“The AME denomination was founded as a protest against racism,” said Yolanda Pierce, Princeton Theological Seminary’s Elmer G. Homrighausen Associate Professor of African American Religion and Literature and director of its Center for Black Church Studies. Speaking recently of the AME Church, she said, “The black church itself was birthed as a sanctuary from white violence.” In this way, the black church formed its own enduring legacy, one that actively sought to protect and liberate black people from discrimination.
These dueling legacies have continued. While many black churches were leading abolitionist and anti-lynching efforts in the 19th century, and the civil rights movement in the 20th century, white churches overwhelmingly maintained the status quo of racial inequality and actively resisted change. Today, in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, which is galvanizing change far beyond the United States, the most recent Public Religious Research Institute data show that white evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in which a majority doesn’t see the need for such a movement. Indeed, more than six in ten white evangelicals say that police officers treat blacks and whites equally. And close to six in ten say the recent police killings of black Americans are isolated incidents that are not indicative of an anti-black society.