When I thought about presenting the African American voices segment of this mini-series, I did not want to restate history and rehearse the stories we already know. Instead I wanted to celebrate how far we have come with race relations, particularly between blacks and whites in America, while acknowledging there is still much work to be done. With no doubt in my mind, I firmly state, “Racism still exists in America today.” However, the ways racism plays out in the 21st century is much more subtle with built-in systematic structures and traditions which limit access and opportunities for minorities. The sad thing is: those who are not minorities or have not been negatively impacted by such actions, are normally dull to its existence. They are passive participants in a broken system. Therefore, at least one purpose of the Neglected Voices mini-series was to get all readers to see what they typically do not see.
In my research, I was inspired by the Native American history— their culture, experiences, and worship— before European settlement of this land. To this end, I wanted to share Black history from that same perspective. I have already reviewed and highly recommended Dr. Tony Evans book, Oneness Embraced through the Eyes of Tony Evans: A Fresh Look at Reconciliation, The Kingdom, and Justice (Moody, 2011). The book is separated into three parts, the second part which is titled, “A Historical View of the Black Church.” Here are a few keys highlights:
- The idea of white is right has not gone away.
Some may be aware of the 1947 “Racial Identification and Preference in Negro Children Study” done by Kenneth and Mamie Clark which revealed that the children, after considering dolls of different complexions, unanimously concluded that the white dolls were nicer, more attractive, and good. CNN’s Anderson Cooper completed a similar doll study which drew the same conclusions in 2010! Both white and black children overwhelmingly had a bias towards the white dolls (page 95).
- There is a need for Biblical perspective of Black Peoples
There are several ethnic stories and tensions presented in the Bible. Here are a few that are often overlooked: Moses faced racial prejudice from Aaron and Mariam because he married an African woman, a Cushite (Numbers 12:1). Ruth, the Moabite, and three other women listed in Jesus lineage of Matthew (Tamar, Rahad, Bathesha were all of Hamitic descent, page 121)) were all from a dark skinned people groups. In the Bible, “names also referred to the skin tone of dark-complexioned people. For example, kedar means “to be dark,” thus, Kedarites are a dark-skinned people (Gen. 25:13, Ps. 120:5). Phinehas means “the Negro” or “Nubian,” who were a dark-skinned people (Ex. 6:25, 1 Chron. 9:20) (page 115). “The Shulamite bride of King Solomon twice describes her complexion as black (Song of Solomon 1:5-6) (page 116).” There are many more references, but you have to read the book.
- Blacks in Church History
“Augustine, who was by far the most scholarly and influential of all the church fathers and is known as the Father of Theologians, was not only African, but also black. We know this because his mother, Monica, was a Berber, and Berbers were a group of dark-skinned people belonging to the vicinity of Carthage. Many refer to Augustine as the “father of orthodox theology (page 122-123).” Dr. Fairbairn shares more about Augustine’s history in his interview. “Athanasius of Alexandria was known as the black dwarf because of his dark skin and short stature…Athanasius was involved in the theological war against the heresy of Arius and the Arians, who taught that Jesus Christ was no truly God, but a lesser creature (page 123).” There are many more historical references, but again you have to read the book.
- Dr. Evan’s writes a thought provoking chapter on “The Black Church’s Link with Africa” which I cannot adequately do justice here.
Dr. Evan’s concludes this part of the book with chapters titled “The Uniqueness of the Black Church (Chapter 8); The Role of the Black Preacher (Chapter 9); The Black Church, Black Power, and Black Theology (Chapter 10); and The Rise of Black Evangelism (Chapter 11). All of which prove my original point that we cannot talk about raising the African American voice, or begin evaluating Black culture without considering the imprints of the Black church and faith traditions. Dr. Evan’s book also proves another vital point that African Americans have been raising their voices in the church from the very beginning of time. Our contributions to the universal church did not begin, nor do they end with the snapshot of Black American history. Today, Black evangelicals are simply building on God’s kingdom legacy in which we have always been a part.
The Way Ahead
I have been summarizing the mini-series of each people group with notes from Dr. Rodney Cooper’s book, We Stand Together (Moody, 1995). To pursue racial reconciliation with African Americans, he proposes the following:
What can African Americans do?
1. Achieve self-acceptance, which is the beginning of healing
2. Become survivors “I must force myself to focus upon what is left—not what is lost.”
3. Forgive those who shamed us by (1) recognizing there are legitimate reasons for being angry, (2) surrender your right to get even, (3) recognize that the person who offended you is human, (4) try to understand why they did what they did, (5) accept the person who made you feel unacceptable.
4. Do not wait until the other person changes (pages 53-57).
What can non African Americans do? Here is the list of Don’ts:
Do Not Assume
1. Color is unimportant in interpersonal relationships.
2. Blacks will always welcome and appreciate inclusion in white society.
3. White society is superior to black society.
4. Blacks are oversensitive (pages 58).
Raising African American Voices
There are many African American Christian leaders who are raising their voices of influence in the church and shining light in the darkness of today’s culture. I could not possibly list all of them. Particularly on the topic of racial reconciliation, I draw your attention to last week’s featured guests, Dr. Tony Evans, and:
Dr. Rodney Cooper is my academic adviser and Professor of Discipleship and Leadership Development at Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte, NC campus. In addition to his writing, preaching, teaching, and counseling, Dr. Cooper serves on the Board of Directors for the Mosaix Global Network, “the relational network for leaders in pursuit of a multi-ethnic church for the sake of the gospel.”
Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil is Coordinator and Associate Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Seattle Pacific University. He is a published author, global speaker, and President and Founder of Salter McNeil and Associates.
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning writer. She is an author, speaker, and teacher. I particularly enjoyed her first book entitled, My First White Friend: Confessions on Race, Love, and Forgiveness.
The following books have been recommended to us:
“The Black Church in the United States” by Dr. William Banks
“The Black Church and the African American Experience” by Eric Lincoln and Lawrence H. Maimiva
“Telling the Story: Evangelism in Black Churches” by James Stallings
“The Soul of a Black Preacher” by Bishop Joseph A. Johnson, Jr.
“Black and Free” by Tom Skinner
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012