I offer my observations on Protestant ecclesiology both as an academically trained historian of religions and as the pastor of a black congregation for thirty-six years. My studies and my experience have taught me that when it comes to “black theology” there is a major difference between black liberation theology and theology that grows out of the black religious experience. At times the two are synonymous and at times they are dichotomous. One of the reasons that is true is because there is no such thing as a monolithic black religious experience.
On a global scale, black Protestant churches continue to grow at an amazingly rapid pace, from the Anglican/Episcopalian members to the Evangelical and Pentecostal members of the black religious experience. Before beginning any discussion of contemporary manifestations of the highly diverse black Protestant church, however, I have found it helpful both as a seminary professor and as pastor to differentiate between what I call black theology prior to the systematized articulation of that reality, by scholars such as James H. Cone, the father of black theology in the modern era, and the black theology that was current in the black religious experience of Africans in the diaspora from the 1600s to 1966.
Black theology in the North American African diaspora from the days of the transatlantic slave trade and through the twentieth century was a powerful and exciting mixture of West African religious beliefs, religious beliefs picked up in the Caribbean during the “seasoning process,” and a mixture of religious beliefs brought to the United States because of the nature of the triangular slave trade.
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