racism

A Home for White Nationalist?

An African-American Orthodox Christian shared this article with me; “How the Orthodox Christianity Became the Spiritual Home of White Nationalism” (http://religiondispatches.org/how-orthodox-christianity-became-the-spiritual-home-of-white-nationalism/?platform=hootsuite). Much of the writing focused on the example of Matthew Heimbach, who was excommunicated by the Antiochian Orthodox Church for his racist activities. The author does mention that this action “means that he is technically unable to receivesacraments in any canonical Orthodox church” and that he may or may not have sympathy from a Romanian priest. Other than a generalization of “alt-right” thugs displaying Orthodox symbols on the web, she does not name anyone else or any other American movement except Heimbach. Combined with an incident of a priest in Corinth blessing an office of the Greek Neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” and the Russian nationalist fervor among Christians and supporters of Vladimir Putin, it would seem that the Orthodox Church has opened its arms to white nationalist. No doubt, there is a problem of white nationalism in the Church. But, from my experiences and what I see as an African-American Orthodox Christian, I think that the “alt-right” has some major obstacles to overcome if they are to make the Church their spiritual home.

First of all is the fact that Orthodox Christianity owes much of its spiritual wisdom to non-European people. It is hard to find any monk or nun that does not refer to the “desert fathers” of Egypt. St. Anthony the Great was a native Egyptian (according to St. Athanasius) and is widely regarded as the father of monasticism. Many monasteries are organized in a structure formed by St. Pachomius who lived in Upper Egypt where the residents are certainly not of Nordic stock. St. John Cassian, who brought monasticism to many places in Western Europe was heavily influenced by such monks including St. Moses the Ethiopian (also known today as “the Strong, Robber, and Black). Prayers from St. Macarius are found in many prayer books, including the widely used “Jordanville” prayer book of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. Going back to St. Athanasius, he is credited to be a lead spokesman at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and put together the list of 27 books that would be canonized as the New Testament. Even that canonization was done in the African city of Carthage. As nationalistic as Russian Orthodox Christians may seem, some of their most influential writers such as Sts. Ignatius Brianchaninov, John of Kronstadt, and Theophan the Recluse point back to these African saints. The works of American orthodox heroes Fr. Alexander Schmemann and Seraphim Rose also point back to this source of wisdom. Sure, a white nationalist may embrace the double –eagle and the idea of a holy dynasty. But, anyone who seriously studies where the great spiritual masters of the church came from will have to face the fact that they were not European.

Then, there is the mission of the Church, the spread of the Gospel and making disciples of all nations (as Jesus taught in Matthew 28). The apostles did not stay in Judea. They went through out the known world. Barnabas and Paul, the first missionaries, were ancient Middle Eastern Jews and were ordained in a Syrian city in part by two black clergymen (Acts 13:1). These brown skinned people brought the faith to the darkest of Africans and the palest Europeans. Had it not been for the Muslim invasions, Africa beyond Ethiopia would have been evangelized centuries ago. The Russians had spread the Church into China, Japan, and their Alaska territory not as a means of dominance and conquest. They did so because they believed and the Church teaches that the Gospel is for all people. If a white nationalist becomes Orthodox, he will have to justify his racial supremacy with the call of Christ and the history of the first believers.

imgp4249_edited-1

Finally, the modern Orthodox Church has been making much better efforts in evangelizing to minority groups than in decades past. Up until the mass conversion of evangelicals into the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1987, very few “whites” were converting to Orthodoxy. That event was a sign to America that the Orthodox Church was for anyone who would “come and see.”  The Brotherhood of St. Moses the Black, a fellowship committed to spreading the faith to African-Americans, was inspired by the St. Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA over 20 years ago. The internet broadcaster, Ancient Faith Radio has featured lectures from the Ancient Faith Afro-American Conferences since the 1990’s. Several bishops and well known priest have by voice and action expressed their support of minorities coming into the Orthodox Church.

Am I saying that Orthodox Christianity has no white nationalist and people with “alt-right” tendencies within our walls? I wish I could. When I posted a part of my conversion story on my blog, I had one person declare that I could not be black and Orthodox at the same time. There are some parishes who try to send minority inquirers somewhere else. There are some African-Americans who love the history and spirituality of this ancient faith. But, they have been put off by Orthodox clergy and laity that refuse to extend a hand of friendship and an unwillingness to find common ground on political and social issues. I am sorry to confess that in some places across the country and around the world that the Orthodox Church is a haven for bigots.

