Is christiantiy a white man's religion?
Should black Africans become Christians? Isn’t Christianity a white man’s religion, and therefore foreign to black Africans?
In South Africa, these are key questions because Christianity was used in some instances to oppress black South Africans. But Christianity was also used to free black South Africans from apartheid. Sadly, however, many black South Africans have concluded that Christianity is not for them.
When one reads the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, one cannot help but notice that the God of Israel, who became the Christian God, seems to be a tribal God for the Israelites. In the famous Ten Commandments, he commands the Israelites not to have other gods. In fact, he seems to suggest that other nations can have their own gods, whilst the Israelite can have him alone as their God, because he is a jealous God. He says to them in Deuteronomy 6: 14 (New Living Translation, unless indicated otherwise) “You must not worship any of the gods of neighboring nations.” Also, he introduced himself to Moses from the burning bush as follows:“… Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.”(Exodus 3:15).
A tribal God?
It was no surprise therefore that the Israelites began to believe he was their tribal God, the God of their Fathers. They started to believe they were special. In Amos 9:7, God says to the Israelites: “Israel, you are no different to me than the people of Cush (Ethiopia). I brought Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Crete, and the Arameans from Kir.” Thru The Bible Commentary says this “is one of the strangest statements in the Bible.” In essence, God says it was not a special favour when he rescued them from slavery. He did the same for other nations who were also oppressed. Thru The Bible Commentary continues, “When God wanted them (Israelites) to know how much He loved them, He said, “I love you as I love the Ethiopians!” This is not just the strangest statement in the Bible, it is the greatest affirmation that the “Israelite God” is not a tribal god, but he is also the “African God,” and this from God himself.
The word Ethiopian is a translation from the word Cushi, which means “burnt face”, or black face. Ethiopians are described in the Bible as tall people, with a smooth black skin. (Isaiah 18:2). For example, Jeremiah13:23 states rhetorically, “Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots?” A number of words in the Bible refer to the black people, namely Ethiopian, Cush, Egypt, Mizraim, Nubia, Niger, Cyrene, Kedarites, Midian, Sheba, etc. When you read these words, remember they generally refer to black people.
The writings of the Israelite prophets are full of God’s yearning for the day the black Africans will be worshipping him like the Israelites. See for example: Psalm 68:31-32 “Let Egypt come with gifts of precious metals; let Ethiopia bow in submission to God. Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth. Sing praises to the Lord.” In Isaiah 60:6-7, Isaiah prophesies of the time when many black African peoples will go to Jerusalem to worship God. “Vast caravans of camels will converge on you, the camels of Midian and Ephah. The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense and will come worshiping the Lord. The flocks of Kedar will be given to you, and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars. I will accept their offerings, and I will make my Temple glorious.”
A new ancestry
In addition to these passages in which a future is foretold where black Africans join in the worship of the God of Israel, we find God raising two of the twelve tribes of Israel from an African woman whom Joseph married, Moses being raised in the Egyptian palace, and many other events where black Africans are very much part of the story of Israel.
When one goes to the New Testament, it becomes as clear as day that Africans are not strangers and foreigners when it comes to Christianity. It has always been the plan of God to include black Africans, and indeed all humans as his people. In fact, the New Testament writers never use the phrase “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” God becomes the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who became human to give us all a new ancestry, better than that of Adam. Rather than seeing him as God, Jesus teaches that we should pray “Our Father who is in the heavens” (Matthew 6:9).
The message of the gospel becomes consistently about inclusion of all nations, tribes, and languages into the life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. According to Matthew, Jesus has all kinds of ancestors from different nations. For example, he had a number of Non-Jewish ancestors, although he was born into Jewish culture, and is considered a Jew because Joseph and Mary were both Jewish (Matthew 1:5). A black man named Simon helped Jesus carry the cross to Golgotha (Mark 15:21). This Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. According to Paul, Rufus was one of the early believers “whom the Lord picked out to be his very own.” (Romans 16:13)
The split between Jews/Israelites and other nations (so-called Gentiles) has always been a thin one from Jesus’ perspective. Paul makes some startling comments about Jews and Gentiles, e.g. Romans 3:29-30: “After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles”
Romans 15:8: “Remember that Christ came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises he made to their ancestors”
Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Ephesians 2:14-15 “For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups.”
Ephesians 3:6: “And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.”
It is my view that Christianity is never a foreign religion to anybody. It is a religion for the Jew, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Indian, the American, the Brazilian, the African, and the European alike. No, Christianity is not a white man’s religion. In fact, the first Christian to walk into Africa with the Bible under his arm, having been baptized by Philip the Apostle, was an Ethiopian, not a German, English, or French missionary (Acts 8:26-39). The greatest missionaries of all time were Paul and Barnabas, and the Holy Spirit told two black Africans, Simeon (called “the black man”) and Lucius (from Cyrene) to dedicate them for missionary work through the laying on of hands, together with Manaen. (Acts 13:1). It was in this church in Antioch, which was led by Simeon the black man, Lucius from Cyrene and Manaen, that the name Christian was first used for followers of Jesus Christ. Like the Lord called Rufus ( the African) his very own, Christianity is for me, my very own! And you?
While this article is about the inclusion of the black Africans in Christianity, the same is true of all humans. Jesus sees all humans as his brothers and sisters, and as a brother he paid the price to free his family from the terrible slavery of sin. In Jesus all men, whether black African, White or Asian, share in the heritage of eternal life, that God our Father has bestowed on humans.
As Paul tells the Romans, “…you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.” (Romans. 8:15-17)