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Op-Ed By Mike Creef, contributing writer
Living in the Bible Belt of the United States(the southern and midwestern region where there are more churches than Starbucks) as a bi-racial man over the past decade, I’ve gotten to see up close how the Christian Church has handled race relations in the past as well as the growing present-day tension.
It’s no secret that our country has a problem when it comes to race and the equal treatment of all; we’ve always had this problem. Since our inception, when black people were seen as three-fifths of a person and brown, indigenous folk were slaughtered for their land to today were the three simple words “black lives matter” can polarize a room the Church has been present and mostly silent, for it all. Slave ownership, genocide, lynchings, and mass shootings have all been carried out by people claiming to be a part of the Church calling themselves Christians.
So what responsibility does the Christian Church have in speaking about these things?
Do they have a responsibility to at all?
Does an individual get to speak for an entire group when they claim a particular title?
These are all questions that I feel like should be thought about and discussed amongst those in the Christian community as well as outside of it. And yet I can count on probably both of my hands the amount of conversations I’ve had regarding questions like these in the past 10+ years, and I’ve been heavily involved within the Church.
Before we tackle the question of the Church’s role, let’s discuss for a second the racial timeline our country has endured and how Christians have played a part in it.
In the 17th century, European settlers came to America, launching colonial programs for their respective countries.
The colonies were of distinctive social, religious, political, and economic styles, depending on their region. Of course, at that time, we know Native Americans had long inhabited North America. It’s tough to know exactly, but estimates range from 2.1 million to 18 million Native Americans had occupied what is the present-day United States at the time of colonial expansion. At that same time, those enslaved were being shipped in from Africa by the tens of thousands to slave owners here in the states.
The colonists began to rid Native Americans from their land, forcing them to resettle further and further west or face death. On top of outright committing genocide, colonists also introduced diseases both intentionally and unintentionally that almost wiped out the Native American population completely. By 1800, the Native population had declined to approximately 600,000 people. Now we were all taught that the United States was founded by the pilgrims who were trying to escape religious persecution from England. They came here and started a country that was built on Christian values. But how could Christian values do THIS to an entire group of people? How could Christian values kick Natives out of their land or face death on a Friday, unload a ship full of enslaved men and women from Africa on a Saturday, and have church professing that all men are created equal in God’s eye on a Sunday?
Fast forward with me to the 20th century, which was filled with Jim Crow Laws and an entire Civil Rights Movement. Black and brown people went from being disenfranchised at the beginning of the century to literally many giving up their lives in protest in order to do something as simple as vote and be seen as equal. This is also the time when Christianity saw its biggest surge amongst the U.S. population. By 1990, 85% of American adults identified as Christians. So, where was the disconnect? Could we be an almost completely Christian nation, yet black men and women were crying out for equality in the streets and were met with water cannons and police dogs?
Simply speaking, there has been a fundamental breakdown in the application of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our American culture. Since our country’s foundation, there has been a large portion of our population that has been crying out to be seen as someone who was also “made in the image of God” (Gen 1:26). In the Declaration of Independence, some of the first words read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”. How could you call yourself a Christian and say, on the one hand, that all men are created equal and in the image of God and, on the other hand, rape, enslave, and murder people based on the color of their skin?
We all have mistakes in our past that we would rather not bring up and try to forget. It’s like if enough time passes, we can pretend it never happened and move on from it. Except that’s not how growth happens in a mature person. And that’s not how you make amends for the mistreatment of entire races of people. There first has to be ownership and an acknowledgment of what was done before moving forward with repentance. The Church has never really publicly acknowledged how Christianity was used as a weapon against people to enslave and kill. Once there has been ownership and an apology, then you can move forward with mending the wound.
But what does that look like?
Maybe it looks like having some of the biggest Christian leaders over the decades and centuries(William Seymour, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, etc.) apologize to the public for the atrocities that were carried out by those who called themselves Christians. Letting the public know that the Jesus we read about in the Bible does not always get properly portrayed by those claiming to follow Him.
Churches create multi-week series for a wide range of topics; they could create a series about the history of the Christian Church and its role in racism in America.
Maybe it looks like getting leaders from different communities of people of color and sharing the platform with them to hear the struggles and obstacles they’ve had to overcome simply because of the color of their skin. There are some that are so insulated inside their Christian bubble that they have no idea just how much damage has been done to those who are outside of the Church, all in the name of Jesus.
I don’t have all the answers, so maybe it looks a different way. However, what I do know is this, Christians can no longer try and ignore the massive elephant in the room and act like we didn’t have a part in putting it there.
Christianity has been interwoven in our country’s DNA from the beginning, and so has racism. It’s going to take an intentional effort from those inside the Church to help eradicate this problem and be true representatives of Jesus.
Peace and Love
Mike Creef is a fighter for equality and justice for all. Growing up bi-racial(Jamaican-American) on the east coast allowed him to experience many different cultures and beliefs. His goal in life is to help people realize there is more that unites us than divides us.