By Owei Lakenfa
I WATCHED the video of a young African American lady in a Black Church in the United States waving a gun above her head like an American flag. I do not know whether the gun was loaded. But it was a clear message that she was ready for a shoot-out with any would-be mass murderer who might want to take on her congregation.
She might also not be the only member carrying a gun in Her Father’s House Of Worship which may soon become an arsenal. I shudder at the possibility of accidental discharge of weapons in the House of God.
A House of love and peace; a sanctuary for the heavily laden; a temple of worship and contemplation is becoming in ‘God’s Own Country’ a battle ground where as a black person, you have to ‘Stand Your Ground’ I wondered if 87-year old Susie Jackson, one of the nine victims of the June 9, 2015 shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Charleston, South Carolina might have been alive, if she carried a gun.
Would 21-year old white racist and terrorist, Dylan Storm Roof who shot the nine, have picked the Black Church if he knew worshipers were armed? I doubt it because cowards like him fear for their lives. But should civilized people surrender their way of life because savages are on the prow? I don’t think so.
However, the reality of the Black Church is an indication of deep crises in America as it exposes the great country as being quite racially segregated despite an Obama in the White House. It is incredible that only five percent of the churches in this largely Christian country, is racially integrated. The whites have a history of control, while the blacks fear a white take over were they to integrate churches.
It is an historical issue; White Americans who seized, bought and maintained Africans as slaves, were Christians. How could they sit in the same room for worship when the Holy Book says all humans are the children of the same God and that they are equal before the Father? That automatically would have ended slavery. So the slave masters used portions of the Bible to justify slavery, while blacks used the Bible for salvation.
How does the priest preach one humanity for the slave and the slave owner? Certainly, blacks could not be contented when Christianity is interpreted in Eurocentric perspectives; so while many slave owners conceived of a white Jesus, the comprehension of many slaves was a black God that answereth by Fire. The God that will come take them Home.
So during slavery, the Church became a refuge for the slave; it was both a religious, social and cultural sanctuary where he could be in control of his affairs even if only for a few hours. The Black Church became a place where they could reclaim their dignity and humanity and even develop their political strategies.
Booker .T. Washington, a great advocate of racial equality, in his 1909 book, “The Story Of The Negro: The Rise Of The Race From Slavery” traced the official rise of the Black Church to Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, two slaves who had purchased their freedom. They became preachers, and attended the St George’s Church, Philadelphia where the white congregation kept the blacks in the galleries. But the two pastors were allowed to sit in the main church. Washington narrates the breaking point:
“The crisis was reached one Sunday morning when the attempt was made to move Jones and Allen from their accustomed places in the body of the church into the gallery, whereupon they and their followers rebelled and walked out” He described what happened next “On April 17, 1787, the coloured portion of this congregation formed, under the leadership of Allen and Jones, what was known as the Free African Society”
In 1790, Allen and some of his followers established the Independent Methodist Church while Jones and his followers went to the Episcopal Church from which blacks, especially in New York and Baltimore soon withdrew to found their own churches. In 1794, some of the earliest Black Churches; St Thomas Church, Philadelphia and Bethel Church, were built. By 1800, the break between the White and Black Churches became virtually irreversible.
The Black Churches became the centre of development and mobilisation for African Americans as they built schools, hospitals, recreation centres, shelter for the homeless and discussed the politics of their country. They became the bastion of Black Power.
So when on Sunday mornings, Americans with their national motto: In God we Trust, carry their Bibles, they are conscious of their race; they head for the church their race attends. But for the white supremacist, the Black Church is a challenge to white power, therefore, a legitimate target.
It needs to be pointed out that not all African Americans accept Christianity; some see it as the religion of the white man. Malcolm X, whose father, the Reverend Little was murdered on a railway track by white supremacists, said “The greatest miracle Christianity has achieved in America is that the black man in white Christian hands has not grown violent”
Roof in carrying out the terrorist attack was trying to put fear in the African American people. He is reported to have shouted at his victims “You’re taking over our country” This is ironic as both white and black America are immigrants even if one came in the Mayflower and the other on the slave ship.
America is in dire need of salvation. A country where a man like Adam Lanza wakes up in the morning, shoots his mother in bed and walks to an Elementary school, Sandy Hook, to kill twenty children and six adults, is in urgent need of rebirth.
After the church shooting, President Barrack Obama lamented “this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advance countries”. But which other country has three hundred million guns in private homes? It is not military might, technological advances or economic power that makes a great nation; but the worth of every life in it.