I was a much better Christian before 2016. I was a student of theology, an impassioned preacher and music leader, and an avid churchgoer. That was until I found out that the Christianity I grew up in might actually be for white people.
This rude awakening began just after the lynching of Philando Castile that summer. I knew that what happened to Mr. Castile, that he was shot four times in front of his family by a local police officer, happens more often to black people. So I began to go live everyday on Facebook to share my personal experiences of racism, and to explain from the Christian scriptures why Jesus-followers have a moral obligation to stand against white supremacy.
What I found threw me into a religious crisis, the likes of which I’ve yet to fully recover from. I found that many white evangelicals describe a god that doesn’t care about the social misery of black people, a god that doesn’t hold white people accountable for their complicity in racist systems, and a god that doesn’t demand people take responsibility for the antiblack violence that pervades their societies and remedy it.
With the above considered, it’s no wonder that white evangelical churches have generated no meaningful response to the racial crisis that continues to claim the lives of Black people in America. It would be against their religion to do so. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to white Christians tell you about their religion in their own words.
Their god doesn’t care about the social misery of black people.
Shortly after I began speaking up about racism, I got a message from a former college classmate who is now pastoring a church in small-town Florida:
He and I spoke after he sent that message. He looked me in the eyes and said that “racism is not a priority to God.”
At that time, I still felt drawn to full-time ministry and was interviewing for a position at one of America’s largest churches. When the interviewers heard that I had been lugging a stone around Los Angeles in protest of racism, they obsessed about it.
They wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t talk about racism “while I’m at work,” because they wanted “to keep the main thing the main thing.” As we continued to talk, one of the interviewers spoke plainly: “Look, Andre. We’re a large church and the way we stay large is by avoiding conversations that make people uncomfortable.” Apparently the “main thing” is white comfort.
Their god doesn’t doesn’t hold white people accountable for white supremacy.
A former classmate reached out to me a while back, upset because he felt like I’m grouping all white people together. I asked him “if you inherited a house, and later found out that your great-grandfather cheated a family out of the land it was built on, and the displaced family has lived in poverty ever since, would you feel any responsibility to them?” “No,” he said.
It was in that moment that I realized that many white Christians feel no responsibility toward their non-white neighbors. Many love to quote Ezekiel 18:20 to me—“The child will not share the guilt of the parent…”—to wash their hands of the sins of their ancestors. But they don’t care to know how they’re continuing to maintain, defend, and benefit from the oppressive structures their ancestors built.
Their god doesn’t demand that people confront injustice.
In the year that I kept talking with white evangelical pastors, one minister wrote to me:
“While Jesus was on earth he let John the Baptist be beheaded. No delivery for him. Just his decapitated head on a platter to satisfy a woman’s whim. Jesus said when a Roman soldier forces you to carry his gear one mile you go two. Wants your shirt? Give him your coat. Hits you in the face. Give them the other side. He didn’t say rebel against your enemies, he said pray for them. Jesus’s disciples didn’t lead rebellions against Rome, they preached repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. And were oppressed all the way, until they were murdered. That’s the good news…I just don’t see where the Bible promises liberty on this side of eternity.”
I told this pastor that his good news was pretty bad. His response? "If heaven is not good news enough, then I don’t know what is.”
The fact that America is only a racially integrated society because of the direct action of thousands of Black Christians seems to be lost on these people. I always wonder, how do they think that Jim Crow segregation in America ended?
I don’t know their god.
For every story I’ve recounted here, there are dozens more I don’t have room to share.
Since so many white Christians were jumping down my throat for saying that God does care about the social misery of black people, that all white people are complicit in systemic racism, and that Christian worship lacks integrity when Christians won’t organize for justice, I found myself considering that perhaps my opposers were right. Perhaps God is who they say and perhaps Christianity is their thing.
That thought paralyzed me. If Christianity really was a tool invented by white folks to secure their position in an oppressive social structure, then there was no way I was going to church, even if I was supposed to be leading that day.
Just then, the Exodus story began to race through my head. I remembered that God cared about the social misery of the Hebrews in that story, considered the Egyptians in that story responsible for the Hebrew’s social misery, and did something to intervene. And it couldn’t be clearer to me that the One I call “God” is apparently not the same Being that white evangelicals worship. Their God is white. I pulled out my phone and began to type:
If your "gospel" does not counter the visions of modern-day Pharoahs and Caesars, if it paints no damning portraits (even subtly) of oppressive political systems, if it is unconcerned with the welfare of the marginalized and underprivileged within the bookends of human history, then it is no good news to me. If your God is apathetic about violence against human bodies, and cares not for the groanings of the poor, if your God is dead to the cries of the needy and oppressed, then I do not know your God, and I'd like to keep it that way.
I’ve been talking about God like that and not been a member of a predominantly white church ever since. And, of course, there is still no shortage of white Christian men trying to impose their white doctrines of apathy, irresponsibility, inaction onto me—only confirming that worshipping alongside them is untenable for black folks that care about racial justice.
They can spend their Sundays worshipping white America if they want to. I’m going to brunch, playing this song as I go: