Eric C. Lincoln: “a Black Church In The African American Experience”

Read Complete Research Material

Eric C. Lincoln: “A Black Church in the African American Experience”


When we cut through the many good reasons that lead social scientists to study religion, we find ourselves in the end confronting questions about politics. Whether subtly or straightforwardly, with explicit or only veiled references to the Marxian axiom that religion is an opiate, the analytical musings of the sociologist or the political scientist invariably direct us to conclude something about whether religion, especially in its organized forms, promotes or retards progressive social change. And historians have been almost obsessive in posing questions about the role of religion in encouraging or stifling populist cries of injustice. The debates on this issue among the social scientists are too long, too complicated, and too heated to review in full. However in opening a discussion of C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Mamiya's The Black Church in the African American Experience—a book that will surely be seen to be a landmark study little background may be useful.


Lincoln and Mamiya affirm that the seven major historic black denominations—the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Incorporated, the National Baptist Convention of America, Unincorporated, the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the Church of God in Christ—historically played a liberating role for African-Americans. More important, the authors bear witness to the continuing effectiveness of that role in the present. The mood of the story they record is most definitely upbeat. Interestingly, Lincoln and Mamiya pay relatively little attention to the shaping of African-American Christianity by the slaves and whatever African past they were able to retain. Nor are they much interested in theological disputes, noting that the impetus for independent black churches did not arise from such differences. Their study concentrates instead on the social projects of the visible church institutions created by free black Americans.

Lincoln and Mamiya acknowledge that the pluses come with some minuses. The educational level of African-American ministers is higher than it was, but not as high as that of the burgeoning African-American professional class, often trained in elite Ivy League institutions. As a result, the church's leadership role is threatened. The church's network of social services, while growing in absolute terms, is becoming in percentage terms a diminishing part of the network of social services created by African-Americans. Most ominous, the enhanced financial status of churched African-Americans (even members of the pentecostal Church of God in Christ have moved perceptibly up the social scale) has left a gaping gulf between “respectable” African-Americans and unchurched, inner city, poor African-American males. These men, who outnumber young African-American men in college, are unemployed, move regularly between drug-trafficking on the streets and prisons, and die with shocking frequency in blazes of gunfire.

Lincoln and Mamiya state in the beginning that “we use the term 'the Black Church' as do other scholars and much of the general public as a kind of sociological and theological shorthand reference to the pluralism of black ...
Related Ads