No More Black History Bulletin Boards
Black History Month is a too often missed opportunity for religious formation. There is an abundant history of marginalized people in the Bible and the history of faith. We capitulate to white norms when we simply pick handfuls of masters to place on a pedestal instead of preparing for God’s communal work of liberation.
February’s annual descendant of Carter G. Woodson’s “Negro History Week” will be upon us shortly, and it is likely that churches, schools, and communities nationwide will default to historical patterns of commemoration. Schools will perform diversity with bulletin boards, biography projects, and screenings of My Friend, Martin. Communities will feign solidarity with volunteer days and mayoral holidays for local individual “success” stories. Churches will dip their toes in political engagement by platforming a palatable set of historical narratives and hosting a worship service where they allude to one or two broad racial issues. But why? What do these programs do for the liberation of Black people? How do they equip the saints to participate in bringing about liberation substantively? There is an opportunity for the American Church to move from a superficial level of engagement with racial justice to effect significant change.
The summer of 2020 saw the largest multi-day, multi-city protest for racial equity in America that pulled many congregations back into movement work and recruited many congregations to get involved for the first time. The current president, whose Christian faith informs his conviction, named white supremacy as a threat to the nation in his Inaugural Address. The white supremacist roots of the failed coup at the U.S. Capitol Building have been exposed. Once again, the principalities and powers of racism, oppression, and political violence are being revealed for the poison they are. How does God want us to respond?
I believe that God is issuing a bold invitation to the church. He is saying, “Beloved, this is the time. Come and co-create a better world with me.” Can you hear him? Who else is more fit than the Church to respond to the issue of racism? Who is better equipped to ensure folks’ flourishing?
This Black History month, God is inviting the Church to change the way we approach religious education. We have the opportunity to fully submit to the rich gifts of prophecy and wisdom that are found within the fullness of the Black Christian tradition. If faith is meant to show a way to live with people as modeled by God, then our faith formation must encompass all of what that means.
Instead of bulletin boards covered with familiar faces, we have the opportunity to teach children about God’s consistent love for marginalized people. Instead of biographical presentations, God is inviting us to compare the Prophets’ writings with contemporary Black organizers and poets’ leadership. Instead of singing superficial songs that last for only a moment, we have an invitation to create new protest anthems that will sustain us for generations to come. Instead of volunteer days, we have an invitation to equip the saints with political education to further community solidarity. It is past time for us to trade prepackaged sermons and recycled Sunday School lessons for educational content that will prepare us to build a society that reflects the Kingdom of God.
Black History Month’s original intent was to educate Black people about the Black struggle and the progress we have made. Throughout our history, education has helped advance us while also insulating us from the effects of racial prejudice and white supremacy. The best way to honor the tradition of Black History Month is to continue to educate while also equipping Black people to build a better future. The Church is in a prime position to equip people to achieve liberation. We know what is true; now, we just need to know what to do.