“The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Tune” by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Penguin Random Home 306 pp. $30.
Novelist Zora Neale Hurston as soon as wrote, “There are years that ask questions and years that reply.” In a unstable period rocked by Trumpism and Black Lives Matter, Henry Louis Gates Jr. helps supplies some solutions to the weary in his new e-book, “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Tune.”
Gates enlightens us by revealing the relevance and resonance of Black church traditions in a rustic nonetheless falling in need of its preliminary promise that every one persons are created equal.
Gates, director of the Hutchins Heart for African and African American Analysis at Harvard College, has been a pathbreaking literary scholar, professor, public mental, raconteur, filmmaker and pop-cultural determine. His tutorial ingenuity and cultural curation of the Black expertise have made him a gatekeeper of African American research.
Gates’ credentials place him to focus on an often-ignored wealth of details about Black Christianity. His e-book’s crisp and accessible narrative fashion strikes nimbly from discussions of “hush harbor” providers (gatherings the place enslaved individuals secretly engaged in spiritual practices) to hip-hop to electoral politics. And it occupies a novel area of interest amongst nonfiction works about Black faith geared toward most people, in that it doesn’t body worship providers merely as NAACP rallies with a gospel choir soundtrack.
The e-book was accompanied by a documentary miniseries produced by Gates that premiered on PBS. This multimedia strategy brings “The Black Church” to the widest potential viewers. But the e-book does a greater job of delving into important but underappreciated subjects such because the function of Black Catholicism, which is lacking in its filmed companion.
The e-book’s subtitle – “This Is Our Story, This Is Our Tune” – is taken from “Blessed Assurance,” composed by the White songwriter Fanny Crosby within the nineteenth century.
“Blessed Assurance” is without doubt one of the most celebrated Christian hymns and extensively fashionable throughout the historic Black Church custom. Its function within the Black church demonstrates how African Individuals adopted and tailored a White Christian cultural artifact to their very own functions. Within the course of, Gates suggests, African Individuals haven’t solely reimagined American Christianity however redeemed it. Gates probes the group’s path towards sociopolitical freedom and religious salvation via the testimonies of Black spiritual leaders and strange African Individuals. His deep, credible interrogation of the Black Church custom not solely advantages our understanding of Black faith however enlightens us about America itself.
Gates’ definition and outline of the Black Church custom depends closely on W.E.B. Du Bois’ basic 1903 quantity, “The Souls of Black Folks,” nevertheless it additionally displays current scholarship on Black faith by the likes of Cornel West, Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Michael Eric Dyson, Kelly Brown Douglas, Anthony B. Pinn, Barbara Dianne Savage, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., Judith Weisenfeld and Raphael G. Warnock, a minister and theologian not too long ago elected to the Senate from Georgia. The e-book’s consideration to cultural variety and sophisticated identification inside Black faith helps dismantle the oversimplification that the Black Church custom is monolithic and monochromatic. Nonetheless, Gates might have turned to different scholarly sources, together with the canon of womanism in spiritual research and different basic texts within the subject of Black Church research that may have really opened the floodgates of the Black Church custom.
Gates’ e-book helps advance Black spiritual thought and tradition by exploring what it means to be Black and Christian in trendy America, elevating it as a subject worthy of significant investigation. The visible, literary and liturgical sources he reveals shall be invaluable to future readers and researchers.
Having learn Gates’ scholarly output for many years, I can attest that the e-book’s epilogue represents among the most impassioned and introspective writing of his profession. The private homage he pays to the ability of the Holy Ghost reveals his personal deep connection to the religious custom.
Fittingly, Gates’ e-book is devoted to the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who was an exemplar of braveness and character molded by the Black Church custom at its best. That tribute encapsulates the e-book’s best power – exhibiting that Black Christian religion and identification at all times have been a selection for African Individuals quite than merely a matter of likelihood or circumstance. It demonstrates how this beloved but besieged custom has lasted for therefore lengthy, fueled by the divine hope that the search for freedom, justice, equality and dignity remains to be potential on American soil. Gates not solely supplies some solutions but additionally helps readers perceive a few of their very own questions.
– Reviewed by Juan M. Floyd-Thomas is an affiliate professor of African American spiritual historical past on the Vanderbilt College Divinity Faculty and the Graduate Division of Faith.