A Brief Glimpse Inside A Black Church
If you’ve ever attended a “Black Church,” you know that in almost every service they set aside a portion for what is called “testimony service.” For those of you that don’t know, this is a specially set aside portion of the service where members in the congregation, rise to their feet and wait to be recognized by whomever is leading the service. When recognized they relate something they believe God has done for them over the past week, or at least, since the last time they had the opportunity to “testify.”
There are some who have developed what may only be described as a “Testimony Template.” It goes something like this:
“First giving praise and honor to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the head of my life…” What follows next is their “testimony.” It might be how they were sick, prayed and got better, or how they didn’t have the money to pay a bill that was due and almost miraculously they acquired the money. It could be about some problem they were having on their job, you name it. I’ve even heard of broken washing machines that miraculously began to work again. The testimony ends with some version of the following: “I ask the Saints to pray my strength in the Lord, I started with Jesus and I am determined to go through!”
Personally I always wondered, with all the starving children in the world, and with Jesus being recorded as expressing a great deal of concern for little children, why Jesus would be fixing washing machines and paying bills while children were starving and dying from disease and malnutrition? But that’s just me.
If we were to break down the formula for the “Testimony Template,” you have the supplication, you could call it the flattery part. This is where in almost medieval terms, the “Patents of Nobility” are recited for Jesus. “Lord and Saviour,” “head of my life” are terms that exalt Jesus while abasing the person giving the testimony. You will also hear these in prayers often given by preachers in what I call “The Grand Eloquent Introduction.” There is almost a competitive spirit as each one tries to out do the other in the art of flattering God. Here’s an example of how one such prayer might begin:
“Oh most gracious and heavenly Father, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Thou who spoke creation into existence, thou who stands outside of time yet reached into time to make manifest thy majesty. Oh God, heavenly father, master of the infinities, thou who stretched forth thy hand and caused life to spring forth…”
This can go on for as long as the preacher can keep the polysyllabic superlatives flowing. You will notice that much use is made of the “King James English.” I suppose God appreciates that archaic lilt when being addressed. Of course I would be extremely surprised and more than a little disappointed to think that God could be moved by human flattery.
Indeed what we have is the anthropomorphising of God. We assume that God will be moved by the flattering compliments that work on our fellow human beings. Hidden deep in this process is the implicit separation between Man and God. God is placed a top a rocket of archaic prose and flung high into the outermost reaches of deep Space, while Man is diminished to the lowest most abject recesses of the Earth. The Gulf is truly staggering. God is the Master and Man will forever be the Slave, to be used and disposed of as God sees fit.
The irony for those who subscribe to the Christian faith is, this is exactly the opposite of the message of Jesus. When you distil the message of Jesus and his stated mission down to it’s bare essence. Jesus came to bring “atonement” – At-One-Ment – between God and mankind. Yet, in almost any Christian church around the world, you will hear time and again how wretched and worthless human beings are and how majestic God is. Within the Black Church over and over again, you will hear Black people referring to Jesus as their “Master.”
If we want to put this phenomenon in the best light possible, we could chalk it up to cultural ignorance. Indeed, in the Gospels Jesus is frequently referred to as “Master.” However, in the context of that culture and time period, “Master” meant “Teacher.” It did not infer the relative relationship between a slave and a slave owner. Given the history of the African Slave Trade in the Americas, while many Black Christians may know this intellectually, viscerally there is over 430 years of psychological “baggage” that makes it difficult to separate the term’s connotative meaning from it’s denotative meaning.
Thus, when they accept Christ as their “Lord and Master” they are psychologically embracing a slave mentality that makes them ripe for exploitation. How so? I can truthfully say during my 30 year church period, not once did Jesus ever show up physically or manifest in the flesh… met the Devil quite a few times, but Jesus? No. Jesus was always there invisibly and by proxy. The proxy for Jesus is the Pastor who claims to be delivering “the Word of God” or in essence, speaking for Jesus. By extension the Pastor then becomes the “Master.”
This earthly, human master doesn’t want them to pick cotton or plant fields, but he/she does want money. Lots of money! “Blessed Assurance” has become Blessed Insurance and the premiums on that policy are high! Tithes – 10% of your gross, some churches require a copy of your W-2 – offerings, “give as unto the Lord.” “Give until it hurts.” “Building fund” contributions. I know of some churches who collected building fund donations and never built anything for over 20 years.
Let us not forget, “Pastor’s appreciation” contributions. Most Black churches once a year hold a week long fund raiser to commemorate their Pastor coming to their church and there is always an extremely large cash gift for their pastor. This is on top of his weekly salary and whatever other costs the church covers. Often this includes his house or a portion of his mortgage payment, his car and whatever else he negotiated when he took the job. As I heard one Pastor say, “I’m in God’s business and God’s business is booming!” For him, I’m sure it is.
Is Christianity Good For Black People?
Given that the African Slave Trade was initiated and blessed by the Catholic Church, the easy answer would have to be a resounding NO! In 1452 Pope Nicholas V issued his “Papal Bull” known as “The Dum Diversas.” This document gave permission to the kings of Spain and Portugal to go into Africa, seize the land, the possessions of and the people themselves and reduce them to perpetual slavery. For the first time in human history, chattel slavery was being practiced. It was being practiced against Africans and in the Americas.
Let me expand on chattel slavery. Prior to Pope Nicholas’ Papal Bull, slavery had been practiced at various times by various peoples throughout history. However, Slaves had rights and slavery wasn’t permanent. You could not be born a slave. Under Chattel slavery, the Slave was no different than livestock. Slavery was permanent and if you had children – intentionally or otherwise – your children would be born slaves. Think about that for a moment. There is a direct parallel with the Christian doctrine of being born into sin and being literally born into slavery. Getting African Slaves to make this connection required no psychological conditioning. They were living it.
During the 430 plus years the African Slave Trade was active in the Americas, by conservative estimates we lost over 100 million Africans during the “Middle Passages” alone. The “Middle Passage” was the period from point of capture to the auction block. This doesn’t include the multiplied 100’s of millions of African Slaves who actually made it to the auction block to live out the remainder of their lives in degradation and misery.
Those more astute are probably saying, “but we never had that many African Slaves in these United States!” You’re right! The United States or what became the United States, only received about 4% of the African Slaves. The rest went to the Caribbean Islands, Brazil and other places in South America. The numbers of Africans removed from Africa is simply staggering. We look at Africa today and marvel at how primitive and under developed certain sections are. Think about what the world’s population was back in 1452. If you had taken a similar number of people out of Europe, what might Europe look like today?
If the ancestor of the person who invented the telephone, radio, automobile, computer, rocket engines had died, would those things have been invented? The world would be a much different place than it is today. What might Africans have invented had they been left alone? They built the Pyramids, something we cannot duplicate today even with our modern technology. What knowledge was lost?
Christianity and Modern Black Enslavement Continues in Part II