Salvation from the curse of sin and death is found in Him alone. The Story of Nehemiah gives the account of a harrowing rebuilding project that your kids will love! Your Sunday School curriculum should have a lesson on Nehemiah who left Babylon to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls. Your Sunday School class will know that when our eyes are set on the tasks that God has given us, nothing will stop us.
Explore the Story of Nehemiah further. The Birth of Jesus is one of the most precious is kids Bible stories giving the account of the Birth of Jesus as given in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mary, a virgin, gives birth to the Savior in a manger in Bethlehem, fulfilling many prophecies about the Messiah. So many signs were given to us to know who the Messiah would be when He came and we are left no room for doubt that Jesus was the only One who fulfilled all those prophecies. Explore the Birth of Jesus further. The Magi Christmas Story follows the journey of a group of Magi, also known as wise men, in search of the promised King.
One night, while they were gazing out into the night sky, they witnessed the brightest star they had ever seen. Convinced it was the announcement of the birth of the King they had been waiting for, they set off on a journey to find Him. Explore the Magi Christmas story further. The story begins with an angelic proclamation of good news and then moves to a humble stable where Jesus is born.
The action continues into the courts of an evil king named Herod and concludes with mysterious Wise Men from the East. Explore the Mary and Joseph Christmas story further. The celebration had been well under way when it was noticed that they had run out of wine. Jesus, in his first recorded miracle, saves the wedding by transforming 6 large jars of water into wine.
In performing this miracle, He displayed His power over creation, showed His kindness to humanity, and showed how He could transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS OF CHRISTIANITY
Jesus as a Child follows Mary and Joseph as they traveled home from the Passover celebration in a great caravan of people. Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was somewhere in the large group, until one day into the journey, they looked for Him but could not find Him. For two days, they searched for Him until they finally found Him in the temple in Jerusalem.
John the Baptist , the forerunner to Jesus Christ, is introduced to us in Matthew John proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah and preached repentance from sin. John baptized with water and lived in the desert eating honey and locusts. He also baptized Jesus. Baptism is an ongoing discussion in the church and should be discussed at length during your kids Sunday School lessons. Explore John the Baptist further. Pool of Bethesda is a story of suffering, despair, healing and salvation began with a very sick man desperate for change.
He had been sick with a debilitating illness for 38 years and kept coming back to the pool of Bethesda, believing in its healing powers.
Top 100 Sunday School Lessons for Kids Ministry & VBS
He was healed from his immediate suffering, but more importantly he was presented with the Savior, who alone can offer eternal life. Explore Pool of Bethesda further. Jesus Tempted is a power Sunday School lesson every kid should be taught. Since Jesus was the God-man, it is important that we remember that He was God, as well as man, and He still dealt with temptation just like we do, yet, because He was born without a sin nature, He went through life without giving into temptation and sinning.
A fantastic point to make is how Jesus used Scripture to combat the temptation from Satan. Explore Jesus Tempted further. Your students can learn from their ups and downs as His followers and everyone can relate to at least one of these men and the struggles they had with their own faith.
Top Sunday School Lessons for Kids Ministry & VBS
Still, these were the men that Jesus had chosen to turn the world upside down and proclaim His Gospel to the farthest reaches of the earth. Explore Jesus Chooses His 12 Disciples further. In your Sunday School curriculum, take this lesson and separate it into individual parts to help your students retain all of the different aspects of this sermon and take these truths to heart.
This kids Bible lesson is perfect for teaching your children the Spirit-filled live God desires us all to live! Explore the Sermon on the Mount further. In Love Your Enemies we learn of how the religious leaders used the law to control those who offended them and inflict as much pain as the law would allow. Contrary to this understanding, Jesus taught His disciples to imitate the love of God in every action, even in view of His law. Instead of looking for an opportunity to inflict harsh punishment, or return evil for evil, He told the disciples to seek a peaceable solution and to act in love and forgiveness.
We are to respond as our Father in Heaven would respond. Love your enemies and do good to those who hurt you. Explore Love Your Enemies further. In Do Not Worry we see how comforted the poor and sick, who were anxious about an uncertain future, telling them not to worry about what they would eat or drink, or what they would wear. If God cares enough about the birds of the air and the flower of the field, to feed them and clothe them, how much more would He take care of those who trust Him? The Nicodemus Bible Story is arguably the most famous verse of them all, John Jesus explains profound truths to Nicodemus on what one must do to be a part of the kingdom of God, which is to be born again of the Spirit, and what that truly means.
Explore the Nicodemus Bible Story further. Psalm Explore I am the Bread of Life further. In this statement Jesus revealed that the path to heaven can only be discerned with the light of His truth; the sinful condition cannot be solved apart from the light of His revelation; and a purposeful life can only be enjoyed with His light as its guide.
Explore I am the Light of the World further. Jesus is the truth and the only way to Heaven. There is no other name by which a person can be saved! Anyone who presents an alternate entry or path is a thief who robs people of the only hope they have for eternal life. Explore I am the Door further. By contrast, He describes the hireling as an opportunist who sees the sheep only as a way to get something for himself—a picture of pride, selfishness, deception, and cowardice.
Explore I am the Good Shepherd further. When Jesus raised Lazarus, He proved power over death, and in doing so, He proved that He is the one who breathed life into every living thing—He is God. Throughout this story, we also learn that Jesus understands our grief and sorrow, He encourages us to talk to Him about everything, and He can be trusted—even when the answer to our prayers appears delayed. Explore I am the Resurrection and the Life further. He is the truth about everything and the fulfillment of all prophecy concerning the promised Messiah. He is the life because He is the Creator of all life, and He sustains every living creature.
