Roots Covenant Church celebrates that every tribe and every tongue was created to give glory to Jesus (Rev. 7.9). In commemoration of Black History Month, this year, we’re starting before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade to unearth the rich roots of Christianity in Africa, long before the birth of Islam, long before there were so-called “Christian nations” in Europe, and long before the Protestant Reformation.
This past week, I was in Chicago for Midwinter, the national pastor’s conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church, which I like to refer to as sleep-away camp for pastors. This year among the books they gave us was Evangelical Theologies of Liberation and Justice, which I’m excited to read. I was also really proud to see that an entire chapter is devoted to my alma mater, Gordon-Conwell Seminary’s Center for Urban Ministerial Education in Boston.
In seminary I had the privilege of learning from some of the best scholars of Jesus and Justice, like Drs. Eldin Villafañe and Soong-Chan Rah. But I also had the privilege of being classmates with some brilliant scholars like Vince Bantu, a good friend of mine, who after seminary, went on to study Early African Christianities at Catholic University in D.C. The video below is of an answer he gave a conference where he was being asked to comment on Christianity as the “White Man’s Religion”. In this brief clip he’s going to cover a lot of history very quickly. Don’t feel like you have to catch every date or name he gives. Just listen for the overall message of what he’s saying.
Even though listening to Vince talk about early African Christianity is a bit like drinking from a fire hose, I hope you caught a few really important facts. Christianity took root in African long before Islam, long before Western European Colonization, and long, long before anyone ever dreamed of “the United States of America.” Some of the earliest bishops, theologians, and martyrs of the faith were African. And the New Testament itself testifies to the Africans who were witnesses of Jesus or among the first recipients of the Gospel. So, for we who follow the Jesus Way, Black History and Christianity doesn’t start on Plantation in the American Antebellum South—it starts at the very beginning with Diaspora Jews who were present at Pentecost carrying the message back to Africa. It starts with Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the Cross. It starts with the Ethiopian Eunuch and the Apostle Mark preaching in Africa.
Dominique Gilliard is the Director of Racial Righteousness and Reconciliation for the Love Mercy, Do Justice mission priority of the ECC. And he put out this list of recommended resources for Black History Month. I encourage you to avail yourself to these resources.
Your] gospel is for all people.
Yet sometimes we hide the gospel, keeping the good news to ourselves.
Sometimes we proclaim our own version of the story; a version that excludes those who challenge our comfortable understandings; a version that does not remind us of our complicity with forms of human oppression.
Forgive us, God, when we change history to feed our egos.
Forgive us, God, when we celebrate an end result, without remembering the long and difficult journey.
Forgive us, God.
(Alydia Smith, from “God’s Glory Cannot Be Hidden,” a Black History Month worship service)