As a black Christian in a predominantly white context, Black History Month is an opportunity to recognize influential black men and women and the contributions they’ve made to American life.
I am obviously indebted to those who have paved the way for me and others like me. I am also extremely grateful for my white brothers and sisters who want to honor the Lord with how they steward this cultural conversation. At the same time, I am persuaded that when Black History Month is reduced to simply names and dates, we fail to see how the pernicious narratives of racial difference began, went unchallenged, and still present ongoing obstacles to men and women of color today.
Rather than solely recognizing key black figures, Christians should be careful to identify key ideologies and worldviews that continue to make these individuals and their actions so relevant.
Here are three suggestions I have for all Christians who are interested in having productive things to say and do about race, the gospel, and the mission of the Church.
Work to Combat White Normalcy
By white normalcy, I mean the belief that whiteness is normative and the standard. 400+ years of racism by intent has produced racism by consequence. These consequences rest on the assumption of white superiority over non-white ethnic groups. White normalcy is difficult for many white people to detect since they often go extended periods of time without having to reflect deeply on their ethnicity. White normalcy affects every layer of society but can especially be seen within the evangelical movement.
Here is a list of examples that reinforce white normalcy:
- All-white pastoral teams
- Recommended books by exclusively white authors
- All-white conference speakers and guest preachers
If Christians are serious about proclaiming a gospel to all people, they must work diligently to combat the notion that Christianity is simply a white man’s religion that black and brown people may benefit from. Sharing leadership, using one’s advantages to help others less advantaged, and pursuing interracial discipleship are a few ways to challenge white normalcy in the life of the church and build credibility within the community.
Diversify your reading
Here is a list below of some books that I’ve found helpful.
- “Critical Race Theory” encourages those in the majority culture to resonate with the experiences of non-majority people, while introducing them to a few concepts that help put race and racial inequality in its historical perspective.
- “Divided by Faith” does something similar by demonstrating that the way many white evangelicals think about race is largely indistinguishable from the way most non-Christian white individuals think, with the exception of their emphasis on individualized personal repentance.
- “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention” is a helpful book that argues one of the best ways Christians can engage the race conversation is being educated on the issues and staying up to date on the theories. I encourage you to be quick to hear and slow to speak when it comes to issues as complicated as racial prejudice, mass incarceration, educational inequality, and public protest. Speaking intelligently about these issues requires more than espousing one’s opinions.
Recognize Social Structures of Inequality
Several minority evangelical voices have lamented the tendency of some who fail to think beyond the interpersonal, individual level of race and racism. Recently, secular critical race theorists have figured out what many Christians don’t know—that worldview matters.
Worldview shapes society and that society reflects its dominant worldviews. If our country was founded on the racial genocide of Native Americans, supported by the racial subjugation of African slaves, and only recently came out of segregation 56 years ago, it should surprise no one that racism has sunk deep into the ideological level of many and has infiltrated the social structure of our country. Addressing racism solely at the individual level does very little to alleviate the problem and even works to frustrate minority voices. A deeper understanding of worldview and the doctrine of sin are needed.
What is surprising is that many evangelicals have demonstrated their inability to grasp this phenomenon. Many argue that we live in a culture of death that cheapens life—evidenced by abortion and euthanasia. Several have highlighted the cultural shift away from a biblical understanding of gender in favor of a more fluid view.
Beneath these trends are worldview and ideology commitments. I’ve heard many sermons claiming that individualism has sunk into the ideological level of our country, causing ongoing societal challenges and consequences. Why then is it so difficult to see racism the same way?
400+ years of racist ideologies rooted in white supremacy also have consequences. We should expect that these consequences will take longer than 56 years to correct. Christians lose credibility when they downplay the extent of racism or even go as far as to claim that racism and racial inequality no longer exist.
A Final Plea
I long for the Church to get this right and realize that racism is not a social issue but a gospel one. I pray the Church would recognize that both her gospel and her Great Commission are overtly racial—A Jewish man died for Jewish and Gentile sinners and then commanded his followers to tell the world.
Let us then take seriously the announcement that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Christ. Look with eager anticipation to the day when white faces and black faces and brown faces will worship the Lamb of God in unison as he sits eternally exalted on his blood-stained throne!