Explore I am the Way, the Truth and the Life further. In this Sunday School lesson for kids Jesus teaches a group of people the importance of maintaining a relationship with Him by comparing Himself to a vine, the people as branches off the vine, and God as the gardener. He explained that to bear fruit and flourish in this life, a person must be connected to Him, the source of life and blessing. To stay connected to Him, Jesus explained that we must obey His commandments: Love each other as He loves us.
Explore I am the Vine further. Explore Jesus Heals the Sick further. Upon encountering Jesus and experiencing the kindness of the Messiah, first hand, we see a beautiful story of repentance as Zacchaeus vows to return all that he had unfairly taken, and then some. Explore the Story of Zacchaeus further. Your students can see how even when it seems that we have so little, we can trust in God to be our provider.
Explore Jesus Feeds further. But when Jesus and His disciples were caught in a great storm, his disciples thought they were done for. This Sunday School lesson shows that no matter what storms we encounter in life, Jesus is ultimately in control and nothing is beyond Him. Explore Jesus Calms the Storm further. He knew His Father was good, perfect, and powerful. Jesus knew His Father was worthy of being trusted, and He was thankful in all things. Explore Jesus Walks on Water further. The Transfiguration begins with Jesus revealing to his disciples that He would soon suffer and die.
The disciples could not understand how the King of glory would have to be subjected to such things. When they arrived at the top of the mountain, the disciples fell asleep. On either side of Jesus stood the prophets Moses and Elijah, who were also shining because of the brightness of Jesus. Explore The Transfiguration further.
He found himself facing severe judgment, but in an act of mercy, the king had compassion for the servant and forgave him all of his debt. The servant walked free! But the story takes a twist when this same servant refused to forgive a very small debt owed to him by a fellow servant. The king heard about it and reversed his judgment, throwing the unmerciful servant into prison—complete with torture—because he failed to forgive as he had been forgiven.
Explore the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant further. In Jesus Cleanses the Temple , Jesus saw the temple being dirtied and desecrated with animal waste and money changers. After, Jesus healed blind and sick people, which angered the priests and scribes. Explore Jesus Cleanses the Temple Further. The Parable of the Talents is the story of a wealthy man who left on a journey and placed his servants in charge of his wealth while he was away.
Explore the Parable of the Talents further. In Jesus Heals the Paralytic we witness four faithful companion going to extraordinary lengths to find healing for their friend. Explore Jesus Heals the Paralytic further. Use this lesson t o help children understand that, like the paralytic, we are powerless to help ourselves and that only Jesus can provide deliverance.
Jesus knows us like no one else. Explore Jesus heals the Paralytic further. He had questions for the Rabbi, the teacher. But during the dinner a woman known in town as a great sinner fell at the feet of Jesus, wiped his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with the healing and fragrant oil she brought with her. The Good Samaritan is a powerful lesson on how love should rule all of our actions, no matter what our differences are.
Explore the Good Samaritan further. Prayer includes worshiping God because He is holy and there is no one like Him. Through prayer we ask for provision, forgiveness, and protection and deliverance from temptation and evil. Explore the Prodigal Son further. In this life, the rich man indulged in the advantages his wealth and position afforded him, without a thought to anything but his own happiness. He looked good, ate well, and enjoyed the admiration of many.
When the rich man died, he found himself alone and begging for a simple drop of water. Explore Lazarus and the Rich Man further. The Ten Lepers Sunday School lesson for kids shows how Jesus was making a slow journey back to Jerusalem, stopping in villages along the way to teach, perform miracles, heal, and preach repentance and forgiveness.
On this day he decided to stop in a village somewhere between Samaria and Galilee; when He did, He was approached by 10 lepers crying out to Him for mercy. Jesus showed them compassion by responding to their plea and healing them. Explore the story of the Ten Lepers further. They asked if it was right for the people of God to submit to the authority of a worldly kingdom—the kingdom of Rome—by paying them taxes. While they engaged in a heart-to-heart discussion over the recent events, a stranger joined them—a stranger who was none other than Jesus!
Explore the Road to Emmaus further. Jesus is Lord of life and death and while it is a wonderful thing to know that He has the power to physically resurrect the dead, it is that much greater that He will spiritually resurrect all who believe in Him when He comes again. Explore the Story of Lazarus further. Jesus showed Peter that he was forgiven and gave him the opportunity to be reconciled. Explore Peter is Restored further. Jesus bore His cross in humility and pain so that the sacrifice could be made for the sins of us all.
He is Risen is the story about how Jesus suffered, died, and rose again from the dead. It is the story of the intense love of God demonstrated in the greatest sacrifice of all time. Jesus was betrayed, beaten, mocked, stripped of His clothing, humiliated, blasphemed, and disrespected. A crown of thorns was pressed onto His head, an angry crowd taunted Him, He was hung on a cross, and worst of all, He was separated from His Father in Heaven. Then He died, and it was finished! At that moment, the veil in the temple tore in half from top to bottom.
Explore He is Risen further. In John 20, we read the incredible account of The Empty Tomb where the stone had been rolled away and the body of Jesus was missing. Use this lesson to teach your class about the greatest of all miracles: The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave! This Sunday School lesson brings to life the story of what happened after Jesus died and was buried. Explore The Empty Tomb further. The Book of Acts begins with the ascension of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit to His disciples.
