Christianity’s Bloody White Reformed Legacy: My Thoughts on President Obama’s 2015 National Prayer Breakfast Speech

Obama Speaks At National Prayer BreakfastEveryone is reacting whether in a positive fashion or negative regarding Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast. There he said:

“Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs—acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.”

Now out of all that was said above “Conscious” Negroes want to zero in on the aspect where he says “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ” to denigrate Christianity once again. What I am going to do here is set the record straight regarding this matter.

Let’s begin by getting the Crusades and the Inquisition out of the way off top, they all was just politics and power plays with religious trappings regardless of which group was involved. Now what I want to do is focus on the actions of “Christianity” after the onset of White Supremacy initiated around the 14-1500s and in the United States of America. It is here where we get the best expression of the ideology and theology behind chattel slavery which eventually led to Jim Crow and other social ills affecting Black people today. My argument is that it was not Christianity proper that justified slavery and Jim Crow “in the name of Christ” but a form of it. This form is called Reformed theology or Calvinism.

refortheoIn essence Reformed theology or Calvinism has a unique way of looking at God and His actions. To them God maximally controls everything. He decides our fates and He micromanages every aspect of creation. When someone suffers it is God, he guides the whole universe. God is even responsible for the actions of the villain of the Bible Satan. One celebrated Reformed theologian said “that foundational to the Christian faith is the affirmation that God is sovereign over evil and over all pain. It will not do to dismiss the problem of pain to the realm of Satan. Satan can do nothing except under the sovereign authority of God. He cannot throw a single fiery dart our way without the sovereign will of our heavenly Father.” Now let’s see how that played out in the context of the country now known as the United States of America.

alexander-h-stephens2On March 21, 1861 the Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Hamilton Stephens gave the “Corner Stone” speech which said:

“Our new government . . . foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day . . . Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics . . . They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics . . . That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against . . . a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that . . . we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was  . . . he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.”

Besides Stephens seeing anyone that view the Negro as being of equal stature to the White man as being in possession of a form of insanity and that to try to establish a differing principle to the one that Blacks was unequal was effectively “attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal”. Further on he says regarding the Confederate States of America:

“It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. The architect, in the construction of buildings, lays the foundation with the proper material-the granite; then comes the brick or the marble. The substratum of our society is made of the material fitted by nature for it, and by experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.” The great objects of humanity are best attained when there is conformity to His laws and decrees, in the formation of governments as well as in all things else. Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws. This stone which was rejected by the first builders “is become the chief of the corner” the real “corner-stone” in our new edifice”

The former Vice president unloads a lot in this portion theologically speaking. Off top he obviously felt that the subordination of the White man was wrong yet the suppression of the Negro was natural or normal. He employs strong Reformed theological language. In his understanding all that has took place was “the ordination of Providence”. Providence was another means of saying the “Creator” or God. As mentioned earlier in Reformed thought God is sovereignly in control of every aspect of the physical and immaterial planes of existence.  No one can do a single thing on their own, every action is God. Alexander Hamilton Stephens also appeals to a popular misinterpretation of a biblical passage to justify his White Supremacist rhetoric. To top it off he even applies a text reserved for Jesus to their racist government as if to solidify the fact that their actions was the will of God.

Thus what President Obama said is not further justification for the condemnation of Christianity it just proves that like with all things humans tend to abuse them to justify their ill intentions. The type of Christianity that was employed to create and justify the actions of  White Supremacists is not the Christianity taught in scripture.

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Christianity’s Bloody White Reformed Legacy: My Thoughts on President Obama’s 2015 National Prayer Breakfast Speech

Christianity: The Oppressor’s Religion?

On the internet in “Black Consciousness” and “Empowerment” circles it has become popular hbbchto spread myths regarding Christianity. In essence the argument is that the African only became acquainted with Christianity via chattel slavery. That Africans had no contact or association with the Christian faith prior to the Transatlantic Slave trade and that the White oppressor forced conversion under the threat of death. These notions are primarily founded on the teachings and writings of men such as John Henrik Clarke, Yosef Ben-Jochannan and John G. Jackson.

