So, I saw this tweet on a friend’s Facebook page:
Now, for those who think that knowing and embracing the ancient African Christian saints would have no meaning in today’s society and cannot possibly help our community, please write an article to prove your point. A couple of Protestant false doctrines have proven to be toxic to the soul of African-Americans. I believe the therapy of wisdom from the early Christian fathers and mothers from Cyrene, Egypt, Ethiopia, Lybia, Palestine, and even Mt. Athos and Valaam can flush out the poisons inside of us.
First of all, I have heard way too many times that, “All you need is Jesus.” Don’t get me wrong, I am a devout follower of God the Son. But too much focus is put on this one person of the Holy Trinity. We are told too often to pray in “Jesus Name” rather than that of the “Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” God is love because He is three persons in relationship with one another. When individual is placed above the relationship, that individualism can overtake one’s conciousness to a point where “I” matter more than those who I should be in relationship with. There is a greater temptation for the individualist to consider others to be of no value than those who see themselves as part of something greater.
If “All you need is Jesus,” why is it that Jesus needed others during His ministry? He needed the pure virgin to give Him birth. He needed the Father to proclaim Him as His pleasing Son and the Holy Spirit to descend upon Him. He needed John to baptize him, disciples to follow Him and 12 to follow Him closely. I dare say, even someone had to betray Him. While Jesus alone trampled down sin and death by His death, His ministry was that of people coming together. Thus, a tax-collector, a radical, four fishermen, and six other dudes needed and valued one another for a greater good. When one was gone from the original 12 Apostles, they elected another to take his place. By their coming together with the other believers, they were blessed to reach out first to the Jews gathered from the rest of the world, then to the non Jews with a doctrine they could share.
So then, here is the first lesson Protestantism gave us that we must disown. We need each other for the greater good of the salvation of our people and the world. If our personal walk with Jesus is not in the context of our love for and relationship with others, our faith can be reduced to a superficial pursuit of earthly possessions and a “Get Out Of Hell Card.”
John Calvin and other Protestant thinkers taught us that we are born sinners and that sin is a part of human nature. Nearly everyone knows that if you tell a child “You ain’t nothing, your parent’s ain’t nothing, your people ain’t nothing;” that child will most likely believe this and act accordingly. So, when old Baptist and other denominational doctrines tell us that “we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good and wholly inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions;” (Philadelphia Baptist Confession of 1742) why wouldn’t one expect people to just give up on trying to live holy and simply live the best they can? Why wouldn’t one expect people to re-interpret scripture to justify their sinful ways? Why wouldn’t one expect people to rebel against such a God that sees that they are completely given to evil and yet are supposed to be made in His image and likeness? It is only natural for people to be confused about such a confusing God.
And how is it that God made us in His image and likeness and we are completely given to evil? Among the hidden Native people of the Amazon rain forest, parents love their offspring. Africa’s non-Christian societies pass wisdom down from one age group to the next on maintaining their animals and building their houses. When St. Herman met the Native Alaskans, he met a people with a social structure and rule of law. So, if all people were born completely given to evil, people should have wiped each other from the face of the earth a long time ago. The fact that people do manage to have well functioning societies without Protestant Christianity proves this doctrine to be a lie. While this doctrine is no longer taught in most Baptist churches, the belief is still among us. “Well, a man is gonna cheat anyway.” “I can’t help that I was born this way.”
Perhaps, the doctrine of being “made opposite to all good” is most evident among African-Americans because of the way we were brought here and who brought us here. The Baptist in London England came up with this doctrine back in 1689. Baptist in America continued this teaching in the Philadelphia Convention in 1742. African slaves were being brought to America up until 1812 and the practice of slavery didn’t end until 1865. So, with the “Curse of Ham” explaining our dark complexion and the “use” of Christianity to make better slaves, it is easy to see how our forefathers developed a spiritual inferiority complex under Protestantism. With the Pope of Rome blessing Portugese and Spanish conquestodores and slave holders, Roman Catholicism was just as bad in teaching the Africans in the new world that, “You ain’t nothing, Your parent’s ain’t nothing, and nothing is all you will be.”
