It’s Not The White Man’s Religion

As the street corner evangelism team and I served water ice to the community on a hot day, a gentleman kindly approached me and shook my hand.

After introducing myself and handing him a connect (information) card, the conversation took an unexpected turn as his friendly demeanor became contentious.

He crept into my personal space and angrily poked me in the chest with his index finger yelling, “See, this is why I hate you stupid, black preachers! Don’t you know that Christianity is the white man’s religion? It’s a means of manipulation!” he said irritably, as he took another sip of his melted water ice.

“You need to educate yourself, brother!”

You Got It All Wrong!

This was a typical Camden exchange – minus the finger poking – and all I could do was sigh. Here we go again, I thought, another black nationalistic, Afro-centric brother who misunderstands the origins of Christianity and has been spoon-feeding misinformation to the community.

When ministering in the inner city context you’ll quickly realize that one of the biggest hindrances to African-American men coming to faith is the lie that Christianity is a white man’s religion.

You’ve probably heard the rhetoric: blacks only became Christians through the violent coercion of their masters who used the religion as a means of control.

Sadly, many of my brothers and sisters have rejected the Gospel on this basis alone.

Maybe you’ve dealt with this objection in your context and need some help dismantling the lie.

If so, here are 4 reasons why Christianity isn’t the white man’s religion:

1) Africans Have a Prominent Presence In The Biblical Narrative

As an inquisitive bible student, I often wondered about the role my ancestors played in biblical history. Unsurprisingly, many of my brothers and sisters are asking similar questions.

Because of the absence of modern ethnic distinctions like “black” or “negro,” some would be surprised to know that African nations are mentioned more than 1,000 times in the Old Testament.[1]

The Scriptures are chalked full of African people groups, such as the Cushites, Canaanites, Egyptians & Ethiopians, and their prominent presence is clearly displayed in the lives of the Hebrew patriarchs who married and bore children with women of African descent.

  • Abraham had a child with the Egyptian Hagar (Gen. 16:15)
  • Moses married a Cushite (Ethiopian) woman (Numbers 12:1),
  • Joseph’s wife was of African descent and the couple’s two sons (Ephraim & Manasseh) became patriarchs of two tribes of Israel (Genesis 41:51-52).

Consequently, people from the continent of Africa were exposed to the God of the Scriptures from the time of Jacob.

After the enslavement and miraculous freedom of God’s people during the exodus, the Egyptians were eyewitnesses that the God of the Hebrews was unlike any of their deities.

Africans came in contact with God again in a powerful way when he indwelt the person of Jesus and his family sought refuge in Egypt to avoid persecution (Mathew 2:13), and some 30 years later, as our bludgeoned Savior carried the cross to Calvary’s hill, it was again an African, Simon of Cyrene, who helped him complete His journey (Luke 23:26). [2]

2) The Gospel Made Inroads Into Africa Months, Not Centuries, After Jesus’ Ascension.

After the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Peter stepped to the microphone on the Day of Pentecost to preach and 3,000 people came to faith.

Among the converts were a handful of men from the African lands of Libya and Egypt who returned to their native country and spread the Gospel (Acts 2:10).

When Phillip preached the Gospel to the Ethiopian Eunuch, a high-ranking member of the court of the Queen of Ethiopia, it took even deeper root and spread into Africa before Paul’s first missionary journey to Europe (Acts 8:26-40).

So just months after Jesus’ resurrection, the Gospel was making inroads into the continent of Africa.

He also used two men, Lucious of Cyrene and Simeon, who was called Niger, a Latin term used for “the Black Man,” to commission Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey (Acts 13:1).

3) Christianity Is An Indigenous, Traditional African Religion.

Some 1600 years before Africans were enslaved and indoctrinated with a perverse version of Christianity in America, people from African were submitting their lives to Jesus as the Gospel made its way to the rich continent.

So, it can be rightly stated, because the religion has flourished in the continent for millennia, that Christianity is an “indigenous African Religion.”[3]

Some may object to this claim, but if Christianity isn’t indigenous, neither is the 17th-century arrival of Arabic cultures to Africa.

Neither can Islam, which arrived in the 7th Century, be considered an indigenous religion.

