By presenting African American Protestantism in the context of white Protestant fundamentalism, Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism between the Wars demonstrates that African American Protestants were acutely aware of the manner in which white Christianity operated and how they could use that knowledge to justify social change. Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews’s study scrutinizes how white fundamentalists wrote blacks out of their definition of fundamentalism and how blacks constructed a definition of Christianity that had, at its core, an intrinsic belief in racial equality. In doing so, this volume challenges the prevailing scholarly argument that fundamentalism was either a doctrinal debate or an antimodernist force. Instead, it was a constantly shifting set of priorities for different groups at different times.

A number of African American theologians and clergy identified with many of the doctrinal tenets of the fundamentalism of their white counterparts, but African Americans were excluded from full fellowship with the fundamentalists because of their race. Moreover, these scholars and pastors did not limit themselves to traditional evangelical doctrine but embraced progressive theological concepts, such as the Social Gospel, to help them achieve racial equality. Nonetheless, they identified other forward-looking theological views, such as modernism, as threats to “true” Christianity.

Mathews demonstrates that, although traditional portraits of “the black church” have provided the illusion of a singular unified organization, black evangelical leaders debated passionately among themselves as they sought to preserve select aspects of the culture around them while rejecting others. The picture that emerges from this research creates a richer, more profound understanding of African American denominations as they struggled to contend with a white American society that saw them as inferior.

Doctrine and Race melds American religious history and race studies in innovative and compelling ways, highlighting the remarkable and rich complexity that attended to the development of African American Protestant movements.

Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews
is an associate professor of religion at the University of Mary Washington and is the author of Rethinking Zion: How the Print Media Placed Fundamentalism in the South.

“Mathews accomplishes what scholars of African American Protestantism from E. Franklin Frazier to Barbara Dianne Savage have tended to neglect: careful consideration of the religious values of black theological conservatism.”
—Edward J. Blum, coauthor of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Doctrine and Race—which considers the evolution of black evangelicals during the interwar period through their struggle with the modernist controversies and white fundamentalism’s rise—is an extremely welcome contribution to the study of black religious history.”
—Clarence E. Hardy III, author of James Baldwin’s God: Sex, Hope, and Crisis in Black Holiness Culture

Religion and American Culture
John M. Giggie and Charles A. Israel, series editors

216 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8173-1938-0 Cloth
ISBN: 978-0-8173-9072-3 Ebook