Matthews highlights the appeal of Christianity to blacks because it deviated from traditional African religion. He explains that “In African religion, much more Important than a future event was the continuing contact with the spirit world through the living memory of those who had recently died, on Into the realm of those only vaguely remembered, and beyond that into impenetrable mystery’ (195).
The essence of this assertion is that “Africans had o way of conceiving of history as a linear progression toward a valued, sublime goal in which true believers would be vindicated for all the persecution that they had suffered in God’s name” (195). Moreover in terms of life after death traditional African religion offered “no comfort for the sorrow which afflicted him as a slave” (196).
By contrast however Christianity altered this despairing cosmology by being a gospel of hope and freedom. It offered retribution for the Just who had been wronged, a reward of heaven for the faithful disciples, as well as a reality that wasn’t possible In hat moment In time. Although Mathews does not say so, I contend that the greater application of this appeal to Christianity was that It allowed black disjointed social groups to “constitute their Identity In religious terms” (Lincoln 94).
Bruce Lincoln In his book “Holy Terrors,” carries this point further by stating that when these social groups “experience themselves as a sacred collectivity,” then it follows that “they tend to construe their rivals in a negative fashion” at which point these circumstances revived the arena for their self-interest to become a “holy cause” where violence is justified” (94). Admittedly the black religious community self-interest produced little violence initially toward their white counterparts; however it did produce the catalyst for violence and discriminatory practices against them by their white sponsors.
In addition it later framed their struggle within the parameters of a “holy cause” (94). Along the same lines their new found identity in religious terms allowed as Mathew states, “the first black respondents to Evangelicalism” to place “themselves In a session to demand that whites deal with them according to standards which transcended masters as well as slaves and were equally binding to both” (225).
With this collective identity in mind then, my question would be does Matthews contention that the “social situation could not initiate or sustain a broad-based, expanding movement aimed specifically at getting free of whites” need to be carried further in order for the reader to understand the broader basis for black preachers counseling patience and forbearance over revolt? Two other themes of Black Christianity in heaper five that Matthews expands on are the characterization of martyrdom and the revitalization of ones strength through it.
Consider, when Matthews recounts the torment of Andrew Bryan, the slave and later African Baptist Church leader in Savannah. He states that upon being captured by the police on the way to an unapproved church meeting, they, meaning Bryan and his brother, were “whipped until blood flowed from their lacerated backs, and thrown Into prison with about fifty of their fellow church members” (199). From this experience then Mathews states Bryan could later write that they “enjoyed rights of conscience to a valuable preachers after him, by pain as piercing as that suffered by his Christ.
Indeed, the memory of white authorities’ erratic brutality created a martyrdom for the black tradition… ” (199). From this instance then the characterization of the martyrs is that of a suffering persecuted people, and although that designation at first seems negative the reader concludes that the act of suffering is what makes the martyrs so heroic. Consequently then Mathews also states this martyrdom acted to shame the white clergy. As an example he gives Samba Ideas, another prominent black preacher’s recollection of the experience of being whipped.
Samba stated “that the Lord so strengthened him he scarcely felt the lashes as they laid open his flesh. That he could bear ten times as much for Christ” (202). My question then would be is the dependency of the characterization of the martyrdom found within the text too dependent upon their adversaries for meaning. I mean that without the brutality and graphic nature of the martyrdom, would those being martyred lose some of the errors given to them.
Stated another way, I feel that the characterization within the text is what gives it its appeal. To illustrate my point in Scott Hoffmann article “Last Night, I Prayed to Matthew. ” He states “l argue that a long tradition of popular martyr- making came together with social and political circumstances at a certain historical moment to transform the victim of a hate crime into a popular martyr residing in heaven. In time, this process helped further a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians into America’s mainstream” (Hoffman 2011).