Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A few more random thoughts on race

King David wrote (recorded in Psalms 14:1 and 53:1), “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

My personal definition of a fool: A Black atheist. Let me explain:

Black people were legally held as slaves in the Southern United States until 1865. I am convinced that slavery was, ultimately, not ended by the Civil War, or the Emancipation Proclamation, or the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and certainly not by President Abraham Lincoln. Slavery in the U.S. was ended by God. God moved in answer to the prayers of countless Black slaves over the 200+ years Blacks were held in bondage in the U.S. I have no confidence in the supposed goodwill of sinful human beings. White people would not have willingly let Black people go free (Don’t fool yourself; you’re not that good). Apart from the sovereign hand of God, Black people would still be enslaved today.

This is why Black people ought to believe in God. He’s the best Friend, Advocate, Defender, Deliverer, and Savior Black people ever had. And, I’m not talking about the Muslim’s Allah. If I remember my history correctly, it was Muslims who delivered their fellow Africans over to Europeans in order to enslave them. Allah put Black folks in bondage! No, no, no! It was the triune God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—the only true God—who set Black people free.

A Black person who doesn’t believe in this God is, therefore, a “double” fool—a fool because God says you are (Psalms 14 and 53), and a fool because you don’t have enough sense to realize to Whom you owe your freedom.


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Is it possible to embrace evangelicalism and Reformed Christianity and still maintain one’s identity as a Black person? I think it’s possible, but not without purposeful effort. Evangelical pressure to assimilate is strong. The models presented in books, workshop and in seminaries are culturally White. The standard held up as ideal is culturally White. Think about the personalities (pastors and authors and schools) that represent the movement. Think about the churches. Think about the music. Think about the worship styles. It all comes across as very “White”. Just read the blogs! Most of these writers can’t relate to the average, working class, Black person. They’re not addressing the kind of people I’ve been talking about this month.

I embrace Reformed/Calvinistic theology because I believe it’s biblical and true, but it will never sell in the Black community, wrapped in White culture. If a Black person uncritically adopts all that currently comprises Reformed evangelicalism, he or she runs the risk of being no longer able to relate to and communicate with Black people. It is a blessing that there are some Black preachers out there who are trying to propagate Reformed theology among Black people. But, there’s still too much White cultural baggage attached to it. I think we could be so much more effective if we could also mix that biblical theology with some Black culture.


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The most forgiving people I’ve ever heard about were Black people.

For example, my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda Duncan, was a slave in Alabama, owned by the Armistead family. Malinda died in 1929, at the age of 86, and I’ve visited her grave in the Armistead Cemetery (on land set aside by the Armistead family for their slaves to bury their dead). Grandma (my great grandmother) told me that Malinda, who was her paternal grandmother, would tell her about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her “mistress”, Mrs. Armistead. It appears Mr. Armistead was prone to fooling around with his female slaves (which, obviously, was very common—just look at how many shades of color “Black” people come in). Mrs. Armistead, as a result, was very jealous and spiteful toward her female slaves. Well, one day Mrs. Armistead got a hold of my great-great-great grandmother (who was only a girl at the time), and burned her against the side of her neck with a poker taken from the fireplace. Grandma personally saw this scar. Grandma said when she was a little girl she used to cry as her grandmother would tell her about how the mistress burned her neck. After the slaves were free, and Mrs. Armistead was old, widowed and sick, and near death, Malinda went back and took care of her mistress (I assume until the old lady died).

The words of Scripture come to mind (Proverbs 25:21-22):

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.

Can’t you also hear the words of Jesus? (Matthew 5:43-45):

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

I ask you, would your Christianity enable you to do what my great-great-great grandmother, Malinda, did?


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Speaking of the old Black folks and church: The old folks believed that if you were going to “have church” you ought to really “have church”. They weren’t casual about their worship. God had been too good to them to keep it bottled up inside. Church was the place to let it all out! An old gospel song they used to love to sing at my home church went like this:

I said I wasn’t gonna tell nobody…
I said I wasn’t gonna run for Jesus…
I said I wasn’t gonna shout for joy, but I
Couldn’t keep it to myself
What the Lord has done for me.

Then, there was the refrain:

You oughta been there
When He saved my soul.
You oughta been there
When He put my name on the role.
Then I started walking,
I started talking,
I started singing,
I started shouting
About what the Lord has done.