Your kids Sunday School can learn from the examples of the disciples and how they stood fast in their faith against adversity and turned the world upside down. Explore the Ascension and Pentecost further. The coming of the Holy Spirit gave the disciples the tools they needed to carry out the mission Jesus had given to them. Explore The Holy Spirit Comes further. Peter Heals the Lame Man begins with a poor beggar sitting in the gate of the temple hoping to collect enough money to sustain him for yet another day.
He had been lame from birth and had been repeating the same hopeless ritual for many years; until one day when Peter and John, two apostles of Jesus, passed by him to enter the temple. In a miraculous and divine appointment, Peter offered the man something more than he ever dreamed of: to be whole again!
Explore Peter and the Lame Man further. In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira decided to sell a piece of property and donate the money, just as they had seen many others do; but instead of giving up all of it, they held back a portion for themselves and lied, saying it was the full amount. Explore the story of Ananias and Sapphira further. The Stoning of Stephen gives the account of the first Christian martyr. Even though Stephen was not an apostle, he preached the Gospel to many people and it led to his unjust persecution and execution by those who hated Christians.
Explore the Stoning of Stephen further. Philip and the Ethiopian tells the story of how God used Philip to take the Gospel of Jesus from Jerusalem to Samaria, and to the outermost parts of the known world. On his way, he was directed by the Holy Spirit to approach a chariot carrying an important dignitary from a far-away region known as Ethiopia. The divine appointment gave Philip the opportunity to reveal the Messiah as prophesied in the book of Isaiah to the Ethiopian.
Explore Philip and the Ethiopian further. The life and conversion of Saul, who would eventually change his name to Paul, in Acts 9 reminds us that even the people who we think are too corrupt or antagonistic towards Christianity still have hope. No matter how hard life gets, your Sunday School class should know that God is always there and will equip us for every good work that He puts before us.
Just like Paul, we should run the race with endurance with our eyes on God and His Kingdom. This lesson also aims to help them understand that struggles with fear, confusion, guilt, doubt, discouragement, and even rejection are not always against physical enemies, but many times are against the forces of darkness in the spiritual realm. Explore the Armor of God further.
All Things New describes a glorious vision of heaven given to the Apostle John. He saw an eternal kingdom in which its greatest beauty is the unveiled glory of God. It is a place of perpetual brilliance, beauty, love, and joy. It is also a place where Jesus rules in righteousness. The curse of sin is destroyed and the effects are gone with it. Explore All Things New Further. Saving Faith centers on Hebrews 11, where Paul wrote on the topic of faith with unwavering confidence and conviction.
He shows his readers how faith is acceptable to God for salvation and for a life pleasing to God. He used Abraham, the Father of Faith, as his prime example. Abraham believed God when He said He would make a nation from his family, and he left his hometown to go to a place he had never seen before. Explore Saving Faith further. Sin is the worst slave-master of all, because it is a controlling and abusive relationship that is eternally cruel. Explore this Redemption Sunday School lesson further.
The answer is no one. All have sinned and fall short Romans There is not one righteous, no not one! Romans The price for sin is death, but Jesus, who knew no sin, took our sin for us. He died to pay the price for our sins, He was resurrected because His sacrifice was acceptable to God, and because His sacrifice was accepted, we are justified. Explore this Justification Sunday School lesson further. With God as our Father, we are protected, trained, disciplined, and cared for, and we are never alone.
Explore this Adoption Sunday School lesson further. Plan of Salvation is designed to show children the entrance to the small gate—the narrow path that leads to the Kingdom of Heaven and eternal life. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. There is absolutely no other way to Heaven except through Him. Just as Jesus warned them in His teaching on the Kingdom of God, warn them to stay clear of the wide gate that promises a full and contented life apart from Christ, because ultimately it delivers death.
Explore Plan of Salvation further. And, as Jesus will teach us, the way we get to know our Heavenly Father is through prayer! Explore God Our Father further. If you are looking for some ideas for your upcoming holiday lessons here are some great resources. Topical Sunday School Articles: Great teachers are always learning. Here are some great articles to boost your knowledge of all things Sunday School. Each of these Sunday School lessons, along with accompanying lesson guides, activities, slideshows, and videos, are all available with SharefaithKids Sunday School curriculum from Sharefaith, Inc.
Feel free to download for free lessons today and see how SharefaithKids will work for you to enhance your Kids Sunday School today! I had been far too well raised, alas, to suppose that any of the extremely explicit overtures made to me that summer, sometimes by boys and girls but also, more alarmingly, by older men and women, had anything to do with my attractiveness.
On the contrary, since the Harlem idea of seduction is, to put it mildly, blunt, whatever these people saw in me merely confirmed my sense of my depravity. Negroes in this country—and Negroes do not, strictly or legally speaking, exist in any other—are taught really to despise themselves from the moment their eyes open on the world. This world is white and they are black.
White people hold the power, which means that they are superior to blacks intrinsically, that is: God decreed it so , and the world has innumerable ways of making this difference known and felt and feared. Long before the Negro child perceives this difference, and even longer before he understands it, he has begun to react to it, he has begun to be controlled by it. He does not know what the boundary is, and he can get no explanation of it, which is frightening enough, but the fear he hears in the voices of his elders is more frightening still.
A child cannot, thank Heaven, know how vast and how merciless is the nature of power, with what unbelievable cruelty people treat each other. I defended myself, as I imagined, against the fear my father made me feel by remembering that he was very old-fashioned. Also, I prided myself on the fact that I already knew how to outwit him. To defend oneself against a fear is simply to insure that one will, one day, be conquered by it; fears must be faced.
