Theology Christian Living Relationships/Family Identity

Whitewashed Christianity

Ernest Cleo Grant II

When the Academy of Motion Picture and Science announced early this year that only white actors and actresses were among those selected to be chosen for an academy award for the second year in a row, it ignited a firestorm.

It resulted in the resurgence of the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and raised a bevy of concerns about the lack of diversity in motion pictures. [1]

“Whitewashing” on Hollywood is the purposeful exclusion of ethnic minorities in mainstream leading roles, leaving them only to play supporting or villainous ones. It goes back as far as Elizabeth Taylor playing the role of Cleopatra in the 1960s, and sadly, over a half-century later, whites are still cast in minority roles.

It’s a shameful depiction and representation of people of color that exposes the underlying racial prejudice of Hollywood, and in the words of Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, it feeds into the perception that “black people just don’t quite measure up.”

It’s Crept into the Church as Well

Sadly, however, the practice of whitewashing has subtly crept into Christianity. Whitewashing Christianity occurs institutionally and structurally when the contributions of the African Diaspora to theology, ethics, and culture are largely ignored, and the influence of people groups of European descent are accentuated.

It demonstrates the implicit cultural and historical bias within conservative Evangelical communities and bolsters the notion that people of color will remain unequal to our white counterparts, regardless of our credentialing or accomplishment [2].

Maybe you are curious about the whitewashing of evangelicalism or are suspicious about its existence. If so, here are three areas where we see such whitewashing in the evangelical community.

1) Conservative Evangelicals Tend to be More Informed about European Participation in the History of Christianity than African Involvement

As one noted scholar stated so eloquently, the prominent distinguishing factor of African-Americans is the history of social, economic and political oppression that they have experienced based upon color discrimination [3].

Such oppression has lead to systemic and institutional racism, violence, and discrimination, but it has also contributed to the widespread ignorance of African-American influence in this country.

It can be equally true within evangelical circles; many of my white brothers and sisters are largely ignorant of the Christian communities that thrived in Africa following Christianity’s inceptions.

North Africa

In North Africa, Christianity spread more broadly and more quickly than other parts of the Roman Empire, and as one scholar noted, it was through Africa that Christianity became the religion of the world [4]. It’s credited with nearly half of the most prominent church leaders in the first few centuries, and a fair number of them were dark in complexion. The Gospel found one of its surest homes until it grew weaker because of internal doctrinal schisms and Islamic conquests sweeping the region.

Nubia

A little further south in Nubia, Christianity continued to grow rapidly in the region. The first non-Jewish Christian, The Ethiopian Eunuch, who came to faith in Acts 8, was a high-ranking member of Queen Candace’s court, represented the ancient Nubian civilization.

It continued to flourish into the 300s and 400s and became a predominately Christian nation, when it’s ruler, who practiced human sacrifices at the time, converted to Christianity in the 400s.

Nubians accepted Christianity without the sway of Roman influence and clung to it tenaciously despite organizational weakness and Islamic conquest in most of North Africa. It would eventually succumb, but it was a brilliant Christian civilization that remained largely forgotten until archaeologists discovered its remarkable accomplishments in the second half of the 21st century [5].

Abyssinia

Abyssinia, or Ethiopia, in East Africa, holds a very significant place in Christian history. Christianity became the religion of Ethiopia around the same time that Christianity became the state religion of Rome. It accepted the same doctrines of North Africa while formally recognizing the Councils of Nicea (325 A.D.), Constantinople (381 A.D.), and Ephesus (431 A.D.) Ethiopia may have been the most open and ready nation in which Christianity has ever taken root. When Islam began to spread, it was Ethiopia that fought for the rights of oppressed Christians in foreign lands, and it’s the first Sub-Sahara nation to accept Christianity [6].

We cannot become a victim of European historiography that exclusively acknowledges its own cultural and historical contributions, then assumes that the resulting ethnocentric position represents the only history worth engaging. Such philosophy only reinforces the false assumption that black history is substandard to other cultures in general, but to the dominant culture in particular.

2) Whitewashing has Crept into the Ivory Towers of Many Conservative Evangelical Seminary

Minority students in conservative evangelical seminaries have also unwittingly experienced the effects of this phenomenon. While being educated in some of our schools, minorities will study the Apostolic Fathers, The Medieval Church, Scholasticism, the Reformation, the Enlightenment Church, Modern & Post-Modern Churches, but have little to no working knowledge of African-American history, especially key periods and social movements in African-American Religious History.

They have no working knowledge of the history of Christianity in Africa (i.e. North Africa, Nubia, Abyssinia, etc.), the African-American Church, the Reconstruction period, The Great Migration, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of Black Nationalism, nor have they read any books by contemporary African-American authors. Because of this, many graduates find themselves largely unequipped to minister in minority contexts because they lack a socio-historical lens.

