Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Gospel Sound

I'm going to comment on this post:
i) One of my concerns with very race-conscious pastors like Leon Brown and Randy Nabors is what they see when they look out over their congregation. Do they see sheep? Or do they see colors? Their obsession with race makes them see colors rather than sheep. And that's not just the first thing they notice. That dominates how they look at people. It's literally skin deep. What could be more superficial?
ii) Let's shift the comparison. Suppose "social justice" pastors inveighed against the fact that many churches are "segregated" by blood type. In some churches, most parishioners have type O blood. In other churches, most have type A blood. In still other churches, most have type B blood. Or imagine if they inveighed against the fact that many churches are "segregated" by lactose tolerate parishioners over against other churches with lactose intolerant parishioners. 
Imagine if they decried this "scandalous" homogeneity. They made it a moor priority to test every Christian's blood type or lactase enzyme. They then crusaded for integrated churches based on lactase or blood type. 
Wouldn't that be absurd? But what, exactly, is so different about race? 
Leon then quotes (with approval) a passage from Randy's post:
[T]here is a reason people don't jump ethnic lines to go some other ethnic church. They feel comfortable with what they know, there [sic] family and friends are still in their home church.

Isn't it normal for churches to be largely composed of families? Is there something wrong with the family being the normal unit of church attendance?

I often tell white pastors that black folks in this country were forced to create a unique cultural kind of worship service since they were shut out of white churches. 

i) Is that historically correct? Seems to me that's simplistic. For instance, in the Antebellum South you used to have integrated churches with segregated seating. It wasn't segregated between white churches and black churches, but segregated within multiracial churches. I'm not condoning that. But it's a different picture than Randy is drawing.

ii) And the seating wasn't just segregated by race. It was segregated by socioeconomic status. You had rented pew boxes. That effectively segregated "poor white trash" from upperclass whites. So it's more complex than race. 

iii) Or take the case of John Lafayette Girardeau, who pastored a black congregation before the Civil War. He was a gifted preacher. Very popular. And he loved his black parishioners, although it was probably a paternalistic love. 

But after the war, when the slaves were free, they wanted to form their own churches with their own pastors. They weren't "forced" to do that. They chose to do that. It was their preference. It's patronizing to suggest they were forced to do that.

Without going into a commentary on ethnomusicality  let me just say that most black folks who come from the traditional or even contemporary black church find most white churches to be utterly boring.  Most black folks don't like stilted or even Celtic music styles, they don't get into lectures that pose as sermons, they don't appreciate a worship that seems to stifle emotions and is almost martial in approach. 

I expect that's generally true. But is it historically accurate to say the stereotypical black worship style is the result of segregation? 

That suggests their worship style is purely reactionary. But for black slaves, wasn't there some cultural carryover from Africa? 

Also, to my knowledge, the black worship style isn't monolithic. From what I've read, black pentecostalism introduced a shift in black worship styles. It incorporated music influenced by blues and jazz musicians. Traditional black churches originally objected to the worship style of "sanctified" churches. That was the "devil's music." This is documented in Tony Heilbut's classic monograph on The Gospel Sound.

It's tiresome of have guys like Randy and Leon presume to lecture white Christians on the history of race relations when they themselves seem to be pretty ignorant of the actual history. They indulge in these very schematic reconstructions, which disregard the complexity of the past, and the many glaring counterexamples to their breezy thesis. 

It's also my impression that black Penteocstalism has had a tremendous impact on the worship style of white Pentecostalism, both in music and preaching. Out of morbid curiosity, I occasionally listen to TBN televangelists. For instance, when I hear Rod Parsley, I can't help thinking to myself, this is a white guy trying very hard to sound like a black preacher. Doing a bad imitation of a black preacher.

Finally, we once again see this fixation on the black/white paradigm. Why does it not occur to Randy and Leon that their own myopic focus is very provincial and ethnocentric? They think white Christians suffer from tunnel vision, yet Randy and Leon exhibit their own tunnel vision in the very process of lecturing white Christians. 

To take a comparison: years ago I attended a Messianic congregation. It had its own worship style. There was a segment with sacred dance, accompanied by traditional Eastern European folk melodies. 


  1. It's tiresome of have guys like Randy and Leon presume to lecture white Christians on the history of race relations when they themselves seem to be pretty ignorant of the actual history.

    It may not just be that white Christians naturally tend to surround themselves with other white Christians. Since, black Christians probably also naturally tend to surround themselves with other black Christians. Same with any other ethnic group. It's just natural that when you go to church, you want to be ministered to by other like-minded and like-cultured people. I suspect that many people feel that all week long at work they've had to struggle with their differences with co-workers and that going to church shouldn't be another place where one has to struggle with conflicts and differences. Rather it should be a place of rest and familial-like acceptance. I'm all for inter-ethnic and inter-cultural churches. But that's not the only kind that's permissible. During the first century, the Gentiles Christians weren't required to adopt the Jewish Messianic culture and vice versa. The REAL PROBLEM is not segregation in the churches, it's lack of proper doctrine. Only once the doctrine is corrected will people's heart be corrected too. Which includes a right attitude toward other ethnic and cultural groups along with one's own.

  2. It seems to me that from a spiritual perspective there's one human race divided into two camps, covenant breakers and covenant keepers. Everything else is window dressing; distinctions without a difference.