As the Yale-educated Dr. Thomas Oden points out, Christianity has outlasted the Pharaonic religion, is older than Islam, and should rightfully considered a traditional African Religion.[4]

4) Pivotal Theological Achievements Occurred in Africa First, Not Europe.

During the first few centuries of the church, it was Africa, not Europe, which produced some of the most influential Christian scholars, with the vast majority of the intellectual and theological achievements coming from the shores of North Africa.

African pastors and theologians like Lactantius, Plotinus, and Tertullian were highly sought after for their doctrine, and they instructed the very best of Syriac, Cappadocian, and Greco-Roman teachers.[5]

Theologians like Tertullian, who was born in Tunisia, contributed to Western Tradition by defending the faith against detractors and coined the term trinitas to describe the Godhead.

The Egyptian-born Origen was the first theologian to organize Christian doctrine in a systematic manner and heavily influenced the church through his hermeneutics.

Athanasius of Alexandria rigorously defended the deity & humanity of Christ and sharply opposed Arius.  He coined the term homoousias, which describes Jesus as the same substance of God the Father.

Augustine, the preeminent North African church father, is one of Christianity’s most notable and beloved theologians.

He singlehandedly shaped Christian thought throughout the Middle Ages, and his insightful contributions can be felt until this today.

The Takeaway

This is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment. Suffices to say, Christianity is not the “white man’s religion.”Christianity breaks the barriers of race and cannot be ethnically or culturally trademarked.

The first time that blacks heard the liberating Gospel of Jesus was not on the plantations of southern states but as free men and women on the vast, expansive continent of Africa.

Let’s bury this lie under the rich soil of truth.

Grace and peace!

 

Ernest Cleo Grant, II

Ernest Cleo Grant, II (@ernestcleogrant) is the Lead Pastor of Epiphany Fellowship Church of Camden, a graduate of Reformed Seminary (D.C.), and is currently completing his Doctorate of Education from Stockton University. He and his wife Sarah have been married for almost a decade and have two children( Amaela and Chancellor). He's an avid reader, a community advocate, and has bylines in The Witness, Christianity Today, The Star-Ledger, Desiring God, and other publications

18 comments

  • Absolutely amazing research brethren as a former 5 percenters we coin that phrase of Christianity being a white mans religion hopefully this article will help combat and dispelled such notions.

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  • Thank you for sharing this educational insight as to the rich cultural influences of the early African forefathers upon whose teachings true Christianity was founded. You answered many questions I had previously set aside due to the lies perpetuated by the falsehoods regarding the first exposure to the gospel was forced upon the slaves by the southern plantation owners. I have always consider that those among the Black community to have a far richer connection as well as a truer understanding of Christianity than many who arrogantly portray Christ as White rather than Middle Eastern in His appearance. Blessings to you and yours with Shalom, Susan Anderson

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  • 2 months ago i spoke to one of my brothers about this topic and i said i hope somebody would be able to put together a blogpost or resources to break the myth of a white man’s religion. God bless you do you have any books to recommend which will help with further study?

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  • Amen Pastor G, we deal with the same fouls notion even here in South Africa. we will keep on keeping on without loosing heart by God’s grace. in sharing the Biblical through about these matters. Soli deo gloria

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  • Great word brother. The gospel is for all people, all people of color and all people without color! And that’s why Paul wasn’t ashamed to preach the gospel to everyone, everywhere, in every circumstance (cf. Romans 1:13-17).

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  • Thanks for this excellent blog post. Can you recommend any good resources about Christianity among slaves in the U.S (which might dispel this notion) since I believe it’s what happened during that period which gives the “white man’s religion” notion it’s clout?

    Liked by 1 person

  • Brother Grant, this will be used as an excellent utility to combat the frighteningly errant perception that so many of my Black Consciousness brothers espouse with such fervor, especially Umar Johnson. “My people perish from lack of knowledge’ and an unwillingness to do more than listen to rhetoric and YouTube videos that promulgate unsubstantiated claims. Continued blessings in your pursuit of being a difference!

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  • Thank for bringing clarity in this matter. The Nation of Islam is known to for this saying that it’s the white man religion.

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  • Awesome post! Thanks for the confirmation, and information that’s VITALLY needed in the “hood”! GOD bless you bro’, be encouraged! Much love.

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