Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

In 1940, the Christian fundamentalist Aimee Semple McPherson mounted a protest in California against Langston Hughes, distributing copies of Hughes’s 1932 poem, “Goodbye, Christ.” That poem had offended many Christian readers because it seemed to dismiss Christ as being no longer relevant, displaced by Marxism, “a new guy with no religion at all.” In a letter of response, Hughes explained that many had misread “Goodbye, Christ”:Then, as now, they failed to see the poem in connection with my other work, including many verses most sympathetic to the true Christian spirit for which I have always had great respect—such as that section of poems, “Feet of Jesus” in my book, The Dream Keeper.

While the “Feet of Jesus” poems are indeed sympathetic to the spirit of Christianity, they also must be read, like the controversial “Goodbye, Christ,” within the larger context of Hughes’s other work. Hughes celebrated African American expression in all its cultural diversity and ambiguity, and he was drawn as much to the rhythms of the streets and the clubs as he was to the songs and prayers of the church.

Hughes did not identify himself as a Christian. In a chapter called “Salvation” from his autobiography, The Big Sea: An Autobiography (1940), Hughes recalled a revival meeting where, as a youth, he had gone forward to be “saved”; instead, he later found himself crying because Jesus had not come to him...

(The entire section is 436 words.)