But, I know that is not the whole story. There is a Greek parish that has taken the time to offer the Canon of Racial Reconciliation with its weekly Compline (nightly) prayers before Bible Study. An Orthodox Church of America bishop and priest are working to bring a predominately African-American congregation into that jurisdiction. A Serbian parish has served as a model for helping to bring social services to poor inner city neighborhoods to create a “village” atmosphere where there was racial division. One white person left a parish when an icon of St. Mary of Egypt was being venerated.  He wanted nothing to do with any saint that didn’t look like him.  I have seen and participated in too many instances of racial brotherhood in the Eastern Orthodox Church to let a few toxic people keep me from practicing the faith of my ancient African, Middle Eastern, and European fathers & mothers. With the multicultural history and spirituality of the Church and the jurisdictional leaders reaching out to minority communities, white nationalist cannot remain comfortable in Eastern Orthodoxy for long. Those who do are being superficial and should not be taken as model examples of who we are.

Charleston: America’s Lack Of Repentance

Had it been something that happened during Reconstruction or the Jim Crow era, I could chalk it up as a piece of our sad racist history.  However, in 2015, a white man entered a black church and killed a pastor and 8 others during a mid-week service.  This could have happened anywhere in the nation, including my home town of West Point and even my multi cultural parish in Hampton!

                             All but two of the nine who were martyred.

To be fair, every predominantly white Protestant denomination has publicly repented for the sins of white supremacy including slavery and segregation.  The Southern Baptist Convention has even had an African-American president.  And we must also acknowledge that Barak Obama could not have become the President of this nation had it not been for a significant number of whites voting for him.  The average white Christian is not a murderer.  Indeed, many an African-American can relate to a white who has treated them better than a “brother” or “sister.”

But, here is the problem; white racism and black backlash are too deeply rooted in this nation to be easily erased with a few decades of saying, “I’m sorry” no matter how sincere the words and actions are.  From colonial Virginia to the Civil Rights Movement, there were laws in place that made blacks second class citizens.  With a few exceptions, every white denomination has supported such laws from slave codes to Plessy vs. Ferguson.  Even among those who did’t support such laws, it was generally believed that the African was less human than the European.  So, with 240 years of slavery (1619-1865) and about 69 years of segregation (1896-1965); we have had over 309 years of legalized bigotry.  White in the North as well as the South were bitter and resentful toward the freedmen during the Reconstruction period and were not comitted to black equality.  So, add another 31 years of undermining any efforts of progress our ancestors tried to make after the Civil war; That is 340 years of legal and illiegal activities designed to keep black people down in this country.  Are we to imagine that the demon of white supremacy would disappear in a mere 50 years?  Apparently not!

Not only are we sick with that demon, many blacks have developed a justified yet toxic sense of mistrust of anything white and a willingness to ignore the crimes we comitt against ourselves yet raise our voices when whites attack us.  There was no national outcry from the NAACP or any other Civil Rights organization when four students at the historically black Morgan State University were stabbed by a “brother” a few weeks before the death of Freddie Gray while in custody of the Baltimore Police.   Rev. Al Sharpton did not come to Baltimore when a 16 year old girl was raped and murdered by two “brothers.”  Local ministers may hold a march or prayer vigil.  But, rarely is there a nationwide call to struggle against the outrages we commit against ourselves as we do when the perpetrators are blonde haired and blue eyed, and (even more so) policemen.  When black preachers speak out against the wrongs committed within the community, they are routienly ignored and sometimes called, “sell-outs.”  But, let him “speak truth to power,” and he is honored as one who fights for the people.

Whites see this and use it as an excuse to hold on to their bigoted attitudes.  Sure, the great majority of them will never pick up a gun and kill blacks in an AME church.  But, white Christians will share especially degrading comments and images of the President and other blacks on social media and private conversations.  We blacks can tell the difference between purely political opinon and blatant disrespect.  Thus, it is not unusual for African-Americans to  stop trying to be good Christians and join the Hebrew Israelites or a Black Muslim religion that teaches an equally racist doctrine that whites are demonic beings.

As I said in my previous post (https://desertfathersdispatch.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/some-sunday-morning/), the only solution to America’s racial division is humble repentance from both blacks and whites.  Only when we put aside our fears and stereotypical notions of each other can the perfect love of Jesus Christ infuse our hearts and minds with grace.  But as long as we let conservatism vs. liberalism and black vs. white keep us among “our people,” we should not be surprised whtn things like this happen.

