Black churches have become centers of political interaction in the 19th century when Black Christians were determined to achieve the full benefits of citizenship in U.S. society, scholar Nicole Myers Turner said at a Baptist History and Heritage Society webinar.
Racial politics is driven “by the need to access the resources deprived of free Black people and a deep sense that Black freedom and equality must be recognized,” he said. “There has been a development of this resistance to being marginalized in the post-emancipation period.”
Myers Turner, an assistant professor of American religious history at Yale University, taught in his 2020 book, Soul Liberty: The Evolution of Black Religious Politics in Posttemancipation Virginia. The presentation marked the third phase of the society’s ongoing project “Making Black History Public History” and was largely led by First Baptist Church in Hampton, Va., And its pastor, Todd C. Davidson.
The address on July 7 includes summaries of case studies from the book detailing the evolution and effectiveness of Black religious political advocacy, the emerging voice of women within the Black church, the rise of the pastor to church leadership, and the influence of Black theological gender education and ministerial development.
“Whenever we think about Black churches, we soon hear about someone like Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement. … I want to be annoyed, how did the Black churches become these places? ” explanation by the author.
The answer goes back to the late 1880s, when John Mercer Langston became the first Black Virginian elected to Congress.
Black churches and associations, formerly isolated on political and theological issues, began to work together to address both social and political challenges. By the time Langston ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, he was able to use widespread, cohesive associations for support.
“We are seeing a shift in leadership where Black church networks have become key for political organizing,” Myers Turner said. “This is the coming of the Black church.”
Black churches and associations, formerly isolated on political and theological issues, began to work together to address both social and political challenges.
The use of the term “soul liberty” in the book’s title, he added, refers to that victory and to the Black church’s quest for religious freedom, justice and fairness.
Women are also looking that freedom and it reached a level in the congressional campaign, he said. “Langston includes women in his organizing. They can’t hold office, but they can organize and help Black candidates.
A pivot point for women was also documented in the administration of a congregation in Virginia to an unmarried mother and her late unsuccessful appeal for church restoration in the early 1880s.
Women in the congregation have initiated a series of discussions and committee hearings challenging the traditional practice of restoring men to membership in such cases, but not women.
“We can see that even the presence of this conversation reflects how women’s voices grow stronger. Women started calling out these inequalities and got the church’s attention, ”Myers Turner said. So even though the (woman’s) claim was not successful, what is remarkable in this case is that in church meetings, women’s voices are heard and they are included in this process. Whereas in the past, they were the ones who were disciplined and they had no voice. ”
The case also showed the pastor’s continued rise as the leading authority in Black churches, this time ruling that unmarried mothers were disciplined while men were not, he said. “Because the church then made communal decisions, now the decision rests with the pastor. This is a change that has taken place throughout the 19th century. ”
The ascension of the pastor was also strengthened by the development of theological education for Black ministers during this period, he said.
Myers Turner mentioned Branch Theological Seminary, an institution established by the Virginia Diocese of the Episcopal Church to educate Black ministers and maintain the separation between white and Black churches. “This is one of the places where we’re starting to see theological education and its gender components, the idea that theological education is for men only.”
But even the theological education of Black men was considered dangerous by some because it posed “a real danger to white supremacy that Black men would be trained and raised to ministerial leadership,” he said.
The lack of educational opportunities for Black women is increasingly seen as dangerous by Black church leaders and educators, Myers Turner said. “In the late 1880s, early 1890s, this idea began that education was one of the ways to maintain for Black women a sense of dignity and protection from the violence that could occur if they were working in black women. home of white men.
“So we can start seeing that Black Ministerial leadership is founded on theological education, and it is also becoming a model of protection of Black women. The minister becomes a protective figure to Black women through the argument of education.
In his response to the lecture, Davidson said that the history of Black church activism was alive and well in the churches he served, and he lamented the theological differences that prevented Black churches from working more together. .
But he added that Myers Turner’s book shows the importance of churches diligently preserving congregation histories.
“Churches need talented historians or partner with local academic institutions to narrate this kind of history to the local church,” he said.
Myers Turner, who researched the church and minutes of the convention and archives and history of the local church in his research, he said he has always encouraged congregations to keep records and record members ’experiences for future generations.
“We need to partner more with oral histories and church record keeping. So much history will be recorded by church members and also from the churches that keep the documents. We can’t continue to tell their history without them. ”
Meet the Baptist pastor who helped cultivate the Lost Cause narrative
Baptist missionaries exported white supremacy to Brazil along with the gospel, the historian said
The Baptist History and Heritage Society is receiving a grant, launching a new webinar series