I would like for my white Christian friends to consider something: Slavery and segregation are stumbling blocks to African Americans receiving the gospel.
You may be shouting to yourself, “But slavery was a long time ago! Segregation was a long time ago! I had nothing to do with either! Why don’t they just get over it already?”
Before you get defensive, I would like for you to take time to recognize that even though it was a long time ago (for slavery, there is living memory of segregation in the black community) the wounds are still fresh. The ending of slavery didn’t suddenly undo the generations of terror that black people experienced. That terror continued to be lived out through the segregation era. These atrocities are still etched on the minds and hearts of the black community today, and old wounds continue to be injured.
Racial oppression has wounded the hearts of African Americans. For many, slavery and segregation continue to be stumbling blocks to following Christ because of a pervasive view that Christianity is “the white man’s religion.” This is precipitated by the fact that the same Bible that was used to declare the gospel was also used to tell us that we were a cursed people and therefore needed to be enslaved. Many see Christianity as a religion of their oppression. It doesn’t help that scripture was also used to defend segregation.
Black people are asking themselves why they should be part of a religion that appears to them to only be for white people. Many see a religious system that requires them to abandon their culture and, in effect, become white in order to be viewed as righteous in the sight of God and man. This pressure is extant even within black churches.
Yes, early Christianity began on the continent of Africa, but a lot of people don’t know that because it isn’t taught. Western theologians and white American preachers and teachers are most often the face of Christianity in America. The so-called “black church” exists but is often treated as an inferior branch of the faith. White Christians are hesitant to worship in black churches or to elect black pastors to lead their congregations.
These things lead to a whitewashing of Christianity.
So what can you, my white Christian friends do?
1) Take this message without defensiveness. If you feel defensive, it’s the wrong response. You should feel grieved that there is a stumbling block and want to work to remove it.
2) Decolonize your mind and your Theology. The western, European mind isn’t the only mind capable of theological thought. Learn about ancient thinkers who don’t have the same skin color and ethnic background as you.
3) Elevate and amplify the voices of Christians of color. Read books, subscribe to podcasts, attend conferences, and support the ministries of men and women of color.
4) Integrate your church, or at the very least, regularly fellowship with congregations of other races/ethnicities. It’s not up to black churches to reach black people. The Great Commission is cross-cultural. I shouldn’t have to lay down my culture and identity to worship with you.
5) Become culturally literate. Black people (and other people of color) have a different culture than you. Our culture isn’t less sanctified than yours. Educate yourself on what makes African Americans unique and work to make your church a welcome environment for those differences.
6) Pursue racial reconciliation. It’s not enough to have proximity to black people. It’s not enough to invite your friends of color to church. It’s not enough to put black people in leadership positions. Reconciliation requires the uncomfortable work of discussing this issue, praying, making amends, and actively working to be non-racist in the future.
7) Live the difference. Draw black people (and other POC) into your circles. Hear their stories. Let them be your teachers, preachers, and pastors. Vote for them to fill denominational positions. Put them on your deacon boards. Make people who are different than you part of your life, and allow them to do so without requiring them to assimilate to your culture.
No, you never enslaved anyone. You may or may not have been alive or of voting age during segregation. You may not be actively participating in overt racism. You may not have created the oppressive systems in our country and in the church, but, my white Christian friends, it is within your power to remove a stumbling block to the gospel.
Will your response be one of defensiveness or one of responsiveness?