Organized religion is an oversized, chalky pill to swallow. I don’t doubt that I believe in God, in a higher power who created the universe with intelligent design. And I’m very specific about believing in BROWN Jesus. My Jesus looked Middle Eastern because that’s what makes historical sense given the geographical details. My Jesus would probably get stopped at the airport and detained for questioning like my father was on his way to his honeymoon in DR.
Some people laugh knowingly when I say I believe in Brown Jesus. Others give me the only side eye and I can imagine that what they want to do is roll their eyes and be like “here we go with the Black power nonsense.”
But let’s be real – some of the worst racist behavior documented in this country was at the hands of people who called themselves Christians. People who took biblical verses out of context in order to justify the enslavement of an entire race because of the color of their skin. And that is a difficult pill for me to swallow. It sticks to the walls of my esophagus and lingers, making it difficult for me to focus on anything but the block lodged in my throat.
In order to move forward in my faith, I’ve had to look back and try to understand the role of the Christian church in world history. For brevity sake, I will focus this essay on its particular role in the United States, especially during the time of slavery. A recent sermon by Rich Villodas outlined the three approaches taken by Christians at the time.
- Some believers chose to do nothing at all. They did not preach to or pray with enslaved Blacks because they convinced themselves that Blacks did not have souls. They turned their cheeks and their hearts in the other direction.
- Some believers attempted to “Christianize” the enslaved Blacks. They provided them with sermons and allowed them to learn specific scripture. They believed that Blacks had souls that could be saved and yet they continued to lead the systems that kept them enslaved.
- And then there were others who organized a movement that came to be known as the Abolitionist movement. These believers understood the humanity of Blacks as well as the corrupt systems in place that were misusing their powers. They committed themselves to saving souls but also dismantling systems.
Abolitionists continue to give me hope.
In 1865, slavery “ended” but the narrative of Black inferiority persisted. Drinking fountains, schools, swimming pools and counters at restaurants were designated specifically by section – Colored and Whites. As if humanity was actually a dirty pile of laundry to be sorted and washed separately so that the colors didn’t bleed into and contaminate the whites. The civil rights movement put an end to the Jim Crow era as it was explicitly outlined in government policy.
This was not the end.
We are in the twenty-first century and we continue to wrestle with the residuality of institutionalized racism. It is less obvious today, harder to pinpoint and categorize, but it continues to manifest itself like weeds overcoming an untended garden. Housing discrimination. Racial profiling. The school to prison pipeline. Unequal access to quality education. Institutionalized racism is omnipresent and omnipotent in the United States of America.
Why does any of this matter today?
In the face of racial calamity in this country, most Christians will have you believe that as long as you put your faith in God everything is going to be alright. A lot of Christians will tell you that anyone perpetuating racism or suffering at the hands of racism needs to just repent and turn to Jesus. We can pray these situations away.
Or these Christians will deny the existence of racism and surround themselves with lots of friends who look and live differently than they do. Surely racism cannot exist in a place where they have so many friends and loved ones who look nothing like them.
Nope. Sorry. Not today. Prayer is not enough and denying the evidence of racism in America is as useful as digging a grave with a teaspoon.
As believers, we are supposed to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We are supposed to love the way we have been loved. Cornel West once said, “Never forget, justice is what love looks like in public.” Race relations in the United States of America are far from just.
Some people in this country have made comments to the extent of “This is America. Love it or leave it.”
To which my response is: I am grateful for this country. There is nowhere else I would rather be living. But I am not blind. I can’t pretend that we do not have a problematic history when it comes to race because if I ignore it, refuse to face it, then I, we, are destined to repeat the same atrocities over and over and over again.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin
There is no denying that Christianity has been misused, misinterpreted and misaligned in order to advance the personal agendas of certain individuals and political conglomerates. In the United States, Christianity has played a key role in furthering the ideology of racial inferiority.
For those of us that call ourselves Christians, or believers, it would be the just and loving thing to do to call out the individuals as well as the systems propagating institutionalized racism. There is no more space for silence or prayer without action.
Besides – have you ever thought about what it would look like if Brown Jesus was born into an urban city in the United States of America today? He’d probably be dead or in jail longggg before 33.
***This is essay 33 in the #52essays2017 challenge created by Vanessa Mártir.