By the grace of God, Black Protestantism kept the heads of our fore parents and parents from sinking in the mire of “nothingness.” This was due largely by the fact that we had to be in community with each other and couldn’t afford individualism. An African-American man driving from Norfolk to Natchez needed to know what restaurants would serve him, where to fuel his car, who had a room to stay in for a night, and what sections of what towns would welcome him. In a world that reduced us to being nobody, everybody was somebody in church. The black doctor and the black janitor served on the same deacon board. The AKA sorority girl and washer woman both made pies for homecoming. Times were still hard in dealing with external racism and some internal class-ism. Yet, the black church was a viable refuge in the land of Jim Crow.
Jim is (for the most part) dead. The only color that really matters in this nation is green. Negro league baseball is in the history books. Interracial couples are commonplace enough that one such offspring serves as the most powerful man in the world. Country music has black artist and white guys who can rap. It wasn’t that long ago in the same year, the top golf player was black and best selling hip-hop artist was white. Color barriers fall on a regular basis. Even the barrier of church attendance as the Southern Baptist Convention has had an African-American president.
Thus, the black church is no longer the refuge that it was during segregation. However, too many African-Americans still have this “nothingness” on them because of the history of slavery and the doctrine of being “made opposite to all good.” The church of our parents and fore parents lacks the answers as it no longer has the exterior pressures of (nearly) universal legalized white supremacy to drive us toward relationship with one another.
Perhaps the greater problem of the black church is that it has no doctrine that it has created on it’s own directly from the sources of the Christian faith. Without such an original doctrine, Christianity can be denounced as a white man’s religion as it still holds the denominational names and ideas of the Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostals, and such. Non-denominational churches can be seen as not much better and perhaps even made up by the founding pastor as a means of personal enrichment. Jesus is still seen firstly in the image of the blonde, blue eyed, pale skinned perpetration. Painting over it with a brown crayon and giving it an “Afro” or dreadlocks is not enough. The Jesus of black Protestantism is nothing more than a reaction to white Protestantism where in the end all humanity is “made opposite of all good.” It is no wonder then that we value men like the 1970’s movie character John Shaft who is “a BAD MOTHER… (shut your mouth)” and good hip-hop music is “dope.” The “All you need is Jesus” concept cannot overcome such negativity as it overlooks the relationship of the Trinity that is the source of all love and encourages love all people. African-American Christians need to follow saints as they have followed Christ! We need a great cloud of witnesses to know and embrace as we deal with our trials and temptations. We need to see ourselves and being among the originators of spiritual doctrine and wisdom on a free and equal basis and not a people who merely gathered up scraps from under “massa’s” table and made something good out of them.
And this is where Orthodoxy, both Eastern and Oriental, trumps anything in black western Christendom. The Coptic and Ethiopian Churches in particular show the black man as among the originators of the Christian faith and has maintained worship as it was back in the days when the Apostles Mark and Matthew evangelized north and east Africa. The bishops and priest trace their ordination back to those who walked with and were taught by Jesus Christ Himself! Despite being predominately eastern European, the Greeks, Russians, Serbs, and others venerate their brown skinned saints as they do the ones that look like themselves. Antiochian, Syriac, and other Orthodox Christians of the Middle East likewise know of and revere the African saints and scholars from Simeon called NIGER in the book of Acts (13:1) who ordained Paul to go on his mission to Europe to the black slave George who was martyred for not praying to Allah in Ottoman dominated Damascus, Syria. Athanasius was the hero of the First Ecumenical Council and composer of the New Testament, Anthony was the father of Christian monasticism, Cyprian kept the Church of Carthage going despite a brutal Roman persecution that took his life, Mary the Egyptian was a sex addict who became the role model of repentance that all Orthodox Christians revere during Great Lent; black people matter in eastern Christianity because black people helped establish it. When a people know that they were instrumental in giving themselves and the world their faith, they are more likely to matter to one another.
Protestantism has taught us not to learn about and embrace our ancient Christian past. while our pastors and preachers talk about “Liberation” there is no liberation if we are still on the planta … I mean denominations that have been established for us and the non-denominations that do not encourage us to learn about our historical place in the faith. If the Black History Month slogan, “If you don’t know your past, you don’t know your future is true,” it is no wonder that our kids and the cops don’t see value.