I WAS RAISED in an African-American church, but as an adult I discovered Anabaptism. Since then I’ve sought to learn from both the wider black church and Anabaptist traditions, to the point that I now consider myself an “Anablacktivist.”
Two experiences at my undergraduate Christian college helped propel me to see the significance of these two Christian streams. The first time was a chapel service, maybe a year after 9/11. The speaker, the Catholic priest John Dear, challenged us about U.S. violence and militarism—arguing that these weren’t consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus. I leaned forward in agreement, captivated by his message, feeling that it rang true and faithful to Jesus.
Then I noticed some movement in the darkened auditorium. Droves of students disruptively got up from their chairs and headed straight for the exits, in protest of the speaker and his “subversive” message that refused to affirm everything that the U.S. was doing in the world. I found myself deeply troubled by the defensive response of my (mostly white) Christian brothers and sisters to Dear’s thoroughly Jesus-shaped critiques of U.S. empire.
The second time was at a smaller “multicultural chapel service,” with just a few white peers present. The speaker spoke of U.S. history and present reality. He directly named white supremacy, racism as a system, and the experiences of black and brown people in the U.S. Once again I leaned forward, not wanting to miss a phrase. And again I watched many of the white students walk out.
As a follower of Christ, our speaker challenged us to live differently because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Yet something inherent in my peers’ socialization had them clinging more to their white identity than to the Christian challenge. These two chapel experiences helped me contemplate the depth of the church’s troubles in the U.S. and its insubstantial Christian formation.
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