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The Power and Superiority of “Black Worship”

In Gerardo Marti’s book, Worship Across the Racial Divide, he discusses the life and vitality of a multiethnic congregation. One of his early findings is that many members of the congregation, particularly those who are not Black, assume that “black worship” is a superior form of worship (p. 52). Marti writes, “Blacks singing gospel are iconic becasue of the belief that music is inherent to the religious life of African Americans” (52). He quotes one white, female worship leader who stated, “I’ve always enjoyed occasions to visit a black church. I mean, who worships better than that.” Dr. Marti reached his conclusions through careful observation and interviews.

Marti goes on to explain how playing gospel music “is seen as an affirmation of the dignity and value of black Christians,” encouraging African Americans to more regularly attend and participate in the life of the congregation.

Marti argues that “African Americans by virtue of skin color — even before people hear them sing — are imbued with authority on worship and connection to God in multiracial churches. Indeed, I found that the fewer the African Americans in a multiracial church, the more they are emphasized by members, as each African American attending becomes imbued with authority on music and worship.” (55)

Multiracial congregations are relatively rare in the United States. In what ways do racial groups within your congregation have different statuses or expertise based on stereotypes? Are those stereotypes confirmed by the actions of the select group?

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org