Leave a Lasting Family Legacy: African American Christian Family Life
An introductory note from Pastor Stephen:
Continuing a journey we started this past Tuesday, we are again blessed by former Lead Elder and pastoral staff member, Dr. Bob Kellemen, providing insight into the history of the Black Church and its impact on Christianity.
Today, Dr. Kellemen unpacks the legacy of family life of past African American families. May we be educated and inspired as a result of learning about their experiences.
Dr. Kellemen will be writing on this subject throughout February 2021, and I cannot encourage you enough to make this a matter of study. His series will be archived here: https://rpmministries.org/2021/02/.
For a wealth of additional insight Dr. Kellemen offers on a variety of subjects, such as marriage and family issues, discipleship, and biblical counseling, check out his website, books, and other articles here: https://rpmministries.org/.
The first area where we can learn so much from Black Church history is in their Christian family life. We think the world today makes it hard for the Christian family—and it does. But can we even begin to imagine the difficulties faced by the African American family during slavery?
Many times, mothers and fathers were sold away from children, and children were sold away from their parents. Many times, women were raped and abused. Men were abused and horribly demeaned. Yet, letter after letter and story after story give testimony to the lasting Christian family legacy of the Black Church.
Honoring the African American Family: Hardships Do Not Make it Too Hard to Love
When he was a young boy, the Rev. Thomas Jones was sold away from his family. A few years later he was reunited with his family, only to be sold away from his parents and siblings once again. The slavers attempted to justify this horrific treatment by claiming that the Black family did not have the same sense of closeness as the white family—which was a bald-faced lie. Listen to Rev. Jones’ testimony, that in spite of being separated repeatedly, the Black family retained their love and unity.
“I can testify, from my own painful experience, to the deep and fond affection which the slave cherishes in his heart for his home and its dear ones. We have no other tie to link us to the human family, but our fervent love for those who are with us and of us in relations of sympathy and devotedness, in wrongs and wretchedness” (Rev. Thomas Jones).
We learn from Rev. Thomas Jones that:
Hardships do not make it too hard to love.
What about our families? When tough times come and tensions mount, do we excuse our inexcusable behaviors toward one another because it’s just too hard to love? Faced with unimaginable troubles, trials, and tribulations, the Black family maintained its affection, love, sympathy, and devotion. Their Christian legacy teaches us that hardships do not make it too hard to love.
Honoring the African American Marriage: Pulling the Rope in Unison
We can also learn from the legacy of the African American Christian marriage. Venture Smith was born in Guinea in 1729. Kidnapped at age eight and taken to America, he was enslaved to Robertson Mumford. At age twenty-two, Venture married Meg, who was sixteen. Despite so many obstacles stacked against them, they remained married for forty-seven years—until Venture’s death. Their Christian marriage was a testimony to many. Venture Smith described in an interview the secret behind their godly marriage.
On their wedding night, he and his young bride, Meg, walked up to the tiny cabin that was to be their home. Before they entered the door, Venture took a rope and tossed it over the cabin roof. He then asked Meg to go to the other side of the cabin and pull on the rope while he pulled on it from his side. After they both had tugged at it in vain, he called her back to the front of the house where they pulled the rope together and it came to them with ease.
Venture then shared the meaning of this object lesson to his young bride:
“If we pull in life against each other we shall fail, but if we pull together we shall succeed.”
What about our marriages, our families, our churches, our workplaces? Are we playing a game of tug-of-war, working against each other? Or are we pulling the rope in unison? How would our marriages, families, churches, and workplaces be different if we heeded Venture Smith’s advice? “If we pull in life against each other we shall fail, but if we pull together we shall succeed.”
Honoring the African American Father: Finding Spiritual Freedom in Christ
There is also much to be learned from the African American Christian father in Black Church history. Though beaten, he was not beaten down by life because he looked to Christ. Though enslaved physically, he was not enslaved spiritually because he was free in Christ.
Listen to the following testimony of a son concerning his Christian father’s Christlike character.
“I loved my father. He was such a good and godly Christian man. He was a good carpenter and could do anything. My mother just rejoiced in him. I sometimes think I learned more in my early childhood about how to live than I have learned since.”
All he ever needed to learn, he learned in his enslaved home from a father whose spirit was never enslaved because his spirit was free in Christ! What about us? What enslaves us? What mistreatment eats us alive so that we can never get beyond our bitterness? Does a cruel boss at work lead us to be cruel to our family at home? We can learn from our African American cloud of spiritual witnesses that our spirits never have to be enslaved, because we are free in Christ!
Honoring the African American Mother: Wisdom about the Father of the Fatherless
The Rev. Peter Randolph shared this testimony about how his mother pointed him to the Father of the fatherless.
“When I was a child, my mother used to tell me to look to Jesus, and that He who protected the widow and the fatherless would take care of me also” (Rev. Peter Randolph).
His mother’s wisdom reminds me so much of what we learn from the psalmists—turning our gaze to God. Do we look to Jesus and his truth about God the Father, or do we believe Satan’s lies about God? When beaten down by life, the psalmists chose to look up.
That’s the same message that Randolph’s mother shared with him and with us. I summarize that message like this:
Enslaved African American Christians survived by painting pictures of God onto the palettes of their life portraits. They viewed God as the Father of the fatherless, the God who collects their tears in his bottle, and as God the Just Judge.
The most important fact about us is our view of God. The African American Christian family leaves with us the lasting legacy of looking to Jesus.