When you think about the hardships, the heartaches, the pain… I believe contemporary folks would go insane under similar life pressures! It was unheard of, back in the day, for a Black person to go to a counselor or psychologist. So, how did they mentally and emotionally survive? They survived because the Lord was their psychologist and counselor and psychiatrist! They shouted and hollered, prayed and cried, walked and ran, and sang and moaned, until they felt better! They could go on for another week, facing racism and poverty and discrimination and deprivation every day of their lives, yet persevering in spite of their circumstances, because they had a friend in Jesus. It’s no secret that Black folks’ favorite verse in “Amazing Grace” has always been verse number three:

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Twas grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

This reminds me of the last time my great-great grandfather, Richmond Duncan, attended church. When he was about to turn 100 years of age, the very day before his birthday, our church had a celebration for him during the Sunday worship service. That was Sunday, August 1, 1971. I have only a few memories from that day (I was only 8), but they still stand out vividly in my mind.

Grandpa Duncan was old and feeble by this time and was no longer able to attend church. Since he wasn’t able to sit through an hour-and-a-half to two-hour service, it was decided that the family would bring him to church at noon—half-way through the service. I remember the ushers escorting Grandpa Duncan into the church. On his way down the center aisle to the front pew where the family was seated, Grandpa Duncan saw an old friend, Mr. Charlie Ingram. Mr. Ingram was no longer able to attend church either, as he was about, I think, 96-years-old by this time, and blind and feeble; but he wanted to come and help celebrate his old friend’s birthday. Grandpa Duncan saw Mr. Ingram and the two old friends embraced right there in the center aisle and greeted each other warmly, striking up a conversation!

I also remember Grandpa Duncan partaking of communion that day. In Methodism, we knelt at the altar rail to take communion, and so, Grandpa Duncan was helped to his knees. Well, Grandpa Duncan “got happy” down there on his knees, and he was crying and verbally rejoicing in the Lord. The old man couldn’t hold it any longer. I can only imagine what was on his mind.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word, my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

4 comments:

Shawn said...

"I embrace Reformed/Calvinistic theology because I believe it’s biblical and true, but it will never sell in the Black community, wrapped in White culture. If a Black person uncritically adopts all that currently comprises Reformed evangelicalism, he or she runs the risk of being no longer able to relate to and communicate with Black people. It is a blessing that there are some Black preachers out there who are trying to propagate Reformed theology among Black people. But, there’s still too much White cultural baggage attached to it. I think we could be so much more effective if we could also mix that biblical theology with some Black culture."

What do you mean by 'White cultural baggage' and 'mix biblical theology with some Black culture'?

wwdunc said...

Thank you for asking for clarification. I suspected what I wrote would not be totally clear.

What I have in mind is the Sunday worship service, which is probably the forum through which most people are exposed to a local church. Generally speaking, if Black people cannot be made to feel like they belong or can fit in, they probably won't choose to become a part of a particular local church. I think that's generally true for most people, in fact.

However, there are racial differences between Blacks and Whites that show up in worship. I think it would be safe to say that, generally speaking, Blacks are more emotionally expressive in worship than most Whites (unless they are Pentecostal). Black music is generally more "upbeat", percussive and syncopated (in an R & B or jazz sort of way). And, Blacks, generally, prefer preaching that is "enthusiastic" and demonstrative, rather than "conversational" in tone.

So, in trying to get solid, Reformed theology into the Black community, if church leaders strip the worship service of Black music (in favor of only hymns, Psalms or relatively bland worship choruses), discourage emotional and physical freedom of expression in worship (e.g., hand clapping, physical and verbal responses to preaching, emotional outbursts), and adopt a bland, conversational tone and style of delivering sermons, they will not attract a significant Black audience. The whole "package" will come across as "White", and the average Black person will turn the other way.

So what I am suggesting is bring in solid, biblical preaching that has theological depth, BUT...

Sing at least some music that Black people can identify with (gospel music or other music that has rhythm, that you can clap your hands to),

Allow (and encourage) people to "talk back" to the preacher,

Preach "hard", with passion (so Black people will know you really believe what you're talking about),

And, if the truth is so good that it makes people want to shout, let them!

I hope that helps clear up what I mean.

Shawn said...

Thank you for your clarifications. It did help. But what does biblical theology "mixed" with some Black culture look like because you only talked about worship?

wwdunc said...

The corporate worship service is the primary vehicle, if you will, through which culture is expressed. Biblical teaching is biblical teaching, but the teaching occurs in the context of a worship service. It is the cultural expression of worship which I feel needs to connect with Black people if the teaching is to effectively reach the Black community.

The fundamental need in the Black community is for the "pure spiritual milk" of the word of God (1 Pet. 2:2). The best way to get that word to the people is through the vehicle of God-glorifying worship expressed through Black culture.

I hope that helps. Thanks, again, for asking!