Black Religion Issues | Christianity as we speak

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IIn the Gospel of Matthew you will find the story of a woman who crashes a dinner party. By calling her a Canaanite (15:22), Matthew connects her with the promiscuous and pernicious heathen of the Promised Land that God has commanded Israel to wipe out for idolatry. You can read about it in Deuteronomy 20. The name Canaan belonged to the son of Ham, Noah's youngest, whose dirty story you can read in Genesis 9. The following "curse of Ham" forms the background for the Deuteronomy edict, but later centuries the narrative was used as a divine warrant for the enslavement of generations of dark-skinned Africans who arbitrarily designated Ham & # 39; s descendants. In the eyes of most slave traders and missionaries, Africans were uncivilized Canaanites, dogs that had earned no mercy even from God. Little effort was made in the United States to convert slaves to Christianity until the 18th century, and only when it was guaranteed that baptism would not change its status as "property".

In context, it's hard to read Matthew's label of this party crasher and hear no shrill racist overtones – nobody in the New Testament is ever called a Canaanite dog. That it comes from the mouth of Jesus will prove to be poetic and powerfully ironic, but not without disturbing our sensitivity beforehand. Jesus recognizes a stereotype that categorized the woman with the worst outsiders, a goddamn enemy of Israel, who was colored by her and had no hope that anyone could see her character. The ethicist Stacey Floyd-Thomas once preached how "black life matter" can be as old as this encounter, although here the black life of women plays no role for everyone except Jesus. And yet it remains fearless and relentless. "Your black life may not matter, but your black belief does."

The African American faith was forged in the melting pot of slavery. Slave-holding Christians exterminated a Bible that they had chained to a culture that viciously defended the abuse of those who were judged to be barely human. You would abuse passages like this from 1 Peter: "Slaves submit to their masters in awe of God, not only those who are good and considerate, but also those who are hard" (2:18).

The same Bible that was used by people to enslave black lives also liberated black belief.

The same Bible that was used by people to enslave black lives also liberated black belief. 1 Peter continues: “It is commendable that someone endures the pain of unjust suffering because he is aware of God. … If you suffer for doing good and bear it, it is commendable before God ”(2: 19-20). Slaves heard of a God who is Lord of the Oppressed, Jesus, dark-skinned and poor, who was born to an illegitimate teenager, was wrongly arrested by a state-sanctioned mob and hung on a tree; but then rightly raised from the dead and victoriously confirmed, all for the glory of God. The terror of the cross bears its strange fruit in a wondrous and inexplicable ability to rise above hatred, prejudice, injustice and evil with true love, pure grace and genuine joy. Black Christians suffer and say Sunday is coming. They hold out and give praise. Christ died and we thank the Lord for it and call it good news. This is the enduring mystery of the gospel and the heartbeat of black belief.

We read about George Floyd's beliefs at work to help young people in difficulty with the Cuney Homes housing project in Houston. I live in Minneapolis, where George Floyd moved for a better job, sometimes had problems, and died on the street under the brutal cop's knee. Last week I stood with other clergymen, black and white, at the site of Floyd's death and listened to black preachers praying for peace and mercy, justice and reconciliation.

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Seeing the power of black belief means wondering about its collective capacity for indulgence. David Remnick put it this way: "The litany of his great leaders – including Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Howard Thurman and Fannie Lou Hamer – is for the anonymous millions who came across the noose, the whip, far superior to the cattle push, the fighting dog, the laws of Jim Crow and answered everything. “With clear eyes on their oppressors, they mostly did not respond to the understandable urge for revenge, but with a greater determination to trust the Lord, to do justice, and to show mercy.

In Matthew's Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to send this crazy woman away. She is a dog that never stops barking. But she stays and holds out, fearless and relentless. Her black life may not matter, but her black belief does. She pushes past barriers for the sake of her sick daughter, who wants to cure her. She falls to her knees and calls Jesus Lord and cries for help. Jesus sets them up by evoking the proverbial prejudice of his time: "It is not right to take children's bread and throw it to dogs." The woman willingly replies: “Yes, sir. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table. "Jesus shouts with a glimmer in the eye, mercy in the head and joy in the heart:" Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted! "The table was turned and her daughter was healed at that moment. (Matt. 15: 26-28).

Howard Thurman once prayed, "Keep the moments of my high determination, sir, fresh before me, that in good weather or bad weather, in good times or storms, in the days when darkness and the enemy are nameless or familiar , don't forget what my life is committed to. “Black belief is important.

Picture: Jon Gut

Me at a clergy march in Minneapolis

Here in deeply divided Minneapolis – where George Floyd wrongly joined the dead brotherhood of Jamal Clark, Philando Castile and many others – the protests became peaceful after nights of fiery upheaval. The black faith perseveres, fearless and adamant, marches and prays for justice and reconciliation. There is so much work. Holding up a Bible won't do it. We have to open it and read it and do what it says. "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and follow it" (Luke 11:28).

Daniel Harrell is Christianity today Editor-in-chief.

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