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empty Posted March 2002
BNC Academy Exclusive:
An E-Interview with Anthony Pinn
Fortress Introduction to Black Church History

by Jacqueline Trussell
Founder and President,

In February, featured a new book by authors Anne H. Pinn and Anthony B. Pinn. The book, Fortress Introduction to Black Church History, is a concise 184 pages from cover to finish, of useful information for anyone seeking to learn more about the African American Church. Readers may also benefit from the glossary and extensive bibliography plus timelines of Black Church history facts.

Introduction to Black Church History

The book is perfect for church groups and includes study questions, as well as for courses on the historically Black Church denominations. The book is co-authored by Pinn's mother, theRev. Anne H. Pinn, pastor of Mt. Zion AME Church in Buffalo, New York and President of the African Methodist Ministers' Alliance there. conducted an E-Interview with one of the authors, Anthony B. Pinn, an associate Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Anthony B. Pinn
Anthony B. Pinn

BNC: Why did you write an  Introduction to Black Church History?

Pinn: I wanted to develop a text that provided the rough outline of black church development, with respect to institutional forms and praxis.  And, I wanted to base this study on one central question:  What are the roots of the Black Church Tradition celebrated in twenty-first century?  That is to say, I wanted to provide church participants with a slim volume that helped them unpack the history of the churches they love and give time to. 

BNC: How were you able to involve your mother in the project and what do you hope to accomplish with the publication of this book?

In thinking about the book, I wanted to do something unique. I wanted to develop a book co-authored by an academic and an active minister, for whom church ministry is the primary responsibility.  I thought this would provide a creative tension between the academic's alleged "objectivity" and the church leaders "insider" perspective. It would provide for a book that took into consideration the sensibilities and sensitivities of those who keep black churches working. I wanted to provide a creative and healthy tension between historical analysis and personal engagement. It seemed only logical that I undertake such a venture with my mother, who is an ordained minister and pastor of a church in Buffalo, New York.
Rev. Anne H. Pinn
Rev. Anne H. Pinn

BNC: What do you see as the future of the Black Church?

Pinn: I believe the black church is facing a crisis, similar to that faced during the Great Migration.  In the words of historian Gayraud Wilmore, I would call this crisis the potential for a neo-deradicalization.  During the Great Migration many mainline and mainstream churches turned attention away from pressing socioeconomic and political issues.  And, it strikes me that there are new pressing issues of life and death status that are not being adequately addressed by black churches -- health and wellness, HIV/AIDS, sex and sexuality, environmental racism, etc. The reputation of the Black Church as a force for social change depends on its ability to address such issues. And, this is particularly important because such a large percentage of young people at the beginning of the 21st century have little historical or practical knowledge of the Black Church.  They are not forming their opinion of the Black Church based on the embrace of its past deeds.  Rather, they are judging it almost solely on its ability to address these and related issues. The Black Church has tremendous potential, but will it maximize this potential, is the central question.

BNC: Who are some of the people who have influenced you academically and in life in general? 

Pinn: Some of my influences academically must include: Gordon Kaufman, Peter Paris, Charles Long, James Cone, W. E. B. DuBois, and Richard Wright, Reinhold Niebuhr, Frantz Fanon, and William R. Jones.

Some of the persons who have influenced my "conduct," and other areas of personal engagement with and perception of the world include: Malcolm X, Martin L. King, Jr., Richard Wright, Anne H. Pinn, Ashley and Annie Hargrave, my wife Cheryl Johnson, Calvin Roetzel, Frantz Fanon, Howard Thurman, and Benjamin E. Mays

BNC: You received a Ph.D. in Religion from Harvard University.  What were your research interests then and how does it compare to what you are doing now?  What was your dissertation title? 

Pinn: Yes, I earned a Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard.  My dissertation title:  "I Wonder as I Wonder:  An Examination of the Problem of Evil in African-American Religious Thought."  My interests as a graduate student were primarily theological in nature and revolved around theodicy and its implications.  I remain interested in this area, but my work is more solidly in religious studies, with less of a strong focus in theology.
Some of my current research is interdisciplinary in nature, involving theology, religious history, history of religions, psychology of religion, sociology of religion, anthropology of religion, and art criticism. 

BNC: Is Black Theology still an integral part of the Black Church?  If so, how?

Pinn: There is a debate concerning the importance of academic black theology within black churches.  However, I believe there are shared theological sensibilities between most black academic theologians and black churches. Hence, whether people read books by academics or not, many of their ministers do, and this has some influence on the Church's theological orientation.  Black theology, I believe, remains an important mode of conversation, of unpacking the ultimate meaning and significance of our existence.

BNC: Do you consider this work a book that can be used by Pastors and people in the "Pew" to learn and/or teach Black Church history?

Pinn: Our target audience is church laity, the folks who fill church pews Sunday after Sunday.  We wanted to produce a text that would be useful in undergraduate classrooms, but more importantly a text that would be of use to millions of the Black Church's members.

BNC: The book includes pictures, timelines and study questions.  Were these intentional inclusions? 

Pinn: Yes, we wanted to make the book as "reader friendly" as possible.  And, we thought including these materials would help unpack the narrative.

BNC:  Is this your first book for Fortress?

Pinn: No, I published The Varieties of African American Religious Experience with Fortress in 1998.  Beyond Fortress Introduction to Black Church History, I'm working on three other books for the press.  They should come out over the next 3-4 years.

BNC:  What did you leave out that you wish you had included?

Pinn: I wish we had included more information on the presence and importance of women within black churches. Also, I wish we had included more information on theological developments prior to 1970.

BNC: Do you anticipate writing a series of books on the black church, expanding the sections in this introductory work?

Pinn: I have a book that will come out this March, by Orbis Books, titled The Black Church in the Post-Civil Rights Era. In that book I explore in more detail the praxis of black churches from 1970-to the present. It picks up where Fortress Introduction to Black Church History leaves off. I will continue work in this area.  I'm in the process of developing, for example, a book that will explore the implications of the Black Church's embodied theology.

BNC: What does it mean to be black and Christian in the 21st century?

Pinn: I think black Christians, like never before, are being confronted with the fact (although a long standing reality) that they represent only one religious orientation within black communities. With the tremendous growth in the number of black Muslims, for example, black Christians are forced to understand themselves as living in a religiously pluralistic community. Certain assumptions that could once be made concerning the centrality of the Black Church in black life are no longer safe.  This means a reconceiving of what it means to be black and religious.  It also means a reconceiving of proper moral and ethical paradigms and the theological basis for such paradigms.  Black Christians must become comfortable with religious diversity, and must develop the necessary sensibilities and sensitivities to function in healthy ways within a diverse community.

2002, All Rights Reserved.

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