The ‘good news’ of Jesus is one that embraces all cultures and ethnicities. Sadly, however, Christianity as a religion has been used to harm people of color to the point that some are now looking at dismissing the Faith as simply a ‘white man’s religion.’ It is against this false narrative of Christianity being a European invention that my friend Ramon Mayo wrote his book Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth of the White Man’s Religion.
Written in a conversation tone, Ramon does a phenomenal job at tracing the roots of Christianity from its Middle Eastern beginnings to growing up within North Africa. As Ramon so eloquently writes:
“The Christian faith was blossoming and flourishing in African and Asian soil way before Islam overpowered Egypt and the rest of North Africa. The major doctrines of the faith were hammered out in Alexandria and Antioch before the tribes of Europe wholeheartedly embraced them. To believe Christianity is the white man’s religion is to ignore the truth of its origins.”
And in learning the truth, we shall be set free as Jesus of Nazareth once said (Jn 8:32). How so? Well, in dismantling the colonial whitewashing of Christianity we do two things:
We allow those of us who are of a white-European heritage to embrace the multi-cultural multi-ethnicity nature of the Faith, which, in turn, will take us deeper into the love of the Creator which is poured out for all of creation (human and non-human).
We open the door for those of us who are Indigenous and people of color (IPOC) so that we can embrace Jesus of Nazareth while remaining true to who we are within our own ethnicity and culture.
If I may return to Ramon once again as he summarizes things beautifully:
“There are enormous benefits to following Jesus, and it’s credible regardless of the baggage you get with it. But if you can drop the baggage then it makes it more bearable. Then you don’t have to defend something that doesn’t need defending or make apologies for it. The unnecessary baggage is what gets ridiculed and insulted by well-meaning atheists and armchair philosophers. Only a bigot full of hatred wants to be a part of a belief system put in place to help one group oppress another group.
“There’s a certain cognitive dissonance when it comes to Christianity if you are a person of color. Christianity came along on the boat as a tool and goal for colonization. Who would want to be a part of something used for that agenda? And this is where you get the talk about how the Black man’s original religion was taken from him. This is where you get the talk about how Christianity was used to justify slavery and keep slaves in line.
“This is not the Christianity I’ve outlined and explored in this book. And this is why this book had to be written. For the first thousand years, Christianity was a global religion. It stretched from China all the way to the western coasts of Spain. It was not just the property of Europe. It navigated its way to Nubia and modern-day Afghanistan. It was as much at home on the coasts of India as the coasts of Greece.”
Wow! What a powerful statement full of life and truth! I highly recommend and endorse Ramon Mayo’s book Reclaiming Diversity. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy. =)
One of the best classes I took during my undergrad years was a class on the history of Christian in Africa taught by Jonathan Hildebrandt (who also wrote a book on the subject). The best part was that the class didn’t start in the modern era, where a lot of folks and books start, but in the first-century with the Twelve Apostles and those who followed in their footsteps. While the full history is too long to trace here, it is noteworthy to mention that the Gospel of the Kingdom spread throughout Africa very early on – there were even large nations deep within Africa continent who declared Christian as the national religion long before the Roman Empire did so. (Makuria is one such nation which has recently come into the news due to a recently discovered burial crypt.)
Below is a video that highlights an aspect of Christian in Ethiopia, one of the very, very few African nations to successfully resist European colonialism. However before you watch the video, here are some cool tit bits about the history of Christian in Africa. I would also recommend reading Ramon Mayo’s blog series on “Christianity is Not the White Man’s Religion” where he not only explores the spread of Christian into Africa, Syria and other non-European areas. (Part 1, 2, 3,4,5, and 6)
Acts 8 tells the famous story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. What folks may not know is that this Eunuch went back to Ethiopia and started telling everyone there about Jesus – effectively making him the first missionary to cross international boundaries.
“This man (Simeon Bachos the Eunuch) was also sent into the regions of Ethiopia, to preach what he had himself believed, that there was one God preached by the prophets, but that the Son of this (God) had already made (His) appearance in human flesh, and had been led as a sheep to the slaughter; and all the other statements which the prophets made regarding Him.” – St. Irenaeus of Lyons in his book Against the Heresies (180 AD).
One of the leaders of the church at Antioch who sent out Barnabas and Paul was a gentlemen named Simeon who was called Niger (Acts 13:1). The word “Niger” means black and was used in first century to identity those of dark complexion and/or African descent. This means, then, that one of the leaders of the most successful churches in history was a African.
Church tradition states that at least two of the Twelve Apostles traveled and preached in Africa: Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Tax Collection (who also wrote the Book of Matthew in the Bible). Simon was said to have traveled throughout northern back of Africa before going to Britain. Matthew, on the other hand, went through Egypt to Ethiopia – possibly to visit Simeon Bachos the Eunuch?
