Recently, a video of War Room actress Priscilla Shirer resurfaced on Facebook and ruffled as many feathers in the African-American community as it garnered support in the body of christ. In the video, Shirer declares, “I do not describe myself as a black woman because that gives too much power to my blackness. I don’t want black, my race, to be the describing adjective, the describing adjective, the defining adjective of who I am as a woman. I am not a black woman. I am a Christian woman who happens to be black.”
Chuck Bernal, a white evangelical Christian and founder and pastor of LifePointe Church in Crowley, Texas, posted the video and it quickly made its rounds. Once again, a white evangelical Christian was using statements by a black evangelical Christian to support the argument that race should always take a back seat to Christianity. Shirer wants us to understand that we belong to the family of God and we should not let worldly categorizations divide us — there’s some truth in that. But I cannot subscribe to the belief that my blackness is at odds with my belief in Christ. Turning my life over to Jesus Christ does not mean that anything pertaining to race becomes obsolete.
Shirer’s comments and white evangelicals’ use of her statements are problematic because this way of thinking has been used against African-American Christians for years to prevent us from seeking justice and equality. It’s also used to neutralize our message that our lives matter too. White evangelicals use this way of thinking to deter people of color from protesting and challenging the political status quo. It’s a lazy attempt to avoid issues of race. Many pastors and church leaders don’t want to discuss race and how it affects their churches and denominations, especially during such a heated political climate. It seems that mainline churches would like people of color in their congregations to shut up about race and assimilate into their church culture masked as kingdom identity.
As an African-American (or black,) Christian minister, it is my race and social location that open my eyes to injustice and the dishonest scales in my community, this nation, and the world. My race equips me for kingdom ministry because my experiences are like many others. I am not blind to the injustices many people of color face in this country, unlike many white evangelicals who, no matter how many studies, statistics and videos circulate on social media, do not believe that racism is an issue in 2018. If African-American Christians should not allow race to define them, then who will speak up when African-American communities are overlooked, shut out and oppressed by the very policies and practices our white brothers and sisters implement, support, and applaud?
This way of thinking by white evangelicals comes from scriptures like Galatians 3:28 (NIV), “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” and John 4:24 (NIV), “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
But the Contemporary English Version of Galatians 3:26-28 says, “All of you are God’s children because of your faith in Christ Jesus. And when you were baptized, it was as though you had put on Christ in the same way you put on new clothes. Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” This version speaks more to our equality in the kingdom of God as believers in Jesus Christ and doesn’t leave room for the misreading that social status is no longer relevant once you become a believer.
In the book of Revelation, John’s vision identified the many nations and tribes that God created — race was a factor.
“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands” Revelation 7:9 (NIV).
There is also a heavy African presence in the Bible which many do not know. This inspires me to let other people of color know they, too, can be grafted into the family of faith, and not because they were cursed like Ham, which is a theological misconception, but because they believe in Christ. My blackness compels me to make disciples of all nations letting them know they are God’s beloved creation too no matter what society tells them. No misguided theology can convince me to do otherwise.