A faith that cannot be questioned cannot claim to have all the answers.
For too long, Christian believers have used their personal relationship with the all-knowing God as proof of their intellectual supremacy while telling new converts to simply believe.
But when it comes to a response to race and its progeny, churches in North America remain divided on the answer. Consequently, Christianity must be offered as a “faith seeking understanding.”
It was Saint Anselm of Canterbury’s motto. An 11th century philosopher and theologian, he was exiled twice by the monarchy for not adhering to the royal jurisdiction over the church.
To be clear, he was not suggesting that understanding was superior to faith or seeking to replace the former with the latter. Instead, Anselm saw faith not as epistemic but volitional, defining it as “an active love of God seeking a deeper knowledge of God.” He also considered a faith that “merely believes what it ought to believe” as “dead.”
Consequently, disciples of Jesus don’t just sit in pews but at his feet. Jesus walks with his followers, which is not to be confused with Jesus speaking to gain a following. Faith is to be engaged, and we see Jesus actively discussing his throughout the gospels.
However, I was given a faith that left Jesus to do all the work. Working out my salvation meant only to keep myself holy by abstaining from alcohol, foul speech and sex (Philippians 2:12).
“Let God and let go.” “God is in control.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “God is good all the time and all the time, God is good.” These were the mantras I was taught.
There was no room for sadness, doubt or questioning. These believers reduced millennia-old questions of theodicy to sticky note mantras and catchy litanies.
“Just have faith. Just trust God,” the church leaders responded. If you couldn’t, then you weren’t really a believer.
Instead of a discussion about personal and systemic injustices, these Christian leaders tried to guilt me into believing that I was just impatient and faithless. The Bible had an answer for everything; I just wasn’t reading it correctly, they insisted.
But when I started to question race, the social coloring of human beings and the white supremacist structures that the North American church helped to put in place, they shrugged their shoulders.
“Wait! Where is everyone going? We are the body of Christ. We aren’t supposed to be segregating. I thought we were new people in Christ Jesus. Out with the old and in with the new reign of God’s ‘kin-dom’” (see 2 Cor. 5:17).
It didn’t take me long to figure out that they only took certain scriptures literally, like the one that said women should keep quiet in church (1 Cor. 14:33-35). But what if I raised my hand and asked nicely? Because we raised our hands in praise on Sunday mornings.
“Power belongs to God” (Psalm 62:11, NRSV). Yes, we agreed with the psalmist, but when it came to white supremacy, the sovereignty given to these human beings to come and go in the United States as they please, the church didn’t have an answer.
This 66-book reference set was reduced to an acronym that pointed to Christianity as an exit strategy — “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”
But what are we supposed to do in the here and now? What if I feel called to do something right here and now?
What about the faith I was called to embody? I didn’t want to live right as an example to the “sinners” in the world. I wanted a faith that did right by all of humanity.
Deconstructing race in sacred space, challenging the defacing of the image of the Christian God who comes in black and white and red and yellow face, and questioning why our baptismal identity didn’t cause any rippling effects in American society led to me to a closer walk with Jesus and a more careful reading of Christian scripture.
I have been writing about race and the related hypocrisies of the Christian faith for more than 10 years on a personal blog.
I have presented papers internationally at Baptist World Alliance meetings, lectured at conferences and even wrote a chapter titled “In Search of a Raceless Gospel” for the book Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity.
Last year, Good Faith Media honored my voice with the creation of the Raceless Gospel Initiative. Less than a year in, we have a podcast with a listener guide that takes people to church, as well as a webpage with dedicated resources that include a devotional titled, “Words We Must Say.”
We have hosted a webinar, traveled to make presentations and to preach a gospel that is raceless. We are co-laboring with Jesus, taking questions about race as an expression of “faith seeking understanding.”
Fides quaerens intellectum. All that Latin to say that “Faith Seeking Understanding” is the title of a new series.
We have invited several people to share how their faith led them to seek understanding. If you would like to contribute to the series, please submit your column to email@example.com.