What’s even more unnerving is the growing number of African-Americans, especially in Reformed circles, who will not listen to sermons by black pastors unless they’ve received a stamp of approval from an evangelical Christian leader, blogged for TGC, are a part of Acts29 or the Southern Baptist Conference, or have preached in the reformed conference circuit. It’s saddening.

3) Whitewashing Implies that Being a Christian Means Assimilating into the Dominant Culture

At times, many White Americans assume that “being Christian” means assuming the values and norms of the majority context, and some of the same members object when ethnic minorities seek to learn more about their own heritage and focus much of their effort on the betterment of their own people.

As lovers of Jesus who are unified by his atoning work, we cannot define unity in terms that suppress rather than welcomes brothers and sisters into discovering their cultural heritage. As Christians, when we recognize the credence of other ethnicities and the value of their distinctive customs, lifestyles, and particularly their economic and political beliefs, it causes us to appreciate God — using them as agents of gospel witnesses in their communities.

At times when minorities assimilate into the dominant culture and dismiss their cultural heritage, it leaves them unable to culturally connect and find solidarity with marginalized communities.

Takeaway

There’s much that we can talk about regarding this subject. Instead of whitewashing, let’s give credence to the contributions of minority cultures to Christianity and western civilization as a whole, and reverse the effects of whitewashing by affirming Paul’s great call for racial, social, gender, and cultural equality (Gal. 3:28) in Christ Jesus.

Talk to you soon.

Grace and peace.

 

[1] HTTP://WWW.LATIMES.COM/ENTERTAINMENT/LA-ET-OSCARS-SO-WHITE-REACTION-HTMLSTORY.HTML

[2] LANE, E. B. (1997). THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHRISTIAN MAN: RECLAIMING THE VILLAGE. DALLAS: BLACK FAMILY PRESS, 156.

[3] IBN, 24

[4] USRY, G., & KEENER, C. S. (1996). BLACK MAN’S RELIGION: CAN CHRISTIANITY BE AFROCENTRIC? DOWNERS GROVE, IL: INTERVARSITY PRESS, 33

[5] DAVIDSON, BASIL. AFRICA IN HISTORY: THEMES AND OUTLINES. NEW YORK: COLLIER, 1991. 102

[6] HANSBERRY, W. L., & HARRIS, J. E. (1974). PILLARS IN ETHIOPIAN HISTORY. WASHINGTON: HOWARD UNIVERSITY PRESS.

 

27 thoughts on “Whitewashed Christianity

  1. Noah Edelson

    Once slavery was deemed immoral (or more to the point: Unconstitutional) we needed other ways to make sure people of color didn’t gain equal footing to the “Master Race” – so Jim Crow laws and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-miscegenation_laws similar to those enacted in Nazi Germany were drafted. (it means “anti-racial-mixing”.) These laws finally left the state constitutions that upheld them in the year 2001, though they were deemed unenforceable because of their lack agreement with. the federal constitution in 1967.

    Prior to ’67, a black man could go to prison for sleeping with a white woman. Many did, actually- and the practice was deemed moral by 94% of Americans in the 1950s. Which sort of blows my mind- like Grandma didn’t say *everybody * was heinously racist in her day- but dems the facts. After anti-miscegany laws were done away with, white folks used other laws as proxy enforcement for the same ideas; “anti-fornication” laws and anti-adultery laws were used especially with selective enforcement. In white people’s minds, we were protecting the purity of the nation- and Christianity itself. The last Judge to defend these laws in court described his reasoning with great piety:

    “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.” Judge Leon Bazile, 1965.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-miscegenation_laws_in_the_United_States

    So if you ever wonder where American racism comes from, now you know. It comes from Christianity. The KKK were Christian, and so were the Nazis. (“Positive Christianity”, Hitler called it.) The guys who burned “heretics” alive as a function of law for about 1600 years were also Christian. (Those heretics included Protestants for quite some time, too- not just the blood relatives of Jesus (aka Jewish people)- which was their main focus.)

    If you want to talk about whitewashed Christianity, it may be worthwhile to expand the definition of whitewash to mean “re-inventing with falsehoods” in addition to doing that specifically with racial overtones. Jesus was ultimately a radical pacifist and told his followers to behave in the same manner. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I’de suggest reading the passage surrounding “turn the other cheek” in the Sermon on the Mount. These were the most cherished ideas of Jesus for the first 200 years of Christianity, before it did an abrupt 180 after it was absorbed into Roman culture as the state religion.

