As a child growing up in the “black power” era of the 1970s it was imparted to me, and undoubtedly to other black children like me, that Jesus Christ was a white man.
My adoption of this visage of the Son of God was achieved not so much directly, as if through a series of catechismic conversations I had with my parents, but indirectly by virtue of the seemingly ubiquitous paintings, and other such visuals that were present in our home and at the small house-church we attended, that depicted Jesus as a tall, slender, Caucasian male with golden blonde hair, deep blue eyes, and a deftly-manicured beard.
(Perhaps this same visual of Jesus is entering into your own recollection as you read this.)
But though the human appearance of Jesus was consistently represented by such phylogenetic features, I never felt compelled, nor was I ever unduly influenced or encouraged, to formulate a Christology of Jesus through the filter of race or ethnicity so as to view Him as the “God of the white man”.
“For too long Christ has been pictured as a blue-eyed honky. Black theologians are right: we need to dehonkify him and thus make him relevant to the black condition.” – James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation
To whatever extent I had been imbued as a child – primarily through the commingling of accepted societal and ecclesiastical teachings and traditions – with the understanding that the corporeal substance of Jesus was tantamount to that of a white man, it was secondary to my being convinced of my innate sinful condition, and that Christ had come into this world as the propitiation for offenses I had personally committed against a holy and righteous God (Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10).
But, be that as it may, there is a sense today in which certain socio-ethno dynamics, such as incidents of police-involved shootings of black citizens are, under the banner of social justice, serve as an impetus for many black Christians, particularly those who are of the millennial generation, to endorse a theology rooted in a racial or “tribal” Jesus.
It is a worldview that simultaneously rejects the traditional orthodoxy and orthopraxy of “white Christianity” or, more specifically, white Christian America, while embracing a dogma that preaches a Christ with whom they can identify racially first and theologically second.
Consequently, many black Christians become attracted to and influenced by the activist philosophy of entities such as Black Lives Matter whose agenda, whether intentionally or not, proves effectual in shaping within them an ethno-centric Christology of who Jesus is.
“For black theologians, white Americans do not have the ability to recognize the humanity in persons of color, blacks need their own theology to affirm their identity in terms of a reality that is anti-black — “blackness” stands for all victims of white oppression. “White theology,” when formed in isolation from the black experience, becomes a theology of white oppressors, serving as divine sanction from criminal acts committed against blacks.” – Dr. Anthony B. Bradley, ‘The Marxist Roots of Black Liberation Theology’, as published by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, April 1, 2008
None of this is to suggest or imply the existence of an organized effort on the part of Black Lives Matter, or any other social justice movement, to discredit, deconstruct, or otherwise depreciate Christianity as a viable theology for black Americans.
Nevertheless, it must be noted that to the extent that Black Lives Matter, in particular, has served as a clarion call to countless black millennials to rally around the cause of racial and social justice – particularly in light of the numerous incidents of police-involved violence against blacks over the past several months – it has impacted not only their view of the role of politics and government in bringing that justice to fruition, but also their view of Jesus Christ and His church.
It is this activist and confrontational approach of Black Lives Matter in pursuing what is unarguably a gospel-centered mandate, namely, the equitable treatment of all human beings (Genesis 1:27; Luke 6:31-36) – particularly when contrasted with what many black Christians today perceive to be a rather placid and imperturbable attitude of white evangelicals on issues of justice – that often factors into young black Christians becoming increasingly comfortable with inculcating certain tenets of groups such as Black Lives Matter into the traditional Christian worldview handed down to them by their parents and grandparents.
The result of this theological appropriation is a rejection by many black Christians of “white Christianity” – and its “white Jesus” – on the basis of what is perceived to be the egregious passivity of white evangelicals in not being more active in helping to rectify and emend what they observe to be systematic injustices being committed with impunity against people who look like them.
“Historically, white Jesus has been used to oppress and erase the histories of people of color in a way that Korean Jesus or black Jesus has not. While a Korean or a black Jesus might not be historically accurate — just like a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Jesus — people of color have the right to see themselves in their religion, especially after centuries of being taught and forced to worship a God that doesn’t look like them.” – Franchesca Ramsey, as published by The Huffington Post in an article titled ‘Jesus Wasn’t White and Here’s Why That Matters’, December 22, 2015
It is an unarguable fact that, historically, both Christianity and Christianity’s Christ have been leveraged in such ungodly ways as to reduce the humanity of blacks to less than that of individuals who are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
“Behold, I have found only this, that God made men upright, but they have sought out many devices.” – Ecclesiastes 7:29 (NASB)
But notwithstanding this unfortunate yet undeniable reality, the question I have is: How long will black Christians hold our white brothers and sisters – and such they are – responsible for the transgressions of their predecessors?
Is the sin of “hermeneutical homogeneity” – a term I use to describe the historical misapplication of biblical Christianity by white people toward the goal of keeping black people “in their place” – a legitimate reason to hold over their collective heads the wrongs of 400 years of mistreatment and miseducation as if it were the Sword of Damocles?
I think not.
“…while we need to be honest about the sins of our spiritual forefathers, let’s be careful not to view them or portray them as if they were nothing but sinners. Slavery is a big issue, but we should not make it the defining issue in how we view people lest we fall into another kind of idolatry.” – Joel Beeke, from the article ‘Propaganda: Giving the Puritans a Bad Rap’, October 25, 2012
To whatever degree white evangelicalism played a role in fostering an environment of racial injustice toward blacks, is resorting to an ethno-evangelicalism of our own any less sinful?
Or do we not realize that whenever Christianity has been used for an ungodly purpose it is not Christianity – nor Christianity’s Christ – that was to blame, but the innate sinfulness of the human heart that manipulates the Word of God in an effort to concoct such depraved schemes (Genesis 8:21b; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:20-23; James 4:1)?
“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals, for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9 (NASB)
I have long been troubled by the fact that many of my black brothers and sisters, under the guise of “social justice”, have been quick to conjure up – whether past or present – the sins of white people as if to imply that we ourselves are clean.
We are not clean.
No one is (Romans 3:23).
But the question of which ethnicity – blacks or whites – is more worthy to “cast the first stone” is not even the issue (nor has it ever been).
What is the issue is that God did for each of us that which He was not obligated to do.
He sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, into a world ravaged by sin so that sinners like you and me – of every ethnicity – would be eternally rescued from the wrath of a holy and righteous God (Acts 17:26-27; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; Revelation 5:9).
It is not melanin that makes Jesus the Messiah.
Regardless how Christianity might have been used in the past, or even today for that matter, it is an egregious sin against God to take the One in whose image we are all created and remake Him in our own image.
To do so is nothing more than identity theology.
And identity theology is nothing less than idolatry.
Darrell B. Harrison is a Reformed Baptist, theologian, U.S. Army veteran, and blogger. He blogs at JustThinking.me.
The views expressed in opinion articles are solely those of the author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by Black Community News.