Is Christianity a White Man's Religion? An Asian, Black and Latino Perspective
Hello Critical Thinkers,
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In this two-part post we will explore the idea that Christianity is “The White Man's Religion”.
In part one we will correct common misunderstandings about race and Christianity by examining the questions:
Does God address racial discrimination in the Bible?
Was Christianity a great conspiracy created by powerful white men at the council of Nicea?
What was the true picture of Christianity amongst the African slaves in 17th century America?
In part two we will delve deeper into this objection by examining...
What is the impact of colonialism on African, Asian and Latin American views of Christianity?
What are God’s multiethnic #goals for the Church as seen in the Bible?
Is diversity in Christian thought a nice to have, or a need to have?
God’s Response to Racism
The idea that Christianity is only suited for white people implies that the God of Israel doesn’t care about people of color, or that they were an afterthought until the explosion of Missions in the 1700’s. However, like other objections to Christianity, the “White Man Religion” objection typically has more to do with the bad behavior of self-professed Christians than the character of God himself. When we investigate these claims in the Bible (we are assuming the Bible is the Christian authority in this post) we see something totally different.
God Addresses Race Relations in the Old Testament
In the very first chapter of the entire Bible, God declares that he created man and woman in his own image (Genesis 1:27). This means that every human being has intrinsic and equal value in his eyes. In one Old Testament account God makes his commitment to this ethic very clear when he reacts to opposition on the part of Moses’ Jewish family members towards his brown bride.
The story can be found in Numbers 12 where we read that Moses marries a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman, but his sister Miriam and brother Aaron are not happy about it. God then punishes Miriam [the first instigator in all of this] with leprosy and asserts that he is in support of this marriage. Many traditional commentaries focus on the fact that she was punished because she questioned Moses’ authority (more on this in part 2). However, when we dig further we see that God cleverly addresses the racism on display here as well. Consider the following:
The Isrealites had just escaped harsh slavery in Egypt (Numbers 11:18) yet continue to need God to remind them through word and deed to treat Godly foreigners equally (Numbers 9:14; Numbers 15:14).
The use of the term Cushite by Miriam and Aaron (Numbers 12:1) is undoubtedly meant to be a racial slur.
God’s choice of punishment for Miriam was leprosy that made her skin white as snow (Numbers 12:10). The idea seems to be that since Miriam is so bothered by dark skin, God “blesses” her with white skin in the form of flaky leprosy.
Miriam’s punishment also included being shut out of the camp for a week (Numbers 12:15). In this way she was made to be an ‘other’, like she intended to do with Moses’ wife.
There is strong evidence that God is punishing racism here. Still, the most conservative reading of this shows that Moses, one of the greatest figures in the Bible (Deuteronomy 34:10-12) and one who spoke face to face with God, marries a woman of color and God defends rather than condemns the couple.
Elsewhere in the Old Testament we see God scold the nation of Israel for their rebelliousness and sense of entitlement. An interesting rebuke can be seen in Amos 9:7 where God essentially blasts Israel for thinking they are any more special to him than Cush (Ethiopia).
God Addresses Race Relations in the New Testament
In the New Testament we see these themes of racism and xenophobia by the Jews resurface in their tension with the Gentiles, as well as the hated half Jew-half Gentile Samaritans. In response to the divisions between the Jews and Gentiles Paul the Apostle writes in his letter to the Galatian church that slaves, free persons, Jews, Gentiles, males and females are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). In this powerful statement Paul is not pretending there aren't differences in people's biology, background, or life circumstances. He is saying that to God, none of these differences count for any better or worse. He is trying to break down the prevailing attitudes of superiority and inferiority based on ethnicity.
Jesus can be seen reiterating the same message in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). When Jesus confirms that Jews are to love their God and love their neighbor to inherit eternal life, a clever lawyer asks "Who is my neighbor?" [That just screams ‘I am looking for a way to get out of this!’] In response Jesus tells a story, essentially answering the question with the least desired option to Jews at that time – a Samaritan! I’m sure the lawyer didn’t ask Jesus any more ‘clarifying’ questions after that! 😄
Africa and the Early Church
Ethiopian Convert, and All Nations
To counter the narrative that black slaves in the Americas first heard the gospel through their slavemasters, we will focus for a moment on the first personal account of an African convert to Christianity (Acts 2:10 shows that Africans in general were present at Pentecost), over 15 centuries before the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade.
