Black History in American Churches: Yes or No?

By: Rev Ed Schneider

I was in conversation the other day with one of my colleagues concerning her frustration involving an individual in her local church who had just given her an “ear full” concerning celebrating of Black History Month within the local church setting.

As I understood the issue presented, it seems the elderly NON-African American gentlemen thought it quite insulting that he and others would be subjected too some “secular” demonstration of group “sensitivity training” concerning the plight of Black people in America. He was more than a little disturbed at the notion of being forced to “waste his time” with non-Christian stuff just to make an attempt at making a segment of the greater population “feel better” about themselves.

Even though I am about demonstrate in no uncertain terms how foolish, ignorant and, at the very least bigoted, that is, I don’t want to lose the greater lesson presented here. The lesson I am referring to centers around the lack of competent Christian education, biblical awareness, and the foundational privilege of celebrating God’s….not secular humanity’s….creative genius.

Given the first three paragraphs as a back-drop to the following…let’s begin.

History_America_Story_of_Us_Frederick_Douglass_SF_still_624x352Every year in the United States of America there is scheduled a time…a whole month…dedicated to the celebration of Black History. Both adults and children will hear of the tubmanheroic exploits of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth. Others will learn about famous inventors, educators, authors, and military giants who were all people-of-color who greatly contributed to the historical fabric of America’s past, present and future.

Like every other aspect of social/historical awareness where it is a reasonable and valuable goal to become better aware of a nation’s past, it is also right and good to be aware of the depths of The Bible’s and Christianity’s social/historical past. Yes, it is a good thing for a public school to share relevant and explicitly positive historical facts concerning many differing segments of America’ s population.  However, I am continually concerned with the lack of the Christian Church’s commitment regarding its own important and essential “colorful” past.

Even if I were to be generous to the antagonist described above by not suggesting his underlying discomfort is directly related to a veil of racism, it still must be pointed out (as I did in the previous paragraph) that some of his stated concerns were primarily based on a gross lack of biblical and Christian education. The Euro-centric bias that is present in most of the scriptural translations as well as supportive materials has caused many of us to be grossly under-educated concerning the reality of people-of-color who adorn the pages of the Bible.

The following examples are without error and not in dispute historically. Hopefully, they will offer an insight regarding the real…undeniable…primary participation and effect of people-of-color both within the pages of biblical witness and the life of the early Christian church.

Gar03-01-EgyptManassa and Ephraim: They were two of Joseph’s sons who were born in Africa. In the 43rd chapter of Genesis it plainly states the difference between Joseph’s sons who were born in Egypt and elsewhere. These two sons of Joseph were without question people-of-color. In all likelihood, they were of a darker hue. Why is this important to note? Ephraim was specifically chosen over his older brother Manassa for the double inheritance. Even though Ephraim received the lion’s share of Joseph’s blessings Manassa wasn’t left out of the blessing equation. He later became the ruler of Israel.

So, where did these two sons of Joseph come from? Egypt. Where is Egypt? Africa.

Moses:  Let me just state this next item of information quickly….as though we need to take off a very sticky bandage…Moses was a person-of-color. He was not white, pale, fair skinned with flowing brown hair and blue eyes separating the waters of a non-historical sea of a movie starring Charlton Heston. He was a person-of-color.

As the story is presented in our Bible, Moses was reportedly taken in and raised by Pharaoh’s (the King of Egypt) daughter as one of the royal court’s children. This would have been a strange thing indeed to place a NON-dark skinned child within an African royal household. Another item of information concerns Moses’s wife, Saporah, and his father-in-law, Jethro. They were Ethiopians. Where is Ethiopia? Africa.

In the first several examples I have used the term, “people-of-color.” I have done this for a reason. The reason is to allow logic to creep into the mind and understanding of those who will read and subsequently share this written offering with others. Now it is time to delve a little deeper and use a bit stronger terminology.

Joshua:  Joshua was black. This is an anthropological fact!  Joshua’s original name was Hoshea before Moses changed it. Joshua originated from the tribe of Ephraim and served as Moses’ personal minister. He was appointed by Moses to lead an attack against the Amalekites at Sinai.  He was the successor to Moses. Joshua…not Moses… actually led God’s chosen people into the “Promised Land.”

The Book of Zephaniah:  Look at Chapter 1, verse 1, and you will find it states Zephaniah was a “Son of Cush.” Where is Cush? Africa. Zephaniah was a part of the inner circle of King Josiah’s court approximately 600 years before the birth of Christ.

Simon of Cyrene: Cyrene was a city, actually a Greek colony, around the time of the New Testament. It was located in what would be modern day Libya, in northern Africa. Although a Greek colony, Simon was an indigenous African. He helped to carry the Cross of Christ. In other words, Simon, an African, helped in no small way to symbolize the burden and privilege all believers have in carrying the Cross today.

Symeon and Lucious: If you would review the 13th Chapter of Acts you will find two of the three individuals who “laid hands on” (which means in this context. gave authority to) Paul were Symeon and Lucious. This act of “giving authority to” Paul initiated his ministry. Both of these men were Black. Symeon was actually nicked-named, “the black man,” while Lucious was from Cyrene.  Now, I need you to put on your thinking hat on for this small bit of logic. If BOTH of these men were black and if BOTH of these men had the right to “give authority” and if BOTH of these stipulations seem logical…then these two black men were already followers of Christ and assumed authority figures PRIOR to Paul’s conversion.  If we can follow this logical conclusion then that leads us to the simple conclusion that in the earliest stages of the Christian movement….PRIOR to Paul’s mission to the Gentile world…two NON-Jerusalem black men were already deeply involved in the expansion of the Christian movement.

Rufas, Alexander and their Mother:  For this one you will have to look inside Romans, Chapter 16.  In this section of scripture Paul speaks about Simon of Cyrene’s grown son, Lucious, as well as his wife. During this letter’s greeting to the “followers of Christ” in Rome, Paul says,

Greet Rufas for me, whom the Lord picked out to be His very own; and also his dear mother, who has been such a dear mother to me.”

I want you to remember that up to this point Paul had not been to Rome. At this time in the life of the Christian movement only “house churches” existed. It is generally accepted that the Roman house church movement was started after….and because of….the Feast of Pentecost. (Think Acts 2) What is not in dispute is that this particular family was certainly one of the “founding families” of Christianity in Rome. This family then included; Rufas, Alexander, their mother, and of course Simon of Cyrene….the one who helped Christ carry the Cross.

Tertullian: He was a black African who lived around the year 200 CE in the City of Carthage, which is in modern-day Tunisia. Tertullian was a profoundly gifted author of early Christian themes which included what is now recognized as the doctrine of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) as well as the foundation of what is termed, Christology (the study of Christ). One of the results of his profound depth of study was the initial stages of the doctrine associated with Jesus being both human and Divine.

Three Black Popes: Victor (186-197); Militades (311-314); Gelacious (492-496)

Augustine: (354 CE) His mother, Monica, was a Christian from North Africa. He was a product of the Carthage educational system. Augustine may not have been a darker skinned individual but he was most assuredly a “person-of-color” like the rest of the region he was born and raised within. Augustine is considered by both Catholics and Protestants as the single most influence on classical Christian thinking and its expression.

Let me close my thoughts in this way; to the grumpy old man who, with equal parts sincerity and blatant ignorance, chastised one of my colleagues when his personal comfort was invaded, it is never a bad idea to officially, corporately, and intentionality celebrating God’s creative genius historical life of His church….not ours.

For those who have a desire to share this information with others I hope these few examples help to enlighten some and challenge others. Remember, the Bible says in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”  Peace.


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