That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and controlled my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me, and drove me into the church. As I look back, everything I did seems curiously deliberate, though it certainly did not seem deliberate then. For example, I did not join the church of which my father was a member and in which he preached. One Saturday afternoon, he took me to his church. There were no services that day, and the church was empty, except for some women cleaning and some other women praying.
My friend took me into the back room to meet his pastor—a woman. There she sat, in her robes, smiling, an extremely proud and handsome woman, with Africa, Europe, and the America of the American Indian blended in her face. She was perhaps forty-five or fifty at this time, and in our world she was a very celebrated woman. It was my good luck—perhaps—that I found myself in the church racket instead of some other, and surrendered to a spiritual seduction long before I came to any carnal knowledge. The summer wore on, and things got worse. I became more guilty and more frightened, and kept all this bottled up inside me, and naturally, inescapably, one night, when this woman had finished preaching, everything came roaring, screaming, crying out, and I fell to the ground before the altar.
It was the strangest sensation I have ever had in my life—up to that time, or since. I had not known that it was going to happen, or that it could happen. One moment I was on my feet, singing and clapping and, at the same time, working out in my head the plot of a play I was working on then; the next moment, with no transition, no sensation of falling, I was on my back, with the lights beating down into my face and all the vertical saints above me.
I did not know what I was doing down so low, or how I had got there. And the anguish that filled me cannot be described. It moved in me like one of those floods that devastate counties, tearing everything down, tearing children from their parents and lovers from each other, and making everything an unrecognizable waste. All I really remember is the pain, the unspeakable pain; it was as though I were yelling up to Heaven and Heaven would not hear me. And if Heaven would not hear me, if love could not descend from Heaven—to wash me, to make me clean—then utter disaster was my portion.
Yes, it does indeed mean something—something unspeakable—to be born, in a white country, an Anglo-Teutonic, antisexual country, black. You very soon, without knowing it, give up all hope of communion. Black people, mainly, look down or look up but do not look at each other, not at you, and white people, mainly, look away. And the universe is simply a sounding drum; there is no way, no way whatever, so it seemed then and has sometimes seemed since, to get through a life, to love your wife and children, or your friends, or your mother and father, or to be loved. The universe, which is not merely the stars and the moon and the planets, flowers, grass, and trees, but other people , has evolved no terms for your existence, has made no room for you, and if love will not swing wide the gates, no other power will or can.
And if one despairs—as who has not?
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But God—and I felt this even then, so long ago, on that tremendous floor, unwillingly—is white. And if His love was so great, and if He loved all His children, why were we, the blacks, cast down so far? In spite of all I said thereafter, I found no answer on the floor—not that answer, anyway—and I was on the floor all night. Well, indeed I was, in a way, for I was utterly drained and exhausted, and released, for the first time, from all my guilty torment.
I was aware then only of my relief. For many years, I could not ask myself why human relief had to be achieved in a fashion at once so pagan and so desperate—in a fashion at once so unspeakably old and so unutterably new. And by the time I was able to ask myself this question, I was also able to see that the principles governing the rites and customs of the churches in which I grew up did not differ from the principles governing the rites and customs of other churches, white.
The principles were Blindness, Loneliness, and Terror, the first principle necessarily and actively cultivated in order to deny the two others. I would love to believe that the principles were Faith, Hope, and Charity, but this is clearly not so for most Christians, or for what we call the Christian world. I was saved. But at the same time, out of a deep, adolescent cunning I do not pretend to understand, I realized immediately that I could not remain in the church merely as another worshipper. I would have to give myself something to do, in order not to be too bored and find myself among all the wretched unsaved of the Avenue.
Anyway, very shortly after I joined the church, I became a preacher—a Young Minister—and I remained in the pulpit for more than three years. My youth quickly made me a much bigger drawing card than my father. I pushed this advantage ruthlessly, for it was the most effective means I had found of breaking his hold over me. That was the most frightening time of my life, and quite the most dishonest, and the resulting hysteria lent great passion to my sermons—for a while. I relished the attention and the relative immunity from punishment that my new status gave me, and I relished, above all, the sudden right to privacy.
It had to be recognized, after all, that I was still a schoolboy, with my schoolwork to do, and I was also expected to prepare at least one sermon a week. During what we may call my heyday, I preached much more often than that. This meant that there were hours and even whole days when I could not be interrupted—not even by my father. I had immobilized him. It took rather more time for me to realize that I had also immobilized myself, and had escaped from nothing whatever. The church was very exciting. It took a long time for me to disengage myself from this excitement, and on the blindest, most visceral level, I never really have, and never will.
There is no music like that music, no drama like the drama of the saints rejoicing, the sinners moaning, the tambourines racing, and all those voices coming together and crying holy unto the Lord. There is still, for me, no pathos quite like the pathos of those multicolored, worn, somehow triumphant and transfigured faces, speaking from the depths of a visible, tangible, continuing despair of the goodness of the Lord. I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement that sometimes, without warning, fill a church, causing the church, as Leadbelly and so many others have testified, to rock.
It was, for a long time, in spite of—or, not inconceivably because of—the shabbiness of my motives, my only sustenance, my meat and drink. I rushed home from school, to the church, to the altar, to be alone there, to commune with Jesus, my dearest Friend, who would never fail me, who knew all the secrets of my heart. He failed his bargain. He was a much better Man than I took Him for. It happened, as things do, imperceptibly, in many ways at once. I date it—the slow crumbling of my faith, the pulverization of my fortress—from the time, about a year after I had begun to preach, when I began to read again.
