Warning: Educated Black Man
There is no shortage of phrases assigned to African-Americans. According to some, we are “angry,” “thugs,” “uneducated,” “welfare queens,” and “monkeys.”A quick browse online validates these terms are still frequently used.
In the 1990s, however, we witnessed the emergence of another phrase assigned to African-American males. Men popularized the new statement by bearing witness on their t-shirts, which read, “Warning: Educated Black Man.”
This phrase is far more flattering than those above. It is also one that can and should be assigned to African-American pastors in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). However, the renewed emergence of conversations about diversity, inclusion, assimilation, and systemic racism has, perhaps, had unintended consequences and has limited the breadth of our intelligence.
For many, we are only consulted when matters of culture and race arise , but are we not equipped to discuss other weighty doctrinal and practical matters?
In its original context, the phrase, “Warning: Educated Black Man”, was a protest against a prevailing notion that African-American men abandoned their children, were narrowly defined by minimum wage jobs, and unintelligent. It was a means to reverse the roles.
If knowledge and education meant power, an educated black man, therefore, was powerful. Some suspected this was a threat to those of the majority. When a subdominant culture is educated and exudes power, the majority can feel threatened at the loss of their power.
Education, one might suspect, can be viewed differently. People may have cultural intelligence but lack diplomas. One may have spent several years in higher education, yet remains culturally captive, thereby limiting their understanding of various races and cultures. Both are educated, but their credentials were received from different institutions.
Both forms of education exist in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), but only one is required. According to one of her standards for operation, also known as the Book of Church Order (BCA), unless extraordinary circumstances exist, all those seeking ordination in the PCA must have either a master’s degree or a certificate from a theological institution approved “by the General Assembly and one of the Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America” (Book of Church Order 21.4a).
These credentials require rigorous study in the areas of church history, systematic, biblical, and practical theologies, and the biblical languages. Once seminary is complete, the trial by fire, as it were, continues. The ministerial candidate must endure written and oral exams by ruling and teaching elders in the presbytery.
Once the candidate receives the proverbial thumbs up from the presbytery and has received a call to a congregation, he can be ordained for pastoral ministry. One might conclude, therefore, that all ministers in the PCA are competent to discuss matters of doctrine. All have had to undergo similar Spartan theological trials. Experience has shown not all ministers are treated the same.
The following observations are subjective. I do not speak for all African-Americans, though I know many who have undergone similar experiences. Particularly, there has been a swell of interest to garner our thoughts about increasing ethnic and cultural diversity in our churches.
According to Matthew 28:16-20, the Church is called to make disciples of all nations. Christ equipped the saints with the necessary tools to ensure his mission was accomplished. The question presently being asked, in light of the mission of Christ’s Church, is how do we reach all nations, particularly those who reside in this country?
The reformed tradition in the United States, both historically and presently, is predominantly Anglo. While at one time there was more a minority presence in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, there is presently a greater underrepresentation of minority presence.
The latter observation and Christ’s commission to his Church have caused many within the PCA to seek answers. Who better to ask than those presently in their midst who are underrepresented (i.e., African-Americans, although African-Americans are not the only minority group underrepresented)?
It is a much-needed discussion, one that should have occurred long ago and with greater frequency. While I am thankful for these conversations and the efforts to properly and biblically understand the mandate to reach all peoples, this is not the only area on which I, and others, are qualified to speak.
The standard in the BCO is clear. I, along with every other African-American in the PCA, have met that standard. Therefore, we are as equipped to discuss theological matters as well as the next person. Why haven’t we been brought to the table to discuss other theological concerns? We, too, can discuss covenant theology, church history, the imago Dei, biblical languages, the intersection of Christ and culture, and preaching.
In a country where blacks were considered only worthy of certain tasks and only admitted to the table if he or she was a house negro , the limited conversation of theological matters to which we are invited speaks of the unequally distributed privilege and power.
Educated Black Men
We are worth far more. We are image-bearers, those being formed into the likeness of Christ. Our theological perspective in all areas matter. This is not a plea for those in the majority to give us an opportunity at the theological table. We have already earned it. I hope you will acknowledge it and treat us accordingly.
After reading this, you may be scanning the dorms of your memory to consider whom you may have offended by only requesting his friendship on Facebook, sending an email, or calling to discuss matters of race. Whether you have offended someone or not, what can you do to not belittle an African-American’s intelligence?
The answer is simple—instead of solely discussing matters of race, diversity, and inclusion, converse about other doctrinal matters. You may also want to consider simply getting to know us. You have been warned—we are educated black men, and we have the degrees to prove it.