(RNS) — A new docuseries featuring Black clergy and scholars aims to explore the resilience of the Black church and highlight how many of its influential members tie their accomplishments in society to their adherence to the Bible.
“How I Got Over,” a five-part series, examines the history of seven historic Black denominations and highlights major Black Christian leaders — well-known and lesser-known — who have contributed to American society. Officials of the AND Campaign, a nonpartisan think tank that promotes Christian civic engagement, are set to release the first episode on YouTube at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central on Monday (Feb. 13).
AND Campaign leaders who are featured in the documentary’s half-hour episodes note that the Black church is not monolithic, pointing out that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was not supported by all Black churches. Black churchgoers are not all progressive or liberal, they observe, but many have long embraced a more conservative Christian orthodoxy.
“Orthodoxy, or true belief in Scripture, doesn’t belong to any one culture,” said the Rev. Justin Giboney, president of the AND Campaign, in an interview with Religion News Service. He said part of the goal of the series is to highlight the conservative theological stances of many Black Christians.
“What we’re saying is orthodoxy has always been in the Black church. It’s still strong, and we think that’s part of the Black church’s future.”
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In the documentary, the Rev. C.J. Rhodes, pastor of Mount Helm Baptist Church, in Jackson, Mississippi, describes what he calls the “sanctified seven” major Black denominations, divided among three strains of Christianity: Methodist (African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church), Baptist (National Baptist Convention, USA; National Baptist Convention of America; and Progressive National Baptist Convention) and Pentecostal (Church of God in Christ).
“In today’s moment of the Black church, there’s a lot of overlap and confluence between these three groups, which was a very interesting turn of events, given about 100 years ago they fought vehemently about which one was truer to the biblical witness,” Rhodes said in the first episode.
The series, timed to start during Black History Month, follows another documentary, PBS’ “The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song,” based on a 2021 book by Harvard historian Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. Giboney praised the overall content of that four-hour documentary but said he thought “it did tell us that we need to go left,” and his organization wanted to offer a different perspective.
Giboney said the new series notes that the origins and differences among the plethora of Black denominations were based on “secondary issues” such as baptism, women preachers, speaking in tongues and levels of training.
“We wanted to show the substantive differences between the denominations but also show that the primary arguments were not about orthodoxy,” he said.