By Victor Ochieng
Christians and non-Christians across the globe celebrated Easter Holidays this past weekend. In coastal Virginia, over 1000 people came together to celebrate the Passover and share stories of how God, through his servant Moses, delivered the children of Israel from bondage. This gathering was partaking in traditions observed by Jews, except that they weren’t Jews.
The message of the event veered somewhat from what a majority of those partaking of the celebration across the globe were sharing. Instead of basing their history on the Israelites under Pharaoh, they were concerned about slavery in the United States. The prophet in the event was actually an African-American who was born in the days of slavery. He shared his message with a Christian audience, urging them to embrace Hebraic traditions in their religious faith as a way to go back to the true worship, basing his teachings on the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. They envision a plot in Virginia as their Promised Land, a place where African-American men will live together away from the terrible threat of White Supremacy.
Temple Beth El located in Belleville acts as the headquarters of the Church of God and Saints of Christ, which stands as the oldest group of Hebrew Israelites in the U.S. For those who don’t know, Hebrew Israelites are actually persons of color who claim to be the off-springs of the ancient biblical Israelites. The Passover remains key among the group’s observances.
Members of the outfit gather at their Promised Land, named after the land promised to Abraham by God in the first book of the Holy Bible. There, they spend several days involved in long hours of worship.
“Just as Israelites of the Bible had their Land of Canaan filled with milk and honey, this is our land of milk and honey,” said Melvin Smith, 46, a fourth-generation congregant. “This is our refuge.”
In spite of having been around for decades and boasting of tens of thousands in membership, the group remains little known. Scholars and media persons who seek to know more about the group only receive limited information. Their leadership zealously guards the organization’s legacy. To protect their activities from being publicized, the group rarely allows pictures to be taken inside their sanctuary and they also don’t allow their spiritual materials to be reproduced or shared with non-members.
“The Church of God and Saints of Christ is one of the most important religious bodies in America that few people have ever heard of,” said Jacob Dorman, professor of history at the University of Kansas and author of “Chosen People: The Rise of American Black Israelite Religions.”
The group has members from America, Africa, and the Caribbean and is still spreading across other global locations.