“What is the true religion of the Black man*?”
Does this question sound familiar?
I want to say that I first heard this question asked in the “Spike Lee joint” Malcolm X, starring Denzel Washington, but I can’t be sure. Nevertheless, the Nation of Islam is the first result that comes up when I google the phrase.
This question has stuck with me. As someone who was brought up in the church, I think that this question and the other questions that sprout from it are pressing and pertinent, maybe now more than ever. Despite its troubled relationship with race, Christianity is the dominant religion in many black communities across the West, while steadily continuing to grow as a movement in sub-Saharan Africa as its sway and numbers dwindle elsewhere.
While some brush away the horrors of “Christian” colonialism (“At least they brought us Christianity!” *side eye*), there are questions about the Bible and slavery that leave others stumped. Although Martin Luther King is held up as a Christian we can all be proud of, little is said about his disappointment with the white American church that was passively, and not-so-passively, complicit in racial injustice at the time. Even today, when rapper Lecrae makes the slightest reference to the reality of being black in the 21st Century, some of his Christian audience accuse him of “race-baiting”.
In the face of contradictions, ignorance and intense opposition from some of the “brethren” I’m tempted to exclaim “It’s all long!” and leave it at that. But I can’t. There are important questions that need to be asked and answered – properly. Answers written in white ‘Impact’ on a meme image found on Facebook do not count. We need to have an open and thoughtful discussion that challenges our position and does not shy away from the uncomfortable aspects of reality.
Many of us – us being Black, practising Christians – have wrestled privately with these things. Some have found answers they can live with, and some have come to conclusions that have made them reject whatever faith they once professed. Then there are the ones in the uncertain middle, who may have only looked so far, if at all, and may not have the energy or the inclination to look further for various reasons. As for me? I do not have all the answers but I have enough to enable my faith and race to co-exist at the moment that I write this. I need more though, and this series of blog posts is my concerted effort to find them. You know that Bible verse, don’t you? “Seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened…”** Well, this is me seeking and knocking.
You may be wondering what qualification I have to do this. Well, the short answer is I don’t have any. I am not a theologian, nor a theology student, and while I did have the opportunity to attend Bible college once upon a time I turned it down in order to study Design and Photography. I am not a pastor nor a Bible teacher and I have no desire whatsoever to be either. In a former life I have been a youth leader in a local church, and also the head of a group of plucky young Christians out to save the world through music and poetry, but the blind zeal that once propelled my faith has broken into bitter cynicism many a time. To be honest, I can’t even keep it together to be the leader of the photography and media team at my church!
I say all of this to stress the fact that I’m by no means the poster child for model Christianity – should such a thing exist. I’m just a young woman with an inquisitive mind and an Internet connection who believes that critical interrogation of what we hold to be true is essential to living a considered life. I fully believe that it is a journey that each of us can embark on, whether you’re the Archbishop of Whatever or an illiterate new convert.
So yeah, I don’t need a qualification to search for truth, and if I’m going to stake my eternity on something, I have the moral imperative to wrestle with it for myself. This whole series is long overdue, but I don’t really have a plan and I haven’t done any prior research before starting. The idea is to ask questions and document my thoughts and conclusions as I go. Will you join me? Buckle your metaphorical seat belts, this could be an interesting ride…
** Matthew 7:7
Image © Jendella Benson