    Today, there are alot of people who will fight for Christ in America and Germany (and elsewhere). Given the asymmetric number of casualties we Christians face on any battlefield, this is tantamount to being quite willing to kill for Christ- but alot less willing to die for him. Our indoctrinated ideology mirrors that of Adolf Hitler- who despised pacifists and considered them almost as immoral as the Godless Communists, who he believed were mind controlled by Jewish people. (According to the book he wrote in prison, at least.) This is in stark contrast with the almost forgotten 37 year old virgin who died on the cross without ever throwing a punch in his entire life.

  2. Kalissha

    This entire article is erroneous and is a serious illustration of the effects of whitewashing Christianity all those HUNDRED years ago and the infecting pestilence of white supremacy. Jesus was DARK BROWN-SKINNED. The first Christians were BROWN SKINNED PEOPLE from shades of DARK to light-skinned. The original Hebrews are BROWN SKINNED PEOPLE from shades of DARK to light-skinned. You see how deeply white supremacy has invaded into our minds and conscious like a parasite? You are a theologian and you should know these things, but because theology IS an institution of white supremacy, you know none of the truth. And even on your search for the truth, the inferiority complex you can’t help but have caused you to seek more lies. You should know that white washing was going to occur, as it is prophetic. You should know that the laws, times and images would be changed, stolen and assumed by Edomites and that they would also become imposters of the True Hebrews. Theology has only really taught you white supremist lies, I’m sorry to tell you.

  3. Jerome Gay

    Excellent article, Ernest. I appreciate your voice and expertise on this subject.

  4. Heidy

    I’m not shocked at the things that are still going on in this world. I was thinking about this the other night n I was just thinking about scriptures n the history in the Bible n I guess it was GOD n all of a sudden it hit me, we are back to square one. If people read the Bible n search there souls we are back in the Roman days. The riches people on this planet are the people in the Roman Catholic Church n these Lazard wanna be jews. These are the ones who have control of churches, companies n the elite. Sit down n think about it. And Christians are getting killed for believing in YAH. People should look into there history n where you come from. I know that for sure I am a Hebrew even though people call us a Puerto Rican’s. I know that I’m a child of the most HIGH GOD. Cus my heritage is in the tribe of Efraim the son of Joseph in the Bible. Til this day I know for sure that in my country their are people who still speak Hebrew. This bs that they teach my kids in school is all a BIG FUCKING LIE. Christopher Columbus was a murderer a slave trader, a rapist n a KILLER. Yes that’s right that the history the school system is teaching our kids. Like Jesus is white, BS no GES not HE is an AFICAN AMERICAN MAN, HE IS A HEBREW NOT A WHITE MAN. Yes it’s in the Bible. Genesis, Revelation. Daniel. Wake up people stop living the lies that they taught us. We come from a KING CALLED YAHAWASHI HAMASHIAC WHICH PEOPLE KNOW AS JESUS CHRIS ST THE SONNOF THE TRUE LIVING GOD. Please I ask GOD n each n every one who reads this to forgive my language but I’m so hurt about all that’s going on in this world n the people on it. I’m so sorry for my expression. But the only way out is to follow the LORD n ask GOD yo give us strength for the things in this world n the things to come. Holy Spirit I call upon your name for wisdom n knowledge for myself n those who read this n may the grace of GOD BE WITH US N PROTECT US FROM THE EVIL ONE.

  5. Jonathan

    As a person of colour from the Caribbean Diaspora, I so agree that the whitewashing of Christianity, particularly Christian history, is most disheartening.

    My concern also lies for other racial and sociocultural groups that have made significant contributions to the development of Christianity. I often wonder if there were any Pakistani theologians, Korean hymns or Egyptian liturgies.

    I hope that in time to come, the voices of the margins will speak out and against the inequalities perpetuated by the centre.

  6. Cynthia Mathai

    THANK YOU for writing this! I’ll tell ya, as a Kenyan-born- and-raised young woman who earned her Masters degree at a seminary a few years ago, I was flabbergasted at the fact that none of the books we read or theologians/thinkers we engaged with were non-white!
    Sho Baraka taught a class earlier this year presented by Humble Beast (Humble Beast 101) on “the white man’s religion” that brought this issue to the fore for so many people. He KILLED it! I have since devoured the books he recommended, and continue to intentionally seek out literature and podcast which are more inclusive.
    I appreciate you adding to, and elevating the conversation.

  7. Pastor Benjamen S. Long

    Interesting response my brother, thanks. Would you mind “unpacking” the notion of “Black auxiliary” a bit; its constitution, and expression? Expand on this thought a bit…: “I divide the believing church into three groups: the white church, the black church, and the black auxiliary of the white church. I have been disturbed that the only black voices that the church at large hears are from the black auxiliary of the white church.”

  8. Norman Dowe

    Brother, enjoyed your article. Initially, I was surprised to learn about the African contribution to Christianity. Later, I was even more surprised to learn about the African American contribution to West African Christianity. Books that have helped widen my horizons include West African Christianity by Lamen Sanneh and Black Church Beginnings by Henry Mitchell.

