So, it happened again. An unarmed black teenaged male was killed by a white cop. The response was our usual predictable outcry, “No Justice, No Peace.” Unlike the previous incident in Sanford FL (in which the white community watch volunteer provoked a black teen to fight before killing him and was acquitted of the crime), the recent events were marred by violent confrontations between a handful of demonstrators and police. Some businesses were looted and private property destroyed. Did the policeman act in self defense, or did the victim have his hands up and demand that he not be shot? That is for a judge and jury to tell, of which I am neither. But, pondering the works of one of our most venerated African-American heroes and the universal faith of Orthodox Christianity, I can’t help but wonder if we should respond to violent and non-violent racism in a different way.
A great read
In 1964, Malcolm X did the unexpected. He took the pilgrimage to Mecca and completely forsook the reactionary racist doctrine of America’s Nation of Islam. He saw the universal brotherhood of Orthodox Islam and concluded that if the United States had a similar religious perspective that the problem of racism could be solved. After speaking with an American ambassador to an African nation, he also concluded that it was our nation’s atmosphere nourishes the racist psychology of white people (see “The Autobiography of Malcolm X, chapter 19, pgs 370 & 371).
While I reject Islam as the solution, I do agree with his conclusion of the problem of racism in our nation. We have been fighting for our rights in this nation since we were brought to Jamestown as indentured servants in 1619. While we are no longer under the yokes of slavery or Jim Crow, the mentality of white supremacy has not been completely defeated. In some cases, Satan has morphed this evil to be more subtle to hide behind the mask of economics, lifestyle, politics, and religion. In other cases, he has caused people to simply ignore the importance of improving race relations.
But, here is the problem. While Satan has used new methods to maintain the same atmosphere, we fail to fight the atmosphere. At best, we have non-violent marches, petition drives, and rallies to draw attention to one incident or another. We elect public officials hoping they will make great changes on our behalf. Sadly, a handful of us will respond to racism with violence. Sadder still, too many of us play into current apolitical and unreligious “hood rat” and “thug” images that only serves to maintain racism as many blacks are as annoyed by them as whites (listen to Chris Rock’s “Black People vs. Niggers” on the Bring the Pain release). Carrying signs and shouting “Fired Up! Ain’t Taking No More” only works on obvious flare-ups. It does not address the underlying spiritual sickness of white supremacy. In fact, as long as we fail to attack the spiritual sickness we make ourselves just as, if not more sick than white racist. The more we see that our non-violent efforts produce limited success or fail time and time again, the more likely we will use violence against our oppressors and ourselves.
A Nativity Icon from the Coptic Orthodox Church
Strangely enough, Malcolm X gives a hint to what I believe to be the solution to America’s racist atmosphere. In chapter 19 of his Autobiography, he mentions the Desert Fathers as the founders of Christianity (pg 368) and names St. Augustine as a savior of Catholicism (pgs 369 & 370). The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (the Orthodox Church) was the beacon of the human brotherhood that Malcolm had in mind after his Hajj pilgrimage. Not only Augustine, but Athanasius the Great, Cyril of Alexandria, and other African saints preserved true doctrine from heretics and were and are honored by Orthodox Christians of all races all over the world. While ethnocentrism is a problem among several congregations, Orthodoxy has never considered one race greater than the other.
The Bishop of Rome and the kings of western Europe grew in power and wealth above their eastern Christian kin and declared themselves as the superiors of the faith. The magisterial and radical reformations produced even more superiority complexes causing years of inquisitions, persecutions, and wars from Spain to Poland. America was founded people who were guided by these perceptions of Christianity and Biblical interpretations. They felt no need to study and adhere to the doctrines the apostles handed down to the African, European, and Middle Eastern saints and scholars. And when these colonists came across illiterate brown skinned people, the whites considered themselves to be superior as they had the weapons and wealth. This is the atmosphere we have in the United States.
As long as African-Americans consider western forms of Christianity to be a beacon of hope, we are only going to chase our tails in the fight against racism with even non-violent protest. Western Christendom with its power and wealth created the atmosphere of white supremacy which teaches us that our African Christian heritage (and those of eastern European and Middle Eastern Christians) is unimportant. Oh, we can talk about the African Methodist Church as the first black denomination. But, it was founded by blacks who were fed up with being segregated by whites in the Methodist Episcopal Church. We can talk about how Martin Luther King, Jr. was a great Black Baptist preacher. But, when did any black Baptist convention establish its doctrine from the black saints rather than the white slave masters? COGIC and other black Pentecostals do not offer a solution to America’s racial problem as well. The Azuza Street “outpouring of the Holy Spirit” happened after a similar all-white event happened in Topeka Kansas. If either of these were a true outpouring of the Holy Spirit, why did they not bring English speaking American black and white Christians together in one church the same way that Pentecost in Acts 2 bring together believers from all over the known world when the Apostles spoke in many different languages? Non-denominationalist are equally as delusional as they use an Old Testament that was compiled by Medieval Jews who sought to discredit Christ rather than the Septuagint (Greek language) Old Testament that the Apostles used and was compiled in Egypt 250 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. The oldest Hebrew scriptures, the Dead Sea Scrolls match the Septuagint (the Orthodox Old Testament is based on this version), and differ from the western Christian version in the same ways the Septuagint does.
Fr. Raphael Morgan was ahead of his time
Rather than chasing our tails protesting in the circles of a western Christian atmosphere, I propose African-Americans walk (if not run) toward Orthodox Christianity. Those who feel uncomfortable or unwelcomed in a predominately white eastern jurisdiction, such as the Greeks, Russians, or the Middle Eastern Antiochians should find Coptic or Ethiopian congregations as these churches are undeniably African. We shouldn’t do this with any illusions that everyone who practices the ancient faith is perfect. But, we should understand that this church was not founded on the streets of Ferguson or on a rock in the Plymouth Colony. This is the church that came to Africa by Mark and Matthew at the same time and with the same spirit Andrew and Paul brought it to Europe, as Thomas took it to India, and James held things down in Jerusalem. This is the church that put the both testaments of the Bible together with the New Testament being canonized in 4th century Carthage. This is the church where anti colonial freedom movements in Cyprus and Kenya found common ground against the imperial western Christian Britain. This is the church of Africa’s last Emperor of the line of King Solomon and Jamaica’s most heralded musical son. This is the church that began on the day of Pentecost with God fearing men from all nations who came to Jerusalem to worship.
Western Christendom cannot bring about racial harmony. Roman Catholicism has known about the African saints for quite some time. Yet, they have not shared this knowledge with us. Mainline and Evangelical Protestantism has given us the bizarre “Great Apostasy” theory that the true church disappeared after the death of John the Evangelist (or the rule of Emperor Constantine) and they “discovered” it as they cut their ties with papal authority. Thus, such denominations ignore the importance of even European saints, much more the holy men and women of other lands. Non-denominational churches are no different than the denominational ones they broke away from.
It is time for us all to come home.
The Orthodox Church has never been perfect when it comes to racism in America (oh, that I wish it was). But, the Church is rooted in the universal brotherhood of all who believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and live by the doctrines and traditions handed down by Jesus and the Apostles. The Church acknowledges saints from all cultures and races and allows its members to learn more about how they walked with the Lord. There is no point in running around in circles when God has provided us with a path to truth.