Complaints of blacks who have become members of predominantly white churches commonly center on two ingredients of worship: the sermon and the music. Black preaching and singing have no real counterpart in the white church. More than simple style differences are involved here, though these are perhaps most noticeable. What makes the black sermon unique is the blend of African oral traditions with the cultural components of Afro-American life, resulting in what has been called a “miracle of artistic and religious production.”

Although the black sermon has distinctively Christian components, its best parallels are to be found in the African “grist,” the blues, the poetry and folk tales of the African diaspora in America; not in the traditions of Whitefield (who preached to slaves around 1732, despite his personal advocacy of slavery), the white Pentecostals, or backwoods Southern white fundamentalists. It forms a special genre of oral literature that goes beyond the usual categories of white homiletics, and that opens up to an even larger realm of subtle chemistries of art and style found only in black churches. Of course, the black church is also aware of Euro-American models, having confronted these through white ministries to blacks, the seminaries, and some few black supporters of the so-called white ideal. But the synthesis of these traditional Protestant patterns of preaching with distinctly African and Afro-American oral traditions yields far more liturgical varieties in black congregations than can be found in white ones.

The preaching we are discussing, then, is a phenomenon of black churches. It lives on in those groups that are closest to the masses of blacks and, like them, more isolated from ...

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