    I divide the believing church into three groups: the white church, the black church, and the black auxiliary of the white church. I have been disturbed that the only black voices that the church at large hears are from the black auxiliary of the white church. Those voices can be good and insightful but they are hardly representative of black Christians. Seeing the total lack of voices from the indigenous black church in Christian circles, I wondered how large the black church is. Black denominations like COGIC, National Baptist and AME reflect 32% of the total members of the 20 largest denominations in America even though Black people only constitute 13% of America’s population. Christians, especially black ones, need to actively seek voices from the invisible 1/3 or the American church.

  9. CHARLES WOODS

    I would add “How Africa shaped the Christian Mind” by Thomas C. Oden

  10. Betsy

    Thanks!

  11. g

    Ernest, I am grateful for your post. Your passion for the reconciliation of whole church is contagious. I am sure you are aware that flourishing Christianity started with “minorities” on the other side of “the globe”. The new / old sin you describe is one of the first sins Paul confronted Peter over. This sin was a stowaway in 1492 from the old world. It also hitch a ride on the Mayflower. It is the one James warned the church about. And now we, the elect, have ether forgotten the old world penalties of these sins or we didn’t make the connection of our guilt in the new. I am afraid we now are the ones in need of missionaries again from around the globe to be the Paul in our face. Our own house is in need of a cleaning. Our 400 year old James Chapter 2 sin is now presenting its’ bill to us. We will not listen to an American Paul. We must, the elect, repent and pay up or lose the lamp stand. It is time for us to take the advice that Paul gave to Philemon; share power with the ones, we the elect, stole it from and make reparations. Praying for us now.

  12. Ernest Cleo Grant II (Author)

    Thanks for the encouragement. Here are some resources that should help.

    Thomas Oden “How Christianity Shaped Africa,” “How Black Is the Gospel” by Tom Skinner, “We Have Been Believers” by James Evans

  13. CHARLES WOODS

    I think that blew it up, but it started way before colonialism. Didn’t during the middle ages the church imagined and illustrate all the “church fathers” and Jesus as white guys?

  14. Betsy

    Thanks for this!! I would love to know about any books you’re familiar with that are accessible to the average family (as opposed to more academic titles) about non-Euro-centric Christianity (particularly pre-Reformation). It is really hard to find resources for families that are broader than the growth of the church in Europe. Any titles you’d recommend?

  15. Andy

    I have no exposure to US conservative evangelical seminaries so was wondering what evidence you have for your assertions in point 2

  16. Ernest Cleo Grant II (Author)

    Amen, my brother. Greatly appreciate you guys.

  17. Jeffrey Estes

    The lights are starting to come on Doc. Keep pushing back the darkness.

  18. Ernest Cleo Grant, II (Author)

    By “crept in” I mean that it’s a relatively new historical developement. It developed in the the colonial period which is a few hindered years ago, and the the grip of the western captivity of the church is drawing near as Christianity continues to flourish among ethic minorities around the globe.

  19. g

    Historic Evangelical Whitewashing is old and has never “crept into” anything. I assure you this 400 year old James chapter 2 sin will not creep out (leave quietly) ether. It will go down fighting just as we have seen, perhaps somewhat like Luther saw in the church of his day. Keep pushing and don’t be surprised at the source or power of the blowback. Maybe you will get to ask a friend Mark to bring your coat and papers to jail for you. Praying for us now.

  20. Ernest Cleo Grant, II (Author)

    For sure, we’ve got to continue to dispell these lies to the glory of Jesus. Thanks for the share.

  21. Ernest Cleo Grant (Author)

    Amen, brother. It was great to write this article and do all the research. Send me an email and let’s connect – ernest.grantii@gmail.com

  22. Angela

    I love this article,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,.,. A lot of African-Americans think that Christianity was started by white people only…………………………

  23. Ernest Cleo Grant II (author)

    Much appreciates. Let’s keeping pushing

  24. Ernest Cleo Grant II (author)

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  25. Pastor Benjamen S. Long

    My brother, thank you SO MUCH for this article; as it serves to illustrate many of my own observations, and FRUSTRATIONS. I am a Graduate student at one of the two leading “School of Apologetics”, and live this scenario. I am also seeing the “fruit” of this often overlooked “practice” as we continue laying the foundation for a Church Plant, in Rock Hill, SC. We, the African American Pastor, Scholar, and Community Leader, MUST do better…! If possible, send me an email; LETS CONNECT…?

  26. Chris-Ann Manning-Forde

    This is amazing! Thank-you for writing this. I had a very minor knowledge on how the African continent contributed to the spread of Christianity. Time to do some research! Thanks again!

  27. CHARLES WOODS

    PREACH!!!

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