Afro-American community in a proper perspective.
The mission of the Black church must be the enhancement of people in the spirit of love and unity as the Holy Spirit leads and directs. For Afro-American people, the Black church must be considered our mother and father, our schoolmaster, our base, and our hub: the grounding for the spiritual development of our being and of the community.
To understand the nature of Black churches, we need to first comprehend the role of the tribe, both in Africa and in America.
Africans viewed the world through the lens of the tribe. Membership in the tribe was based on blood relationship, adoption and absorption. The group granted identity and provided coherence and continuity.
As a result, there developed a family-structured mindset, which explains the Black man’s struggle with self-identity apart from the whole.
Slaves brought to America – stripped of their possessions, dignity and purpose for living – arrived empty handed, but not empty-headed.
They brought with them mental cargo of a family-structured society.
Enslaved, dehumanized, demeaned and divested of most vestiges of self-worth, slaves began to organize their lives around principles that were transferable. In time, however, Christianity spread among slaves and family groups aligned themselves with the religion.
The African mindset toward family organization based on blood ties was maintained as the slave became Christianized, and evolved into the tribal family – the church. This relationship with the church is characteristic of many contemporary Black churches.
The Black church has been represented by the lengthening shadows of its leaders –
pastors and ministers. The Black preacher and the church have been the only institutions providing content, continuity, concern, capacity and compassion to deliver liberation to the Black community.
While Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holds a place of deep affection in the hearts of most prideful Black Americans, it must also be remembered that many unknown and unsung s/heroes of the faith, which made King’s thrust a reality, preceded him.
Without prejudice, we must understand that Blacks can be viewed as the mother of all colors and that the Black church will be committed to all people. It will be universal and inclusive.
It will be the church surviving and living because it welcomes all people who sit with the oppressed.
Rev. Dr. Willie A. Douglas is a social justice and human rights advocate.