I justified this desire by the fact that I was still in school, and I began, fatally, with Dostoevski. By this time, I was in a high school that was predominantly Jewish. This meant that I was surrounded by people who were, by definition, beyond any hope of salvation, who laughed at the tracts and leaflets I brought to school, and who pointed out that the Gospels had been written long after the death of Christ. This might not have been so distressing if it had not forced me to read the tracts and leaflets myself, for they were indeed, unless one believed their message already, impossible to believe.
I remember feeling dimly that there was a kind of blackmail in it. People, I felt, ought to love the Lord because they loved Him, and not because they were afraid of going to Hell. I was forced, reluctantly, to realize that the Bible itself had been written by men, and translated by men out of languages I could not read, and I was already, without quite admitting it to myself, terribly involved with the effort of putting words on paper.
Of course, I had the rebuttal ready: These men had all been operating under divine inspiration. Had they? All of them? And I also knew by now, alas, far more about divine inspiration than I dared admit, for I knew how I worked myself up into my own visions, and how frequently—indeed, incessantly—the visions God granted to me differed from the visions He granted to my father. I did not understand the dreams I had at night, but I knew that they were not holy.
For that matter, I knew that my waking hours were far from holy. I spent most of my time in a state of repentance for things I had vividly desired to do but had not done. The fact that I was dealing with Jews brought the whole question of color, which I had been desperately avoiding, into the terrified center of my mind.
I realized that the Bible had been written by white men. I knew that, according to many Christians, I was a descendant of Ham, who had been cursed, and that I was therefore predestined to be a slave. This had nothing to do with anything I was, or contained, or could become; my fate had been sealed forever, from the beginning of time. And it seemed, indeed, when one looked out over Christendom, that this was what Christendom effectively believed.
It was certainly the way it behaved. I remembered the Italian priests and bishops blessing Italian boys who were on their way to Ethiopia. Again, the Jewish boys in high school were troubling because I could find no point of connection between them and the Jewish pawnbrokers and landlords and grocery-store owners in Harlem.
I knew that these people were Jews—God knows I was told it often enough—but I thought of them only as white. It was bewildering to find them so many miles and centuries out of Egypt, and so far from the fiery furnace. My best friend in high school was a Jew. I wondered if I was expected to be glad that a friend of mine, or anyone, was to be tormented forever in Hell, and I also thought, suddenly, of the Jews in another Christian nation, Germany.
They were not so far from the fiery furnace after all, and my best friend might have been one of them. The battle between us was in the open, but that was all right; it was almost a relief. A more deadly struggle had begun. Being in the pulpit was like being in the theatre; I was behind the scenes and knew how the illusion was worked. I knew the other ministers and knew the quality of their lives. I knew, though I did not wish to know it, that I had no respect for the people with whom I worked. I could not have said it then, but I also knew that if I continued I would soon have no respect for myself.
They still saw the little boy they intended to take over. They were waiting for me to come to my senses and realize that I was in a very lucrative business. They knew that I did not yet realize this, and also that I had not yet begun to suspect where my own needs, coming up they were very patient , could drive me. They themselves did know the score, and they knew that the odds were in their favor.
And, really, I knew it, too. I was even lonelier and more vulnerable than I had been before. And the blood of the Lamb had not cleansed me in any way whatever. I was just as black as I had been the day that I was born. Therefore, when I faced a congregation, it began to take all the strength I had not to stammer, not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example, a rent strike.
When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life. Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto? Perhaps I might have been able to reconcile myself even to this if I had been able to believe that there was any loving-kindness to be found in the haven I represented.
But I had been in the pulpit too long and I had seen too many monstrous things. I really mean that there was no love in the church. It was a mask for hatred and self-hatred and despair. The transfiguring power of the Holy Ghost ended when the service ended, and salvation stopped at the church door.
When we were told to love everybody, I had thought that that meant every body. But no. It applied only to those who believed as we did, and it did not apply to white people at all. I was told by a minister, for example, that I should never, on any public conveyance, under any circumstances, rise and give my seat to a white woman. White men never rose for Negro women.
Well, that was true enough, in the main—I saw his point. But what was the point, the purpose, of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love toward others, no matter how they behaved toward me? What others did was their responsibility, for which they would answer when the judgment trumpet sounded.
But what I did was my responsibility, and I would have to answer, too—unless, of course, there was also in Heaven a special dispensation for the benighted black, who was not to be judged in the same way as other human beings, or angels. It probably occurred to me around this time that the vision people hold of the world to come is but a reflection, with predictable wishful distortions, of the world in which they live. In the same way that we, for white people, were the descendants of Ham, and were cursed forever, white people were, for us, the descendants of Cain.
And the passion with which we loved the Lord was a measure of how deeply we feared and distrusted and, in the end, hated almost all strangers, always, and avoided and despised ourselves. But I cannot leave it at that; there is more to it than that. In spite of everything, there was in the life I fled a zest and a joy and a capacity for facing and surviving disaster that are very moving and very rare. Perhaps we were, all of us—pimps, whores, racketeers, church members, and children—bound together by the nature of our oppression, the specific and peculiar complex of risks we had to run; if so, within these limits we sometimes achieved with each other a freedom that was close to love.
This is the freedom that one hears in some gospel songs, for example, and in jazz. In all jazz, and especially in the blues, there is something tart and ironic, authoritative and double-edged. White Americans seem to feel that happy songs are happy and sad songs are sad, and that, God help us, is exactly the way most white Americans sing them—sounding, in both cases, so helplessly, defenselessly fatuous that one dare not speculate on the temperature of the deep freeze from which issue their brave and sexless little voices.
