Good News For the Oppressed: The Legacy of the Black Church

Gary Dorrien’s The New Abolition is a sobering read. The story of the black church and its struggle against oppression is not well-known by most white evangelical Christians. Even fifty years after the high point of the civil rights movement, few are familiar with the storied church histories of their brothers and sisters on the other side of the color line. Even fewer have the faintest familiarity with the roll call of the heroic African-American men and women who devoted their lives to the hard task of bringing the gospel to bear on a society deeply entrenched in racist ignorance and brutality. Dorrien’s book tells the story of those men and women who labored in the dark decades between the Civil War and World War II, in whose work he finds the origins of the black social gospel.

More often than not, the men and women whose stories Dorrien tells failed to accomplish their social objectives. America’s oppression of black people grew worse rather than better in the fifty years after the Civil War. Many of those who were most optimistic during the 1870s and 1880s found themselves in utter despair by the 1920s. Far too often their white “Christian” oppressors were blind to the utter hypocrisy of confessing Christ while exploiting, humiliating, raping, and murdering black people.

Sketching the lives of women activists like Ida B. Wells, who devoted her life to opposing the horrors of the socially sanctioned lynching of thousands of black people, and pastors like Reverdy C. Ransom and Richard R. Wright, Jr., who sought to demonstrate the power of the gospel in delivering the oppressed from the spiritual and social toll of sin and injustice, Dorrien paints the picture of a body of believers (and some of their non-believing sympathizers) who toiled and persevered amidst incredible suffering to make the gospel that Jesus proclaimed as “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18) a reality in the lives of black Americans.

Read the rest of this article at Reformation 21.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on September 6, 2016, in African Americans, Black Church, Poverty, Racism, Social Gospel and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Good News For the Oppressed: The Legacy of the Black Church.

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