“… contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Jude 1:3,4
In light of Black History Month I want to touch on a popular yet troubling topic that intersects both black history in America and the Christian faith. Over the past few weeks or so, I have noticed that there is an increasing population of African-Americans that have abandoned their Christian faith for more “spiritual” alternatives that are consistent with the beliefs of their ancestors. According to them, Christianity was forced on Africans during slavery and is only a tool of white oppression. In reality they say, Africans actually practiced “divine spirituality” prior to slavery, not religion. The religion we know as Christianity, is actually a copycat religion stolen from other ancient Egyptian religions.
As an African-American Christian, I must admit that there is an internal battle that rages within me when I hear these arguments. My heart hurts for those who feel a sense of contempt and yet I feel an overwhelming need to counter the errors of this argument. Although the reality of Christianity’s dark history is undeniable, that dark history points more toward the love of God despite human sin and failure, rather than highlighting a justification for abandoning Christianity and Jesus Himself. So, what to say to these things?
To those who ask why a loving God would allow slavery in the first place. First, God lovingly allows us the power of a choice (Genesis 2:16, 17). Ever since the creation of the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden, the ability to choose evil has existed on Earth. Since we are created to experience God’s love for us, we must have the ability to choose that love which inevitably means that we have the ability to choose things opposite that love (i.e. evil). As a consequence, when we choose evil (as in slavery) pain is a natural outflow of our human evil. So why did God allow this? Though it was not his desire, because God loves us, he grants us unbridled choice.
Second, God is sovereign. As I type this having come to a saving faith in Christ myself, I must acknowledge God’s sovereignty despite human evil. Despite the evil of slavery and the middle passage, God has saved me and thousands of African-Americans in America. Now, I am not implying that slavery was a necessary means of our salvation; I am simply saying that it was a means nonetheless. When I think about African-American members of the Church, I can see God’s sovereignty clearly. “… for those who love God all things work(ed) together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:28-30). In the end, either God orchestrated our salvation through slavery or he orchestrated it despite slavery. Either way, God is still trustworthy. His ways and His thoughts are higher than mine and yours (Isaiah 55:8, 9).
Third, let’s be careful not to broad-brush the argument. To those who view the Bible as a tool of oppression, you have to look at the total picture. Not all slave owners were Christian and therefore not all of them used the Bible as a tool of oppression. Also, not all Africans practiced a religion/spirituality other than Christianity. Some Africans were already Christian by the time of American slavery. In fact, Christianity predates American slavery by hundreds of years and began in Africa as early as the first century (See Tertullian, Perpetua, Origen of Alexandria, and Athanasius to name a few). As such, Christianity and the Bible is not a “tool of white oppression” because it predated the oppression. In fact, Christianity in Africa predates European migration, inclusion, and colonization.
Fourth, the idea that Christianity is a copycat religion copied from ancient Egyptian religions is simply false and have been proven so many times. Nowhere in Egyptian religions do we see a triune God, original sin, or a savior figure that is both man and God. These are essential to the Christian faith, yet are nonexistent in Egyptian religions. At best, people who promote this claim (Zeitgeist, Black Conscious Movement, etc.) find superficial comparisons and misuse language (e.g. sun = son), and piece together pieces of the Bible to make faulty comparisons.
Lastly, although it is true that Christianity has a dark history, I would encourage you to never judge a belief only by its abuses. That is like rejecting a prescription from your doctor today because other people abused them in the past. Like medicine, God’s word is meant for our good and although people have abused it, it was not God’s desire. Instead we must focus on the actual problem, and that is sinful humanity. As you approach your faith (or skepticism) try not to do it only on the basis of race. A clear warning sign of error is when a system of belief is based foundationally on race. This thinking ignores the actual tenants of the belief and basic concepts of inclusion. Christianity is not a “white man’s religion” or “a religion for the oppressed” as some would suggest. As believers, we know that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28). God bless you.
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Resources for further study:
Is Christianity a Copycat religion?
-Equip.org - http://www.equip.org/hank_speaks_out/religulous-with-bill-maher/
Christianity in Africa Pre-American Slavery
Origen of Alexandria - http://www.religionfacts.com/origen (Also see Tertullian, Perpetua, and Athanasius)