It is probably best to just throw it right out: White Christians need to evaluate the ways in which we view African American Christians.
Now, with that out there in the open, allow me to break things down a bit. Bear in mind, my writings are those of a white, American Christian. If you want to understand more of the experience of being an African American in our country (and you should), I implore you to read words from their voices. Me? I’m talking to you, White America, because from there I can speak with experience.
That being said, permit me to share some truths which have been left out of our nonexistent dialogue about our views of the black church in America. Set aside the stereotypical qualifications you may have already used to tag it in your mind: the worship style, the length, the preaching. Set all of that aside for a moment and try viewing history through a different lens.
Chances are that every February, for Black History Month, you learned in school about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Rosa Parks? You could recite facts about them from memory. As a teacher, I need to admit that we have also been numbed into regurgitating the same facts every year. In the bland retellings, the textbook readings, they lose their power to disturb, to move to action, to cause a rethink of the status quo if we are not diligent about making history fresh each time we teach it. However, one year as I retold the story of the bus boycott, what blindsided me was the unbelievable level of FAITH it took to actually accomplish that boycott. I don’t like waiting for things and despite often going through the motions of praying, I quickly lose faith when I don’t see results. SO quickly. What they knew about that boycott was that it was good, it was right, and that God wanted the same outcome. And so they waited. They waited for 381 days- over a YEAR- for God to answer a prayer they trusted Him to answer. I am humbled to think about how likely I would have been to just say, “Screw it. This isn’t working.” And it would have happened in about 370-ish less days than the 381 they devoted. Such great faith. Why are we not learning about the Montgomery Bus Boycott in our churches?
Now I need to ask you again to set aside what you’ve learned about our nation’s history of slavery in school. For a minute, think about it in relation to Christianity. For generation after generation, plantation owners horribly misconstrued the Bible to condone slavery. By these same plantation owners, African Americans would have been told lies of the God they also worshiped. And yet, their faith had the strength to see through the blasphemes. They knew God’s character. The God they were taught did not line up with the God they followed and believed in so they rejected the lies. My faith is rocked by the smallest of bumps and I too often swallow what others tell me about God as opposed to deeply knowing Him in a way that substantiates my beliefs. This realization reminds me of how often we are all going through the motions- missing out on a faith that conquers the lies that society feeds us. I want a faith that is that real, too.
Having said all of that, it still seems as though we whites assume, without ever uttering it to ourselves let alone aloud, that we don’t all really worship the same Jesus. We put churches into boxes labeled ‘US’ and ‘THEM’ and continue to segregate not only our Sunday mornings, but the images in our minds as to what it actually looks like to live as the body of Christ. We
forget (Can you forget something you never realize you chose?) overlook Jesus’s teachings that we are all brothers and sisters under the SAME CHRIST, residing under the SAME GRACE AND GODLY AFFECTION. God did not tell us, the white people, to go help ‘the suffering African American people’. He told us, all of us, of every race, to love above all else. We are equal heirs. We should not be moving to stand with our African American brothers and sisters (Christians or not) as a result of having somehow been led to believe that we hold the monopoly on following Christ’s teachings of caring for those in need. (We are not, as it turns out, God’s gift to the suffering peoples of the world.) We should be reacting to their unequal, unjust, and un-Christlike treatment out of the overflow of our hearts because our hearts should break for the things that break His and RIGHT NOW, our hearts ought to be overflowing with despair over the treatment of members of OUR FAMILY, who are all equally loved by a God who did not design us to worship, support, and live divided.
If we truly believe that we, as Christ followers, are to be the hands and feet of God, then for the literal love of God, we should be doing a better job of functioning as one body. There is much that is broken. There is much to restructure. There is much to rethink. God is the best place to start the process and, as it turns out, we both reach out to the same one.