In The Cross of Christ in African American Christian Religious Experience: Piety, Politics, and Protest, Demetrius K. Williams examines and explores the ideational importance and rhetorical function of cross language and terminology in Black religious experience through an ideological lens. Williams argues that for the first time in Christian history, the European nation of Portugal under the guidance of Prince Henry used the theology of the cross to justify and sustain an exclusive trade of Sub-Saharan African peoples. Claiming that Jesus died on the cross only “to save lost souls” provided a convincing rational for Henry’s exploratory voyages of discovery to West African to exclusively enslave Black bodies. With the confirmation of Catholic Popes and the competition of other European nations, this same rationale would inspire empire building, colonization, and slave-trading, justified on their newly constructed ideological narrative of compassionate evangelism “to save lost souls”. Over time, with massive conversions to the faith of their enslavers, Black people’s Christian religious experiences would articulate a response to the world that held them in thralldom. That response would be articulated most consistently and effectively through their understanding of the cross of Christ. Williams affirms Howard Thurman’s claim that by “some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.”
Demetrius K. Williams is associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Sr. Pastor of the Community Baptist Church of Greater Milwaukee.
Chapter One: The Cross of Christ and European Colonial Expansion
Chapter Two: The Cross of Christ and the Evangelization of the Enslaved
Chapter Three: The Cross of Christ in the Spirituals
Chapter Four: The Cross of Christ in Conversion Accounts and Testimonies of the Formerly Enslaved
Chapter Five: The Cross of Christ in Black Preaching
About the Author
Demetrius K. Williams, a seasoned bi-vocational scholar, traces the history of (Pauline) crucifixion language in the African American experience from the fifteenth-century onward, reviewing a multitude of sources – from the spirituals to the freedom narratives (of the formerly enslaved) to conversion accounts to black preaching – as a way to explore the ideological usage of the cross throughout antebellum times down through the present. Strikingly poignant, thoroughly researched, and creatively reimagined, The Cross of Christ in African American Christian Religious Experience provides an in-depth analysis of the ideology of the cross – in its various cultural, theological, and socio-religious contexts – to allow readers to wrestle with pertinent questions: What might the cross mean within the context of the African American experience? Did its cultivation lead to privatized individual piety or public collective protest? All readers will learn from this informed exploration.