Christianity Has A Race Problem

As a Black, Christian woman, I often feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, Habiba Katsha writes.

As a Black Christian, my faith has always been something that gives me hope, especially during a time like this.

The Black community and the world are still in mourning over the death of George Floyd. Seeing another Black person being murdered at the hands of the police after the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Tony McDade has been heartbreaking to say the least.

Black people have to deal with trauma on a daily basis but this has left us all mentally exhausted.

Christianity has always provided me with a national community that I can lean on in times of hardship. But I’ve been shocked and disappointed to witness the ways in which some white Christians have been complicit on racial injustice.

I was raised in a multicultural baptist church. My main pastor was white but the congregation was filled with people from various backgrounds. Every Sunday, people from European, Caribbean, African and Asian backgrounds would come together to worship God. To me this is how the church should be.

“White Christians need to continue challenging the beliefs and ideologies that they’ve allowed to enter the church.”

My church experience growing up was beyond enjoyable. I felt accepted and loved by not only God but the people in my church. As a child and young teenager I don’t vividly remember seeing any forms of racism in my church. But it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I started to hear stories of racial tension by the elders in my church for the first time.

As I moved cities for university, finding a church was on my top agenda and fortunately I found one very quickly. Though I loved the church I grew up in, my church during university had everything my previous church didn’t. It was definitely more current and had a larger youth presence that I felt was missing as a teenager. Things seemed to be perfect until I started to notice micro-aggressions at my place of worship.

I remember witnessing a mixed-race man mistake my close Black friend for another Black girl. Then when she understandably got upset, her sadness was labelled as anger and she was called an “angry Black girl.”

White people would also often tell the Black people to “stop being so Black”. And I always felt that the church was slightly segregated. Most of the close friends in the church weren’t Black, but this could also be because some of the Black men in the church perpetuated misogynoir. During the start of a sermon a Black pastor started bragging about marrying a white woman and having mixed-race children.

Apparently my experiences aren’t out of the norm, many other Black people (especially women) in contemporary churches have experienced many of the same things.

Which is why the recent comments by the pastor of Hillsong London weren’t shocking but disappointing. Hillsong is a mega church founded in Australia, which has branches all over the world. The pastor of the Tottenham Court Road branch in London received backlash after comments he made on the death of George Floyd: “For me to be rallying as a pastor about something that’s going on in another country, I’m not really sure that’s helpful”.

Black members of the church and of the wider Christian community were deeply upset. The pastor then went on to apologise in another service but I don’t think we should have to prompt white pastors to talk or be emphatic on a topic like this.

As a Christian, Black woman, I often feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Christians are called to be “the salt and light of the world”, which is why the church shouldn’t be encouraging an ideology that is rooted in hate. We’re called to love everyone and if we can’t achieve that in our own church, we have failed.

The discourse around Christanity and race is uncomfortable especially if we look at its history. Most Christians, Black and white, shy away from thinking about the role Christianity played in colonialism. But I think it’s something we need to discuss head on.

During colonialism, Christianity was used heavily to promote and justify slavery. Scriptures such as “slaves, obey your earthly master”, Ephesians 6:5, were used to reinforce the idea that slavery was good and normal. Additionally a slave bible was created by slave masters, which took out specific parts of the bible to further promote slavery. Though Christianity was also used by some abolitionists to end slavery, they were part of a small minority.

Centuries later when the Windrush generation moved over to the UK, they were pushed out of white church circles. Subsequently this led to Caribbean and African immigrants creating their own churches in the UK. Pastor Elijah Israel tweeted: ”Race, Class & Gender all have a role to play in denominational formation in Christian History. Pentecostalism was born through “lower class” and “black/ethnic minorities”, whereas Baptist/Reformed circles were dominated by “white” upper/middle class males.”

He added: “Even today, notice Churches run by “Black” Leaders, don’t often have “white” majority congregations, but Churches run by “white” leaders can have “Black” majority congregations. This shows unconscious racial & classist biases that are still rooted in the soul of Christians.”

Moving forward I strongly believe that white Christians need to continue challenging the beliefs and ideologies that they’ve allowed to enter the church. We can’t speak about racism in the world without acknowledging how the spirit of racism has been encouraged in some churches. I’m hoping and praying that white Christians will do more and stand with their Black Christians now and in the future.

Habiba Katsha is a freelance journalist.


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