There is no guarantee that she will stay this time, either, as the singer clearly knows, and, in fact, she has not yet actually arrived. I am referring to something much simpler and much less fanciful. To be sensual, I think, is to respect and rejoice in the force of life, of life itself, and to be present in all that one does, from the effort of loving to the breaking of bread.
It will be a great day for America, incidentally, when we begin to eat bread again, instead of the blasphemous and tasteless foam rubber that we have substituted for it And I am not being frivolous now, either. Something very sinister happens to the people of a country when they begin to distrust their own reactions as deeply as they do here, and become as joyless as they have become.
It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum—that is, any reality—so supremely difficult. The person who distrusts himself has no touchstone for reality—for this touchstone can be only oneself. Such a person interposes between himself and reality nothing less than a labyrinth of attitudes.
And these attitudes, furthermore, though the person is usually unaware of it is unaware of so much! They do not relate to the present any more than they relate to the person. Therefore, whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.
White Christians have also forgotten several elementary historical details. Verwoerd—came out of a rocky piece of ground in what is now known as the Middle East before color was invented, and that in order for the Christian church to be established, Christ had to be put to death, by Rome, and that the real architect of the Christian church was not the disreputable, sun-baked Hebrew who gave it his name but the mercilessly fanatical and self-righteous St. The energy that was buried with the rise of the Christian nations must come back into the world; nothing can prevent it.
Many of us, I think, both long to see this happen and are terrified of it, for though this transformation contains the hope of liberation, it also imposes a necessity for great change. The Africans put it another way: When the white man came to Africa, the white man had the Bible and the African had the land, but now it is the white man who is being, reluctantly and bloodily, separated from the land, and the African who is still attempting to digest or to vomit up the Bible.
The struggle, therefore, that now begins in the world is extremely complex, involving the historical role of Christianity in the realm of power—that is, politics—and in the realm of morals. In the realm of power, Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty—necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels. This particular true faith, moreover, is more deeply concerned about the soul than it is about the body, to which fact the flesh and the corpses of countless infidels bears witness.
It goes without saying, then, that whoever questions the authority of the true faith also contests the right of the nations that hold this faith to rule over him—contests, in short, their title to his land. The spreading of the Gospel, regardless of the motives or the integrity or the heroism of some of the missionaries, was an absolutely indispensable justification for the planting of the flag. Priests and nuns and schoolteachers helped to protect and sanctify the power that was so ruthlessly being used by people who were indeed seeking a city, but not one in the heavens, and one to be made, very definitely, by captive hands.
The Christian church itself—again, as distinguished from some of its ministers—sanctified and rejoiced in the conquests of the flag, and encouraged, if it did not formulate, the belief that conquest, with the resulting relative well-being of the Western populations, was proof of the favor of God. God had come a long way from the desert—but then so had Allah, though in a very different direction. God, going north, and rising on the wings of power, had become white, and Allah, out of power, and on the dark side of Heaven, had become—for all practical purposes, anyway—black.
Thus, in the realm of morals the role of Christianity has been, at best, ambivalent. Even leaving out of account the remarkable arrogance that assumed that the ways and morals of others were inferior to those of Christians, and that they therefore had every right, and could use any means, to change them, the collision between cultures—and the schizophrenia in the mind of Christendom—had rendered the domain of morals as chartless as the sea once was, and as treacherous as the sea still is. It is not too much to say that whoever wishes to become a truly moral human being and let us not ask whether or not this is possible; I think we must believe that it is possible must first divorce himself from all the prohibitions, crimes, and hypocrisies of the Christian church.
If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him. I had heard a great deal, long before I finally met him, of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and of the Nation of Islam movement, of which he is the leader. I paid very little attention to what I heard, because the burden of his message did not strike me as being very original; I had been hearing variations of it all my life. I sometimes found myself in Harlem on Saturday nights, and I stood in the crowds, at th Street and Seventh Avenue, and listened to the Muslim speakers.
But I had heard hundreds of such speeches—or so it seemed to me at first. Anyway, I have long had a very definite tendency to tune out the moment I come anywhere near either a pulpit or a soapbox. What these men were saying about white people I had often heard before. Then two things caused me to begin to listen to the speeches, and one was the behavior of the police. After all, I had seen men dragged from their platforms on this very corner for saying less virulent things, and I had seen many crowds dispersed by policemen, with clubs or on horseback.
But the policemen were doing nothing now. Obviously, this was not because they had become more human but because they were under orders and because they were afraid. And indeed they were, and I was delighted to see it. There they stood, in twos and threes and fours, in their Cub Scout uniforms and with their Cub Scout faces, totally unprepared, as is the way with American he-men, for anything that could not be settled with a club or a fist or a gun. I might have pitied them if I had not found myself in their hands so often and discovered, through ugly experience, what they were like when they held the power and what they were like when you held the power.
The behavior of the crowd, its silent intensity, was the other thing that forced me to reassess the speakers and their message. Still, the speakers had an air of utter dedication, and the people looked toward them with a kind of intelligence of hope on their faces—not as though they were being consoled or drugged but as though they were being jolted. Power was the subject of the speeches I heard. We were offered, as Nation of Islam doctrine, historical and divine proof that all white people are cursed, and are devils, and are about to be brought down.
The crowd seemed to swallow this theology with no effort—all crowds do swallow theology this way, I gather, in both sides of Jerusalem, in Istanbul, and in Rome—and, as theology goes, it was no more indigestible than the more familiar brand asserting that there is a curse on the sons of Ham. No more, and no less, and it had been designed for the same purpose; namely, the sanctification of power.
