By: A’Breya Young
Throughout the years of slavery in American history, slave masters manipulated the word of God to suppress the voices of African Americans. The image of black people studying Christianity—from the perspective of retaining their freedom through faith—intimidated slave owners. Nonetheless, African Americans symbolized an ultimate threat, resulting in the white community’s refusal of their faith. Slave owners continuously used their power to abuse the enslaved and discouraged them from indulging in their new religious practices. Their efforts, however, strongly encouraged African Americans to turn to God for protection and to rebel against those who held them in bondage. The Black Church’s embodiment in Christianity continues to make a lasting impact on black culture and its identity.
There is a popular notion that Christianity is “the white man’s religion.” It was not until the late 18th century that people of African descent joined protestant churches. Missionaries persuaded slave owners to convert their slaves to Christianity by convincing them that it would make the enslaved more obedient. Slave owners used scriptures such as, “slaves, obey your earthly masters,” to suppress African Americans. The symbolic meaning behind baptisms, however, threatened the white community because it was one of many biblical ideas that contradicted slavery. This fear influenced the making of the Slave Bible, which excluded portions of the bible that would fuel rebellious ideas. Noting stories such as the Israelites owning slaves and removing those involving Moses and Pharaoh were used to justify slavery. However, as African Americans adopted Christianity, they made it their own by refusing to accept the white man’s theology that was colored into religion. When slaves secretly learned how to read English, they shockingly saw messages that went against the biblical justification of slavery. This revelation later inspired black preachers to promote Christianity as a religion that diminished oppressive ideas and embraced liberation, which led to the establishment of the Black Church. The creation of negro spirituals demonstrates the significance behind the impact of black people associating the word of God with freedom. With the use of creative approaches in dealing with their struggles and connecting with their inner spirits, more African Americans were motivated to convert to Christianity.
“Oh freedom over me
And before I’d be a slave
I’d be buried in my grave
And go home to my Lord and be free” (Golden Gospel Singers 1997)