Antioch & America

… And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26)

Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.  (Acts 13:1)

“Eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Prelude to Worship © John Gresham

Prelude to Worship © John Gresham

American Christianity (Black, White, whatever) has consistently proven itself to be a failure when it comes to living the Biblical racial standard.  There are exceptions in several neighborhoods across the country.  But on a whole, a major reason why we constantly have crisis moments between (and sometimes within) ethnic groups is because we do not aim to be the kind of church and the kind of Christians that were in Antioch.

Of the clergy mentioned in the 13th chapter of Acts, Lucius is clearly an African from what is now eastern Libya.  Ancient portraits of people from that part of the world at that time were considered to have some shade or another of brown with very curly hair and broad noses.  In other words, if Lucius were walking among us today, he would be considered a black man. Another of these five leaders is Simeon who is called Niger.  One does not have to be a Latin scholar to know that Niger means “black.”  The other three men in this list of early church leaders were of ancient Jewish descent.  Chances are their skin tones would have been somewhere in between what we today would call a “black” or “white” man.  Antioch was a center of trade in the Roman Empire.  People from all over the known world would have lived there from pale skinned Britons to the darkest of Nubians.  From the text, we can see that race simply did not matter.  Later in the 13th chapter, we find these men (under the power of the Holy Spirit) sending Saul and Barnabas to bring the Gospel to others in the world.  So, this model of a universal church of a multi-racial people is the standard.  From them, other communities of Christians under the same Holy Spirit would form.  The Apostles of Christ did likewise and visited other lands to establish the church.  Granted, a congregation in Scotland (Andrew) would be ethnically different than one in India (Thomas).  But, the people were to be guided by the same doctrine as they worshiped the same Father, Son, and Spirit.

Unfortunately, America didn’t read the text and study Christian history very well.  The Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia PA had their black members sit in the balconies and rear seats.  Richard Allen and others rejected this indignity and formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Rather than admit defeat and seek reconciliation with their freed brothers and sisters, Baptist and other denominations split along racial lines.  Whites who believed in modern outpourings of the Holy Spirit in the form of speaking in tongues failed to recognize the same gift among their black brethren and those who did did so in secret.  Dr. King was right to bemoan the state of segregation among Christians in this nation.  But, unlike with schools and workplaces, blacks and whites have become so accustomed to our religious apartheid system; neither side feels motivated to put together a movement to end it.  Individuals who dare cross the line are considered “sell-outs” who have “forgotten where they came from.”

There is a fear on both sides of the racial divide when it comes to trying to have unity in Christianity.  Neither side wants to give up the authority of their clergy and denominational governors.  Nor does either side want their music and style of worship replaced with the other, even though they often mimic each other to the point where they are indistinguishable.  And politicians on the left and right have infiltrated these bodies of Christ so deeply that race and political party are all but hand in hand.  In short, the American churches are more concerned about protecting and promoting their little kingdoms on earth than trying to live to the Biblical standard of the Kingdom of Heaven.  There are several non-denominational churches and organizations that have managed to find common ground in spiritual growth and worship and have diverse congregations.  However, most American churches are more interested in maintaining walls rather than building bridges to overcome them.

Had American churches took the example of Antioch and Dr. King’s observation to heart back in 1963 when he wrote Letter from Birmingham Jail, we would be living in a completely different America.  Not perfect.  But, the climate that we see from the recent cases of Travon Martin and Mike Brown would be either different or non-existent as their shootings may not have happened.  The church, as a whole, has failed to give America the racial climate that is in the Bible and that the Apostles taught us to have.  Black and white Christians put past pain, cultural styles, and political leanings over the Savior who has but ONE body.  Until there is serious effort to unite American Christianity, there will be more “Ferguson Missouris.”

I would love to brag that the Orthodox Church is doing a great job at healing the racial divide.  But, up until the mass conversion of 2,000 Evangelicals into the Antiochian jurisdiction, the Orthodox Church has been way too content to stay within (in the words of the late Metropolitan Philip) “our own little ethnic ghettos.”  I don’t advocate that we knock on people’s doors and pester them to convert.  But, we must make a stronger effort to let America know that we exist and that our doors are open to all people just as they were in the first century AD.