Critical Essays The Importance of the Church in Go Tell It on the Mountain


The importance of The Church of the Fire Baptized cannot be overstated. This church acts as an anchor for its members and promises them the riches of heaven when their poverty-filled lives end. It provides a community in which people can find support and guidance and share their trouble and their happiness with like-minded people. Moral guidelines are established and members are expected to live by them. In this way, it teaches its members the group morality and discourages destructive behavior.

The church is also an outlet for repressed emotions and energy. Violence is not a socially acceptable manner by which to cope with anger and frustration. Releasing those passions in church through singing, shouting, and clapping gives an acceptable release of pent-up emotion. Energy that could have turned into violence is expressed through prayer. However, there are drawbacks in The Church of the Fire Baptized. Its members tend to be rigid in their way of thinking and can be judgmental in their views of others. Proof of this can be found in what they call themselves. Members of the church are called "saints." If there are saints, then there must also be sinners, and the sinners appear to be everyone but themselves. Attending church fills them with a feeling of moral supremacy. At times it seems as though there is a contest to see who is the most holy and the most faithful in the church. Sister McCandles says of John, "This boy going to make it to the Kingdom before any of them," as if salvation is some kind of footrace where the winner gets a little trophy at the end.

It is significant that the church the Grimes family attends is a storefront church. It is significant partly because it is not a church; it is a storefront used as a church, an example of a diminished standard or expectation, a symbol of a people forced to use and be satisfied with that which others have discarded. A church can, of course, be any building or place where people come together to worship, but the fact the edifice in which the saints gather was not originally intended to be a church gives the reader a clue to the social status of the characters. They are poor and of a lower social class. The grand churches of the city are reserved for those who have more money and social status than they.

Gabriel has his first taste of hypocrisy in the church during the banquet following the Twenty-Four Elders revival meeting. The ministers are ostensibly the messengers of God, men who had forsaken worldly pleasures in order to serve God and their fellow man. In practice, however, they are much different. Gabriel finds them too well dressed and too well fed and more full of themselves than they are of the holy spirit. That these men of God mock Deborah and ridicule her rape repulses Gabriel.

Of course, Gabriel is not the model Christian either. He is a violent man who beats his wife and children. He has had an adulterous affair and has stolen money from his wife to keep a liaison a secret. He is also a hypocrite. He has dismissed his own affair with Ester as forgiven but refuses to allow Elizabeth the same courtesy. It is not surprising that the young John feels some ambivalence toward the church when the reality of the institution varies so widely from the ideal.