February is Black history month. I enjoy this month immensely because of the focus on black history, black figures and black achievements. The month where black figures are focused on and actually treated as if their lives matter. Though as a woke individual, I make it my business to consistently study and research black topics. Black history month for me is 12 months a year. Learning the history of the black church and the influence of Western Christianity, has opened my eyes to some uncomfortable truths and left me with some serious questions. I read an article which stated that 16% of church congregations are multiethnic; which would mean the other 84% of American congregations are still segregated, so much for the idea of a post-racial America. Martin Luther King Jr once quoted that 11AM is the most segregated hour in America. With the statistics the article stated, I’m inclined to agree with his statement. This truth does not surprise me, considering the history of the church and Christianity in this country, which was tainted by racism and often fused with Eurocentric political ideologies. Historically religious teaching was used to justify slavery, segregation, and immoral colonization. Though, many try to compartmentalize religion into a separate category, away from culture or politics the three intersect and affect each other in specific ways. Frederick Douglass once said,” I love the pure, peaceable, impartial Christianity of Christ. I therefore hate the corrupt, slave holding, women whipping, cradle plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land”. I agree with him. The Western version of Christianity taught to us is tainted by racist philosophies, immoral politics, and influenced by Eurocentric views.
Throughout history there were 4 C’s that influenced society and each other: Christianity, Colonization, Commerce, and Civilization. Religion, culture and politics also influenced each other. Just as culture expresses how human beings understand and experience the world, religious practices shape and are shaped by the culture around them. A person’s religion can affect how they act, think, and what inspires them. Politicians are in a position to make decisions that affect and impact the lives of many for good or bad. Individuals of a religious faith can vote for candidates and support policies that reflect their religious values. Religious communities can express their needs and interests during political campaigns. Politicians can monitor or control religious discrimination or oppression, or engage in persecution of certain religious groups ,etc. All of these things affect each other, like it or not. Irregardless of the separation of church and state, as well as the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment; religion continues to influence politics and vice versa. We see this example with certain White Evangelicals who voted for Trump, citing their pro-life stances on abortion and the religious view on the sanctity of life, as a major reason for choosing him as a candidate. Years ago the KKK was instrumental in keeping churches and towns segregated and responsible for the lynchings of black pastors,civil rights activists and black political figures.
Another example that shows the intersection of culture, religious and politics was the life and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus was born a Jew sometime in the 1st century. The words of Jesus in the gospels was influenced by Jewish thought, rabbinical thought and Judaism. This was illustrated by parables, stories and even language (Hebrew, Aramaic) words and phrases etc. The Jewish culture influenced the narratives of the gospels. The Jewish scribes (Pharisees and Sadducees) were well versed in the Law and local governance. The chief priests had the power to lead armies, collect taxes, regulate relations with Rome, these would be considered political powers. Jesus confronted and exposed the corruption of Pharisees; by denouncing the fact they were robbing widows inheritances, allowing theft of monies to happen in the Temple courtyard, and were living in religious hypocrisy. They were also jealous of the following that Jesus was gaining among the Jewish and foreign communities and were afraid of losing political and religious power. They then conspired with the Sadducees and Judas to arrest Jesus and have him brought up on charges (false charges). Caiaphas the head chief priest was instrumental in doctoring these charges and with the support of the Pharisees and Sadducees had Jesus brought by before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. You can see how a religious conflict became political. It lead to Jesus being executed(crucified) by the state as a criminal and insurrectionist, which he clearly wasn’t.
Other examples of the politics, religion, culture intersecting and influencing each other would be :The Crusades, Jihads, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Yugoslav Wars, the Nigerian Conflict ,etc. Many religious wars were usually fought over confessional security and political gains. Holy wars were fought because of religious differences (ex.European 30 Years War), while just wars were fought for moral/political reasons (ex.Civil War). Religious beliefs would at times influence elections and forming political groups. God forbid one group is threatened with losing political power or was hostile to a different group; this would cause violence, killings and clashes. Religious motivations could and often did lead to political conflict. Catholic and Protestant churches clashing led to military campaigns and battles. The 16th Baptist Church bombing in Alabama, led to four young girls being killed in the explosion. The reason due to hostility towards black people (culture) and black gains during the civil rights movement (politics).
After the Civil War, the Confederacy idealized the culture of the South as the foundation of Christian morals and piety. American nationalism, paternalism and white supremacy was attached to these ideologies and helped to influence Evangelical Christianity. It also helped to lead to the creation of the prosperity gospel and the incorrect idea that God wants Christians to get rich and that America was some sort of “promised land”. This European theology coupled with political views led to a racial caste system; a social order that subjugated black civil, political, cultural and religious rights. Jim Crow laws are the perfect illustration of this, as well as racist actions practiced by missionaries.
Until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, most native religious practices were outlawed. William Carey’s, “Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use for the conversion of Heathens” was looked at, as one of the 1st greatest missionary treatises in the English language. This contained racist and prejudiced views within it. Most black people were banned from joining Protestant churches before the year 1750. Danish slaveholders in the West Indies violently attacked Moravian missionaries for baptizing people of African descent. In 1739, Africans had to write the King/Queen of Denmark requesting help and relief. The African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination began because Richard Allen and two black men kneeled to pray in a whites only section of St George’s Methodist Church. They were yanked off their knees by white trustees and asked to leave. These black men had to form their own church just to be treated with humanity and be allowed the same religious rights as white people. European missionaries that preached in African countries, often told African converts to give up their cultural identities and traditions. They made them dress like Europeans, taught them their version of theology and set up churches with European laws, spirituality, white theologians, and white leadership. This undermined and disrespected African culture and traditions. These were just some of the ways religion and culture would affect each other negatively.
Some pastors would preach racism and white supremacist views from the pulpit. James Henry Thornwell did that when he preached a pro-slavery 1861 sermon (Bondage). Politics would at times influence religious actions. In the case of Bob Jones University vs the United States(1982); the IRS removed the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University(Christian university) because of its racially segregated campus. A kneel-in took place in 1964 at 2nd Presbyterian Church in Memphis, when protestors decided to protest its policy of segregation. Religious practices and values can become political issues and lead to government intervention when unlawful practices or questionable practices are involved. There is no doubt that religion,politics and culture all affect each other in different ways, whether for good or for evil. We should be aware of the relationship between the three.