John Mark, the author of the Book of Mark in the Bible and a traveling companion of St. Paul, is credited with starting the church in Alexandria, Egypt, in 42 A.D. This church went on to become one of the most powerful churches in the Roman Empire. Eventually this church would become what is now known as the Coptic Orthodox Church.
The first Christian university was founded in Alexandria, Egypt, by either John Mark or one of his successors, it is not known for sure. What is known is that Athenagoras is recorded as the dean of the Catechetical School of Alexandria in 176 A.D. Later on the school would launch the career of Origen (185-254 AD), who is considered by many as the Father of Theology.
Another famous Christian theologian is St. Augustine (354-430 AD). While folks today quote his books and writings, what they probably don’t know is that Augustine was a Berber African. The Berber people were (and are) an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. In other words, St. Augustine was a dark skinned African who lived, worked, and died in present-day Algeria long before white man of Europe even heard about Jesus.
I could go on, but I’m out of time… it is enough to say that Christian was not, and has never been, a white-man’s religion (Jesus, after all, was a Jewish Middle-Eastern man!). As St. John wrote in Revelation 7:9, people of “every nation and all tribes” will and are worshiping the Creator of Heaven and Earth.
If you all remember, last week on Martin Luther King Jr Day we had a special guest blogger, Ramon Mayo, who was getting ready to publish ebook devotional focusing on unique figures in African American history.
“His Story, Our Story” is a 31 day Black History devotional. It is a collection of biographical sketches on great figures in African American history along with devotional thoughts, discussion questions and prayers on themes from the Bible. It connects the journey of African Americans with the God who sustained and liberated them. Containing biographical information on a variety of different characters in Black History, His Story Our Story uses the heritage of African Americans to help you go forward in your spiritual journey.
We have a special guest blogger today in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. Ramon Mayo is a follower of Jesus who has walked various paths in this life including a season as the pastor of Vineyard Xtreme Church in Lomita, California. Currently he is on a path as an author, speaker and blogger who is releasing an ebook devotional at the end of this month focusing on unique figures in black history and how we can learn about God through their lives. The title of the book is “His Story, Our Story” and can be found on Amazon starting January 31st.
What does Martin Luther King Jr. have to do with the Vineyard? What does a black preacher from the 20th century have to say to a mostly all white movement in the 21st century? Some may think Dr. King was only about racial equality but King was about justice for all and his convictions were rooted deep in theology. Contrary to popular belief in King as a racial tolerance mascot, King was a rebel after the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth who challenged the injustice of the day with countercultural principles. Yes there is a whole other side to King. There is the MLK jr who stood as a prophetic witness to the powers that Martin Luther King Jr. was not just for blacks or racial equality. His life and message are a model to follow and a mirror to hold up in the area of justice and reconciliation.
King and his message of reconciliation fit right into the Vineyard value of reconciling community. His message of reconciliation was shaped by Christ and the gospel. So much of what passes for good race relations is just marshmallow tolerance with no substance behind it. King’s dream and Jesus’ kingdom included all God’s children because we are all made in the image of God
King and his message fit right into the Vineyard value of compassionate ministry. King was not just about securing justice for his own people. King believed in the Beloved Community where the “least of these” were shown compassion. It wasn’t a matter of political power or fame but a hunger and desire to advocate for the poor and needy starting with his own people but extending out into all the world.
King took his marching orders from Jesus. Wimber’s famous saying “we have no ministry but the ministry of Jesus” could have described King’s prophetic witness and work to secure justice for the abandoned and the hurting. It was the prophetic call to the last and the least that rang in King’s ears when he marched on Washington. It was that same call that caused him to cry out against the war in Vietnam. This same cry called him to Memphis to organize the sanitation worker’s strike where he was eventually gunned down. He followed Jesus all the way to his death.
John Wimber said that “the meat was in the street” meaning that our maturity was based on not just knowing the bible intellectually but putting it into action. King also believed “the meat was in the street.” He didn’t just talk love your enemies. He lived it. King was not just a grandstanding talking head. He actually participated with the people during boycotts, marches, and protests. The proof of his direct involvement in putting his words into action is the fact that he was jailed and eventually he was killed for working to organize people for justice.
What will we do in the Vineyard to keep Kings dream alive? You may say that King’s dream was fulfilled. There is no more segregation. People have equal rights. If you believe King’s dream was fulfilled then you really never understood his dream and you probably don’t really understand the Kingdom of God. It’s not just about our legal rights under the law. It’s about grace and justice and the hope of Israel. It’s about Jesus and his vision for a new humanity. And that is a vision that the Vineyard can get behind.