In the New Testament book of Acts we see that Philip the Evangelist encounters a sincere, God honoring Ethiopian Eunuch and shares the gospel (Acts 8: 26-39). Tradition has it that this conversion was the beginning of the Ethiopian church which still exists to this day. The image on this post actually features an Ethiopian Bible imprinted with their signature Ethiopian Orthodox cross on the front.
While this passage shows the first seed of the gospel to Ethiopia, the significance of the story doesn't stop there. The encounter is the fulfillment of a beautiful prophecy in the Old Testament book of Isaiah (56: 4-8) - the same book of the Bible the Eunuch happened to be reading when Phillip approached him. In this passage God starts by saying he will bless the eunuchs who follow him, then moves on to saying that all foreign nations who worship him will be welcomed and rewarded. He even declares that his "house will be called a house of prayer for all nations" -Isaiah 56:7.
Council of Nicea
After the death of Jesus and the last apostles, earthly authority of the Universal church was with a group of leaders we refer to as the church fathers (several of whom were from Africa).
The first of these councils was the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Although the Bible was not discussed at this council (the deity of Jesus was), I have had countless people tell me that at this council white European men gathered to create Christianity as a means of world denomination. Not even part true.
The reality of the church councils will be discussed in detail in a future post on how we got the Bible we have today. The relevant points here are that these councils were attended by upwards of 320 bishops (1,800 invited) ... from around the Eastern and Western parts of the vast Roman Empire ... Pre-Facebook. To think they could come together to commit the greatest conspiracy ever known purely for power is untenable. The 535 members of the U.S. congress can't agree on the weather, and they all live in the same country! The councils were able to make decisions because they had one authority to which they all appealed, the Scriptures, which were already circulating throughout the empire.
Christianity During the Time of Slavery
Secret Slave Prayer Meetings
We have already seen that Christianity came to Africa centuries before the transatlantic slave trade. Still some have this image of the slaveholder holding a bull whip in one hand and a Bible in the other hand as equal means of subjugating the slaves. The main problems with this scenario are that it assumes all slaveholders were church going evangelists, and that all slaves consumed a form of Christianity that subdued them.
First off, for some time many slavemasters were disincentivized from baptizing their slaves by laws that made it illegal to enslave fellow Christians. Some slaves used this law to appeal to the government for freedom after being baptized. Second, so many slavemasters were known for their vile behavior and unchristian lifestyles that British Christians wrote about it in horror. And third there were many slavemasters that feared sharing the Bible with the slaves else they would know they were equal to their slavemasters before God (as discussed above).
If this were not enough, slave narratives deal a death blow to the idea that they were brainwashed by the Bible. Because of the church ban by some slavemasters we read that those slaves gathered to participate in secret prayer meetings. They did things like sing into a pale of water to muffle the sounds of worship and avoid detection, which would typically include severe beatings. There is much that shows that Christian slaves miraculously maintained a vibrant stubborn faith that focused on freedom.
Slavery: A Christian thing, or a sin thing?
Slavery unfortunately continues to be a problem today. We see slavery in many countries and in many forms all over the world including:
Pakistan (child labor),
Ghana (child labor),
Saudi Arabia (domestic workers),
India (human trafficking)
Russia (forced labor/sex trafficking)
And so on unfortunately…
The common denominator is not a religion, a location, or a people group. The common denominator is corrupted man (Romans 3:23). Though men and women of every nation and culture commit horrible acts toward others, there remains only one religion that offers a solution for that corruption, and that is Christianity.
Conclusion: How Did We Get Here?
While there is ample evidence to show that Christianity was not created for any one group, I think it’s important to go a step further and unearth what feeds this narrative. We reviewed the facts, now it’s time for some open and honest but grace filled dialogue, bringing in the Asian and Latino perspectives as well.
Next I discuss some of the factors that has led some to this “white man religion” view of Christianity, what it looks like when we recognize God’s vision for a multiethnic church (Revelations 7:9), and how we all benefit from the fulfillment of that vision now.
Let me know your thoughts or questions below in the comments section!
Ciao for Now…