But very little time was spent on theology, for one did not need to prove to a Harlem audience that all white men were devils. They were merely glad to have, at last, divine corroboration of their experience, to hear—and it was a tremendous thing to hear—that they had been lied to for all these years and generations, and that their captivity was ending, for God was black. Why were they hearing it now, since this was not the first time it had been said? I had heard it many times, from various prophets, during all the years that I was growing up.
Elijah Muhammad himself has now been carrying the same message for more than thirty years; he is not an overnight sensation, and we owe his ministry, I am told, to the fact that when he was a child of six or so, his father was lynched before his eyes. And now, suddenly, people who have never before been able to hear this message hear it, and believe it, and are changed. Elijah Muhammad has been able to do what generations of welfare workers and committees and resolutions and reports and housing projects and playgrounds have failed to do: to heal and redeem drunkards and junkies, to convert people who have come out of prison and to keep them out, to make men chaste and women virtuous, and to invest both the male and the female with a pride and a serenity that hang about them like an unfailing light.
He has done all these things, which our Christian church has spectacularly failed to do. How has Elijah managed it? Well, in a way—and I have no wish to minimize his peculiar role and his peculiar achievement—it is not he who has done it but time. Time catches up with kingdoms and crushes them, gets its teeth into doctrines and rends them; time reveals the foundations on which any kingdom rests, and eats at those foundations, and it destroys doctrines by proving them to be untrue.
To entertain such a belief would have been to entertain madness. But time has passed, and in that time the Christian world has revealed itself as morally bankrupt and politically unstable. French ready for self-government? From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete forever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms. White people were, and are, astounded by the holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way.
- Why Joseph Fiennes Keeps Appearing in Faith-Filled Movies.
- Keeping your faith amidst terrible tragedy.
But I very much doubt whether black people were astounded—at least, in the same way. I could not but feel, in those sorrowful years, that this human indifference, concerning which I knew so much already, would be my portion on the day that the United States decided to murder its Negroes systematically instead of little by little and catch-as-catch-can. When a white man faces a black man, especially if the black man is helpless, terrible things are revealed. I know. I have been carried into precinct basements often enough, and I have seen and heard and endured the secrets of desperate white men and women, which they knew were safe with me, because even if I should speak, no one would believe me.
And they would not believe me precisely because they would know that what I said was true. To put it briefly, and somewhat too simply, a certain hope died, a certain respect for white Americans faded. One began to pity them, or to hate them. And who, at the same time, as a human being, is far freer in a strange land than he has ever been at home. The very word begins to have a despairing and diabolical ring. The subtle and deadly change of heart that might occur in you would be involved with the realization that a civilization is not destroyed by wicked people; it is not necessary that people be wicked but only that they be spineless.
Well, we were served, finally, of course, but by this time no amount of Scotch would have helped us. The bar was very crowded, and our altercation had been extremely noisy; not one customer in the bar had done anything to help us. When it was over, and the three of us stood at the bar trembling with rage and frustration, and drinking—and trapped, now, in the airport, for we had deliberately come early in order to have a few drinks and to eat—a young white man standing near us asked if we were students.
I suppose he thought that this was the only possible explanation for our putting up a fight. The reply visibly hurt his feelings, and this, in turn, caused me to despise him. I know that one would rather not think so, but this young man is typical. So, on the basis of the evidence, had everyone else in the bar lost his conscience. A few years ago, I would have hated these people with all my heart.
Now I pitied them, pitied them in order not to despise them. We human beings now have the power to exterminate ourselves; this seems to be the entire sum of our achievement. This, then, is the best that God the white God can do. If that is so, then it is time to replace Him—replace Him with what?
And this void, this despair, this torment is felt everywhere in the West, from the streets of Stockholm to the churches of New Orleans and the sidewalks of Harlem. God is black. All black men belong to Islam; they have been chosen And Islam shall rule the world. The dream, the sentiment is old; only the color is new. And it is this dream, this sweet possibility, that thousands of oppressed black men and women in this country now carry away with them after the Muslim minister has spoken, through the dark, noisome ghetto streets, into the hovels where so many have perished.
The white God has not delivered them; perhaps the black God will. While I was in Chicago last summer, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad invited me to have dinner at his home. I had not gone to Chicago to meet Elijah Muhammad—he was not in my thoughts at all—but the moment I received the invitation, it occurred to me that I ought to have expected it. In a way, I owe the invitation to the incredible, abysmal, and really cowardly obtuseness of white liberals.
Neither is it answered by references to the student sit-in movement, if only because not all Negroes are students and not all of them live in the South. Things are as bad as the Muslims say they are—in fact, they are worse, and the Muslims do not help matters—but there is no reason that black men should be expected to be more patient, more forbearing, more farseeing than whites; indeed, quite the contrary.
The real reason that nonviolence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes—I am not speaking now of its tactical value, another matter altogether—is that white men do not want their lives, their self-image, or their property threatened. One wishes they would say so more often. Negroes were brought here in chains long before the Irish ever thought of leaving Ireland; what manner of consolation is it to be told that emigrants arriving here—voluntarily—long after you did have risen far above you?
James Baldwin. James X. Elijah Muhammad had seen this show, I think, or another one, and he had been told about me. Therefore, late on a hot Sunday afternoon, I presented myself at his door. I was frightened, because I had, in effect, been summoned into a royal presence. I was frightened for another reason, too. I knew the tension in me between love and power, between pain and rage, and the curious, the grinding way I remained extended between these poles—perpetually attempting to choose the better rather than the worse. But this choice was a choice in terms of a personal, a private better I was, after all, a writer ; what was its relevance in terms of a social worse?
