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date: 24 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses the relationship of a church to its surrounding secular context. It outlines the relationship of an African American Missionary Baptist Church congregation to its surrounding community in Mississippi in the 1980s, drawing on the insider binary of “saint-sinner”; points to the strong role that individual scriptural interpretation and performance play in this church; and traces several church performances that show the nuanced and flexible nature of the boundary between “saint” and “sinner.” While the dominant local popular music, blues, is generally categorized as “sinner’s” music, it is sometimes allowed for listening to (but not performance) because of a nuanced understanding of the relationship of listening and performance to the Christian believer. In addition, knowledge of blues and other popular genres is important for believers in interpreting sermons, in which speech slides into musical performance and references these genres as symbols to narrate the “saint-sinner” binary.

Keywords: Christianity, North America, African American, Missionary Baptist Church, hymn, blues, popular music, sermon, saint-sinner

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