There is a growing segment of the African American community that have rejected Christianity. They believe that it is not compatible with our heritage. They believe that its roots within the African American community is based on slavery and should be rejected. This can be seen in an excerpt of a letter written to my wife by her father:
I know you’re sincere. But honestly, the reason you’re a Christian is that Christians kidnapped your ancestors from Africa and brought them over to America as slaves, then indoctrinated them with the religion of the conquerors. They forced your ancestors to accept Christianity because it served the interests of those in power.
As part of this idea, is the belief that somehow the God of the Bible Himself is racist and has nothing to offer people of color. Some would even say that He is the cause of racism and racism serves as a foundation of Christianity.
As a Christian African American, and author of The African American Guide to the Bible, I regularly engage with those in my culture who are being swayed by these ideas, and I point out how this is not only false, but the truth is exactly the opposite. That idea is based on an Americanized and Eurocentric view of Christianity, but Christianity is way bigger than America or Europe. There are number of reasons to reject the idea that Christianity is the white man’s religion.
First, this view is based on an unsupported belief that the Jews in the Bible were white. There is no historical or biblical ground upon which to base such conclusions. When we examine the historical roots of the Jewish nation, we see that they were not white. This is based on the facts that: (1) Abraham, the founder of the nation, was from Ur which is modern day Iraq. This area was the location of Babylon, which was originally settled by Nimrod, son of Cush, who was African. The area of Cush includes the present-day areas of Sudan, Ethiopia, and southern Egypt. (2) The Jews intermarried with the Egyptians during their 400 years of captivity. There was not yet any prohibition against marrying outside of their ethnic group. (3) The Bible states that Israel left Egypt with an ethnically diverse group of people. Exodus 12:38 says, “A mixed multitude also went up with them.” According to the Wycliff Bible Commentary, this mixed multitude refers to “Egyptians and probably other nationalities who had married Hebrews.”¹ J. Daniel Hays explains, “It is almost certain that ‘a mixed multitude’ of foreigners in Egypt would include Cushites.”² (4) Two of the twelve tribes of Israel were African. While in Egypt, Joseph married “Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On” (Genesis 41:50). Joseph had two sons by her, Manasseh and Ephraim (Genesis41:51-52). They became two of the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Numbers 13:4-15).
Second, most Christians today are not white. According to Pew Research, there were an estimated 70 million Christians in China alone in 2011. In just ten combined African countries in Sub-Saharan African, the population of Christians is over 377 million. Ten combined countries in the Asia-Pacific have a Christian population of 258 million. This statistic compares to the 246 million Christians in America.³ Therefore, the idea that Christianity is a white religion is statistically false. All cultures and nations find the Bible relevant to them and their culture.
Third, this idea is also based on the false assumption that Jesus was white. We have already established that the Jews were not white and since Jesus was a Jew, there is certainly no reason to believe that Jesus had blond hair and blue eyes, as many white Christians have depicted Him. The white Jesus we are familiar with is a European invention. The whitening of Jesus happened as a process to redefine the biblical Jesus in European terms:
Graphic portrayals of Christ had to be “as far removed as possible from anything that could suggest darkness or blackness.” The result was a Renaissance image of Christ that recorded his transmogrification from Semitic to Aryan, his dark hair and beard evolving into “the color of sunshine” and his dark eyes magically taking on the “color of the sky” from which he descended and to which he returned.⁴
Fourth, blacks were part of the Church from the very beginning. Christianity did not initially come to Africa via the slave masters. Africa had a large Christian population that goes back to the very beginning of Christianity. In the book of Acts, we see how the first non-Jew convert was an Ethiopian eunuch who was the Treasurer for Queen Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians (Acts 8). God even performed a miracle to allow Philip to share the gospel with him, after which he was converted and baptized. Tradition has it that this same eunuch brought back the gospel to his African nation, became a bishop in the church there and preached the gospel until he was martyred for his faith. Tradition also has it that he shared the gospel with his queen who also converted to Christianity.
It is important to note that the church actually began at Pentecost when the apostle Peter addressed the crowd of Jews who were in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost. Each person there heard the gospel message in their own language. According to Acts 2:8-11, various racial and ethnic backgrounds were represented. Let us take a detailed look at this passage:
And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.
Here is a breakdown of the location of those places today:
From this diverse group, “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). The first Christians were representative of the entire known world, including Africa.
Fifth, Christianity thrived in Africa during the early centuries of the faith. By the year 200 AD, there were many local churches in Egypt.⁵ There are stories of African Christians being martyred as early as the year 180 AD from rural areas around Carthage (which is present day Tunis). This demonstrates that Christianity had not only spread all over the north coast of Africa but was also strong in rural areas. Many of these Christians were martyred for refusing to recognize the Roman emperor as god and it cost them their lives.⁶ At the end of the third century AD, northern African was one of perhaps only three places in the world where Christians were in the majority. To the south, Nubia and Ethiopia where two countries in the ancient world that was converted to Christianity without Roman rule or influence.
The influence of Christianity in Africa is demonstrated by the discovery in 1961 when Polish archaeologists excavated Faras Cathedral. The cathedral was decorated with 169 magnificent paintings of dark-skinned Nubian kings, queens and bishops, and biblical figures, and saints.⁷ We have written records from Christian Nubia containing religious text that include the Gospels, lives of the saints and other liturgical documents.
Coptic and Ethiopian Christians today trace their origins back to the Apostle Mark who was the first apostle of Egypt and was martyred for his faith as recorded by the church historian Eusebuius writing in 324 AD. This is also supported in the Acts of Mark written around 300 or 400 AD.⁸ Although vigorously persecuted for their faith, this did not stop the growth of Christianity among the early African church, “In Egypt, as in North Africa, a mass turning away from the old religion towards Christianity seems to have begun in the middle of the third century and to have been virtually complete by 400.”⁹ Of note, Christians formed a majority in Egypt until the tenth century.¹⁰ The eventual decline of Christianity was a gradual process that occurred with the increased migration of Arabs into the area.
Yes, it is true that there have been white Christians who have sullied the Christian faith and have used it for their own perverted purposes. We could say that of any major world religion. In fact, we can also say that about atheism and scientism, which have also taught the inferiority of Africans. What we must do is distinguish between Christians and Christianity. Christianity is not what Christians do, but what Christ and the Bible teach.
Do not blame Christianity for something that someone does which goes against the teachings of Christ and the Bible. Do not blame Christianity because someone twists and manipulates the Bible to suit their evil intents. Instead, blame those who do the twisting, not the thing that they twisted.
Christ died for everyone. We are all equal at the foot of the cross. The apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26–29:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
Not only is Christianity compatible with the African American heritage, it is our heritage.
1. Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary: Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), Ex. 12:37. Logos Edition.
2. J. Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race (Downers Grove, Ill: Inter Varsity Press, 2003), 68.
3. “Global Christianity: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population,” Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2011, accessed November 10, 2012, http://www.pewforum.org/uploadedFiles/Topics/Religious_Affiliation/Christian/Christianity-fullreport-web.pdf.
4. Forrest G. Wood, The Arrogance of Faith: Christianity and Race in America from the Colonial Era to the Twentieth Century (New York: Knopf, 1990), 51.
5. Carl Davis, A Brief History of Christianity in Africa (Unknown, 2015), 92-93, Kindle.
6. Ibid, 225.
7. Elizabeth Isichei, A History of Christianity in Africa: From Antiquity to the Present (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 95, Kindle.
8. Ibid., 400.
9. Ibid., 626-627.
10. Ibid., 1019.
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