Here was the South Side—a million in captivity—stretching from this doorstep as far as the eye could see. I was half an hour late, having got lost on the way here, and I felt as deserving of a scolding as a schoolboy. On one side of the room sat half a dozen women, all in white; they were much occupied with a beautiful baby, who seemed to belong to the youngest of the women. On the other side of the room sat seven or eight men, young, dressed in dark suits, very much at ease, and very imposing.
I remember being astounded by the quietness, the ease, the peace, the taste. I was introduced, they greeted me with a genuine cordiality and respect—and the respect increased my fright, for it meant that they expected something of me that I knew in my heart, for their sakes, I could not give—and we sat down. Elijah Muhammad was not in the room. Conversation was slow, but not as stiff as I had feared it would be. They kept it going, for I simply did not know which subjects I could acceptably bring up.
They knew more about me, and had read more of what I had written, than I had expected, and I wondered what they made of it all, what they took my usefulness to be. The women were carrying on their own conversation, in low tones; I gathered that they were not expected to take part in male conversations. A few women kept coming in and out of the room, apparently making preparations for dinner. We, the men, did not plunge deeply into any subject, for, clearly, we were all waiting for the appearance of Elijah.
Presently, the men, one by one, left the room and returned.
Then I was asked if I would like to wash, and I, too, walked down the hall to the bathroom. Shortly after I came back, we stood up, and Elijah entered. I do not know what I had expected to see. I had read some of his speeches, and had heard fragments of others on the radio and on television, so I associated him with ferocity. But, no—the man who came into the room was small and slender, really very delicately put together, with a thin face, large, warm eyes, and a most winning smile.
It was the kind of encounter one watches with a smile simply because it is so rare that people enjoy one another. He teased the women, like a father, with no hint of that ugly and unctuous flirtatiousness I knew so well from other churches, and they responded like that, with great freedom and yet from a great and loving distance. He had seen me when he came into the room, I knew, though he had not looked my way. I had the feeling, as he talked and laughed with the others, whom I could only think of as his children, that he was sizing me up, deciding something.
But I knew what he made me feel, how I was drawn toward his peculiar authority, how his smile promised to take the burden of my life off my shoulders. Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there. One wonders what he would sound like if he could sing. He made me think of my father and me as we might have been if we had been friends. In the dining room, there were two long tables; the men sat at one and the women at the other. Elijah was at the head of our table, and I was seated at his left. I can scarcely remember what we ate, except that it was plentiful, sane, and simple—so sane and simple that it made me feel extremely decadent, and I think that I drank, therefore, two glasses of milk.
Elijah mentioned having seen me on television and said that it seemed to him that I was not yet brainwashed and was trying to become myself. He said this in a curiously unnerving way, his eyes looking into mine and one hand half hiding his lips, as though he were trying to conceal bad teeth. But his teeth were not bad.
Then I remembered hearing that he had spent time in prison. I said yes, I was trying to be me, but I did not know how to say more than that, and so I waited. And Elijah himself had a further, unnerving habit, which was to ricochet his questions and comments off someone else on their way to you. Now, turning to the man on his right, he began to speak of the white devils with whom I had last appeared on TV: What had they made him me feel? I could not answer this and was not absolutely certain that I was expected to.
The people referred to had certainly made me feel exasperated and useless, but I did not think of them as devils. He proves that by his own actions. It was a very young man who had said this, scarcely more than a boy—very dark and sober, very bitter. Elijah began to speak of the Christian religion, of Christians, in this same soft, joking way. There is nothing calculated about him; he means every word he says. The real reason, according to Elijah, that I failed to realize that the white man was a devil was that I had been too long exposed to white teaching and had never received true instruction.
Until this is done—and it will be accomplished very soon—the total destruction of the white man is being delayed. This truth is that at the very beginning of time there was not one white face to be found in all the universe. Black men ruled the earth and the black man was perfect. This is the truth concerning the era that white men now refer to as prehistoric. They want black men to believe that they, like white men, once lived in caves and swung from trees and ate their meat raw and did not have the power of speech.
But this is not true. Black men were never in such a condition. Allah allowed the Devil, through his scientists, to carry on infernal experiments, which resulted, finally, in the creation of the devil known as the white man, and later, even more disastrously, in the creation of the white woman. And it was decreed that these monstrous creatures should rule the earth for a certain number of years—I forget how many thousand, but, in any case, their rule now is ending, and Allah, who had never approved of the creation of the white man in the first place who knows him, in fact, to be not a man at all but a devil , is anxious to restore the rule of peace that the rise of the white man totally destroyed.
There is thus, by definition, no virtue in white people, and since they are another creation entirely and can no more, by breeding, become black than a cat, by breeding, can become a horse, there is no hope for them. There is nothing new in this merciless formulation except the explicitness of its symbols and the candor of its hatred. Its emotional tone is as familiar to me as my own skin; it is but another way of saying that sinners shall be bound in Hell a thousand years.
In a society that is entirely hostile, and, by its nature, seems determined to cut you down—that has cut down so many in the past and cuts down so many every day—it begins to be almost impossible to distinguish a real from a fancied injury. One can very quickly cease to attempt this distinction, and, what is worse, one usually ceases to attempt it without realizing that one has done so. All doormen, for example, and all policemen have by now, for me, become exactly the same, and my style with them is designed simply to intimidate them before they can intimidate me.
No doubt I am guilty of some injustice here, but it is irreducible, since I cannot risk assuming that the humanity of these people is more real to them than their uniforms.