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Struggles Of Blacks & The Church In Early America

Friday, October 26, 2018

Consider if you will, the history of the Christian church in the early stages of the development of the New World, specifically the settlement of Virginia. It was the 1700s. England colonized this portion of America, importing its religion of which the Church of England was preeminent.  The legal structure for the official Church of England was set up in 1660, with parishes being set up and one doctrinal standard established as set by the bishops of England. If you were not properly ordained and commissioned by the Church of England you could very well lose your livelihood. Here’s how the Virginian officials put it: “If any other person pretending himself a minister shall, contrary to this Act, presume to teach or preach publicly or privately, the Governor & Council are hereby desired and impowered (sic) to suspend & silence the person so offending.”[1] Talk about keeping it together!

The Anglicans controlled the scene for years until the Evangelicals showed up. The Evangelicals wanted a piece of the action (Quakers, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists). Here’s the thing; the Evangelicals offered a more personal intense type of religion which was more appealing to the people than the Anglican offering. This move by the Evangelicals was setting the stage for the needs of the Blacks as providence would have it. Besides, the state of the Christian church left much to be desired. It seems that the lack of training and credentialed ministers in the New World, not to mention the vast expanse of these territories put a strain on ecclesiastical leadership. This leadership vacuum became appealing to clergy in England who “wished to escape bad debts, unhappy marriages or unsavory reputations.”[2] I find it interesting that the Virginian officials had to respond with the following decree:

“Ministers shall not give themselves to excess drinking, or riot, spending their time idly by day or by night playing dice, cards or an other unlawful game; but they shall… occupy themselves with some honest study or exercise, always doing the things which shall appertain to honesty, and endeavor to profit the Church of God.”[3]

The government had to tell the preachers how to behave!

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