“By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst.”
That insightful quote by Howard Thurman popped up again recently in Jennifer Butler’s new book, Who Stole My Bible? It is a revealing point worth pondering.
Many persons of African descent who were sold and enslaved and treated in every possible way in contrast to the life and teachings of Jesus, somehow found the liberating Christ who had been so misrepresented and misused to justify their abuse.
And since that time, the attitudes and behaviors toward minority and oppressed persons by the white, baptized majority have repeatedly failed to live up to the faith long claimed.
Therefore, the strength of the Black church in America since emancipation is simply remarkable, considering out of which it came and what it has encountered.
Yet, today, there remain those white Christians who see it as their prerogative to determine what Christianity should look like for all others based on their own perspectives, priorities and experiences.
Perhaps to their surprise and disappointment, however, white American evangelicals have not been designated as the keepers or majority representatives of nationwide or worldwide Christianity. The church of Jesus Christ knows no boundaries of nation, language, culture, race or ethnicity.
Despite American ethnocentrism, Christianity’s growth is not happening here but in Africa and other parts of the world. Christianity is no whiter than was Jesus.
Unlike the other 49 states, here in Georgia we get an extra dose of political ads. A popular attack on a candidate who is an African American Baptist pastor is focused on his connections to liberation theologians and theology – something all of us with a good theological education have studied and learned from.
Blind spots in interpreting the Bible are revealed for dominant populations when we see the liberating gospel play out in the lives of the oppressed. Whether listening to fellow Christians who are African American or those oppressed believers in others places in the world, we can understand the biblical revelation more fully through those lenses.
In fact, majoritarian Christians miss a whole lot of the biblical story by improperly identifying with the courageous, underdog heroes of faith rather than more fittingly acknowledging a kinship to the scorned religious authorities and political oppressors.
Political ads, of course, also play on guilt by association, seeking to connect dots and lines to anything that might tie someone to extremism. (As if a Black Baptist preacher anywhere, who is focused on peace and justice issues, is somehow more “extreme” than Paula White and Kenneth Copeland.)
That’s one of hundreds of reasons for not being a politician myself. I have written, said and done enough stuff in my lifetime to be held accountable for – and don’t need to be further burdened by what my friends, ministers and mentors might have written or said, or who they might have engaged with at some time.
Seeking to delegitimize Black theology, however, is more than a political stunt. It is an attack on the faith tradition and beloved community that drove the gospel-infused civil rights movement in this nation while most white Christians stood on the side or in the way.
Fat-cat oppressors continue to tamp down the poor and oppressed through political power or by delegitimizing their faith. These are the same injustices the prophets and Jesus called out and countered again and again.
So, it’s a good time to stand in solidarity with and defense of these sisters and brothers. Theirs is not a secondhand, inferior faith. It gets things right that we have long gotten wrong.
White Christians should be in constant confession and correction for ongoing participation in such evils, rather than assuming any implied role of an orthodox overseer.
To demand that love of country somehow requires something other than being fully accountable for our corporate sins is both false patriotism and the advancement of a false gospel.
In times of slavery, white church leaders controlled what Black worshippers could hear – and encouraged illiteracy so slaves couldn’t read the Bible for themselves and discover its true message. But, somehow, by the grace of God, many encountered the true Christ who seeks and saves.
White Americanized Christians can no longer filter the Bible for others and need to stop trying. It is not their story to own, shape or sell.
This current political stunt is just another fearful response to anything or anyone that threatens political power and cultural dominance.
The term “radical” is thrown around in an effort to dismiss whatever challenges their well-controlled and self-serving version of “Christianity” that keeps white church people in power and all others in “their place.”
But here’s some really big news: They can ignore, and often do, but cannot control the message of the most radical preacher of them all.
The one who launched his ministry with these liberating and culture-crashing words borrowed from an earlier prophet:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me. He has anointed me to announce the good news to poor people. He has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners. He has sent me so that the blind will see again. He wants me to set free those who are treated badly. And he has sent me to announce the year when he will set his people free” (Luke 4:18-19).
And as if that wasn’t clear enough, he added, “Today this passage of Scripture is coming true as you listen.”
Those words stand in stark contrast to what many white American evangelicals, who’ve created a civil religion for their own benefit, proclaim and want others to hear.
So, it’s not surprising that any liberating message from Jesus, or anyone seeking to follow him in this way, is seen as threatening and rejected as invalid.
But, again, Jesus and his gospel cannot be controlled. The liberation goes on. Thank God!
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.