One cannot correctly understand the black religious experience without an affirmation of deep faith informed by profound doubt. How can one believe in God in the face of such horrendous suffering as slavery, segregation, and the lynching tree? Under these circumstances, doubt is not denial but an integral part of faith. It keeps faith from being sure of itself. But doubt does not have the final word. The final word is faith giving rise to hope.James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree
As we begin the second session of our four-part series, we will be stepping into some of the dark and complex areas of slavery and the Church’s involvement. It’s important for us to look at the way in which the legacy of slavery affect our black and brown brothers and sisters to this day, and how we can begin the work of disentangling white supremacy from Christianity. This session is based on chapters three and four from Ben’s book and it’s well worth a read as we won’t cover every aspect of these all important chapters. There will again be space for discussion, reflection, Bible study and prayer.
Watch Ben’s video then perhaps begin with this question to get started.
Was Black Panther the movie a success story about black representation or a promoter of division and nationalism?
The complex and dark history of the Church’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade is never an easy topic to broach. Ben wants us to be aware that this violent history solidified racial hierarchy by assuring that Black people were viewed as less than human. It was ‘the propagation of slavery by the Church that receives minimal scrutiny in comparison to the contribution of the abolitionists’ such as Wilberforce. Critical reflection and truth telling is vital in order to move forward.
On arrival to the continent of Africa, early European explorers looked to the Bible to find an explanation for the differences in ethnicity and culture they observed. They concluded that the enslavement of Africans was a consequence of sin, with Genesis 9:24-27 a key text to hang this belief on, which would later be known as the curse of Ham. Europeans took these verses, and others, to justify treating those from a different ethnicity (Black Africans) in the most inhumane ways. This gave licence to white Europeans to teach that God had created the ‘institution of human bondage, and that this arrangement was to be perpetuated through all time’. The abolition of the slave trade in the UK often focusses on Wilberforce and often forgets the influence of black abolitionists such as Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince and Samuel Sharpe to name a few. We need to speak honestly about our history if we are to work through the pain and suffering, and move towards healing and restoration.
As a group reflect on your knowledge of the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition. The questions below may help.
N.B. This can be a traumatic experience for many black and brown people so try and share thoughtfully so it feels less like a fact-find and more like a sobering recounting of history.
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.Marcus Garvey, Jamaican political leader
When you picture scenes of the Bible, do you think of Africa? Do you picture brown people? Or are you most acquainted with Western iconography where Jesus is depicted as a blond-haired, blue eyed man? The reimagining of Jesus as a white man begun during the early Middle Ages in Europe. In this context, darkness had strongly negative connotations and white was seen as pure. The whitewashing of Jesus betrays historical accuracy and reinforces Eurocentric mindsets (p59) and white Western norms. It also distorts how we read scripture and how we understand God’s plan of inclusion. The reality is that not only were there Africans in the Bible such as Moses’s wife the Cushite (modern day Ethiopia – Num 12.1), Hagar the Egyptian (Gen 16.1) and the bride in Song of Songs who was “black and beautiful” (Song 1.5), some of the greatest theologians were of African origin too.
The challenge given in Ben’s book is to disentangle Christianity from white supremacy, and to begin to do this requires us revisit our history, rediscover the diversity of the Bible and communicate its unchanging truth in culturally relevant ways.
The idea of reparations is based on actions that make amends for wrongdoing. Ben quotes pastor Duke Kwon as he sees Biblical race reparations as a process of changing our vocabulary, reckoning with out history, having a repentant imagination and talking less but acting more. As we engage with the Biblical text, lets consider how God can use us as change agents in an area of Christianity that is in need of healing and renewal.
Read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 and reflect on the topics covered during this session, then discuss together using these questions as a guide.
As we wrestle with the church’s history of entanglement with slavery and the whitewashing of Christianity it is important to understand that white guilt isn’t the objective. We want to reckon with the past in order to repair and heal as a community. Let’s pray that as we seek God to repair that which has been broken, he will bind us together with chords that can never be broken.