In most readings of American church history, the white church stands center stage, and the African American church (among others) stands in the wings. In his latest book, Juan Williams argues that America cannot understand itself or its history without understanding the black church.
Many readers know Juan Williams as the left-leaning pundit on Fox News, the author of the critically acclaimed books Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years and Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary, and a senior correspondent on National Public Radio. Now Williams has written This Far by Faith: Stories from the African American Religious Experience (William Morrow) to explore the place of the black church in American society. The book, written with Indiana University religion professor Quinton Dixie, is a companion volume to a six-episode PBS series of the same name that airs June 24-26 (check local listings). Williams spoke with CT editor at large Ed Gilbreath about the contributions of African American faith to American life.
What is the significance of the book's title?
It comes from an old gospel song and suggests the idea that faith has been essential to the African American religious experience in a unique way. For a variety of reasons, black Americans had to rely first and foremost on the notion of faith in God, that they had a personal relationship with God outside of any church. To me, the miracle of the African American Christian experience is the idea that the slave master introduces Christianity to the slave, but the slave reinterprets this faith and recasts it as a vehicle for liberation and social protest.
You speak of black Christianity as being almost jazz-like in its expression.
Jazz is an authentic American art form ...1
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