I will be first to admit that a form of Christianity was utilized to sacralize Whiteness and “as an instrument of social control, to produce “obedient and docile” slaves” (Lincoln, 200). But just about anything you can point to has been and will be abused in some fashion throughout history. However for the record the aim of making Africans and their Black descendants compliant was accomplished moreso with things “such as laws, illiteracy, and an omnipresent threat of extermination” (Ibid.). So even if Christianity was not a factor those other tools would have proven quit effective just in the same fashion they appear to work very well at present during a time when Black people have the freedom to choose their own faith, spirituality or none at all. There are many “I am bout it, I’mma bang on a kracka” militants on social media that are not Christians and propagate these anti-Christianity campaigns but is still passive. Outside of social media they fear death, they are generally reliant on the White Supremacist system and couldn’t even bust a grape. Yet I digress.

At this point I will venture and say that the African encountered Christianity prior to the Transatlantic Slave Trade and chattel slavery in the Americas. Africans has a long history with Christianity prior to the existence of America the country. Christianity entered Africa shortly after its initiation in the first century in Jerusalem. One source says:

“Christianity first arrived in North Africa, in the 1st or early 2nd century AD. The Christian communities in North Africa were among the earliest in the world. Legend has it that Christianity was brought from Jerusalem to Alexandria on the Egyptian coast by Mark, one of the four evangelists, in 60 AD. This was around the same time or possibly before Christianity spread to Northern Europe.”

Looking back in time one will see that Jerusalem was located on a trade route and Greece then Rome eventually began to rule that area of the world. All areas under their jurisdiction was connected. There was converts to Judaism from all areas and eventually there was Christian converts from all walks of life. Also there was apostolic (1st century) or FIRST GENERATION missionaries sent to proclaim the Christian gospel. This means that people that may have actually hung out with Jesus, Peter and Paul took Christianity straight to Africa right after it began.

oldcopticOne of the first groups being the group that these Black Conscious types love out of all the Africans (To some no other Africans exist). I am speaking of the inhabitants of Kemet or Egypt. Even prior to the birth of Christianity because of earlier conflicts and subjugation by Egypt there was Jewish settlements in Egypt. The 4th century historian Eusebius of Caesarea  in the 320s wrote “They say that this Mark was the first to have set out to Egypt to preach the gospel, which had already written down for himself, and the first to have organized church in Alexandria itself” (Oden; 208-9). In other words Eusebius related that the guy who wrote the book of Mark that’s in the Bible today set out to formally take Christianity to Africa. Eusebius was not the only one who held to this position, it was deeply held within the context of the historical Christian church prior to him. Egyptian Christians are called Coptic Christians.  The work Coptic Civilization: Two Thousand Years of Christianity in Egypt edited by Gawdat Gabra the Clinical Professor of Coptic Studies at Claremont Graduate University states:

“According to tradition, the Egyptian Church was founded by Mark the Evangelist. A fragmentary letter of Clement of Alexandria (second century) mentioned that Mark wrote his Gospel during Peter’s sojourn in Rome, and after Peter’s martyrdom he came to Alexandria . . . By the end of the second century, extant documentary papyri testify to the presence of Christians in Egypt. Some of these fragments which were found in Middle-Egypt reflect the expansion of Christianity during this time along the Nile valley” (Gabra; 19).

Two other areas that will be briefly mentioned is Ethiopia and Nubia. Ethiopia is indebted to the Coptics because much of “Ethiopia’s Christianity had come from the Egyptian Coptic Church” (Burton 26). One of the oldest church buildings in the world is of Ethiopian origin. Regarding both areas we learn that:

“NUBIA (in present-day SUDAN) and ETHIOPIA became . . . strongholds of Christianity in Africa. Unlike Egypt and the Meghreb, these areas had not been part of the Roman Empire, and thus its imperial politics had little influence on the course of Christianity in these regions. Christianity arrived in Nubia with and monks and traders in the fourth and fifth century . . . a Monophysite form of Christianity became the religion of the kingdoms of Nubia. In the region of modern-day Ethiopia, the leaders of the kingdom of AKSUM converted in the fourth century and likewise adopted Monophysite Christianity” (Gates and Appiah 67).

The above mentioned groups of Africans arrived at their embrace of Christianity through no coercion of any political entities.wp340501d5_06

Switching gears to address the fact that to imply Black folks first encounter with the Judeo-Christian deity was via slavery and they totally lost their original faith is false. While people can claim that early on Black people was forced to a degree to accept a version of Christianity that was not always the case. Many hid their original African deities etc. within the form of Christianity enforced on them. They maintained their indigenous worship within plain sight.

The Historical Dictionary of Shamanism under the heading of Vodou says “Various forms of animist ancestor veneration and possession . . . that originated in West Africa and evolved by integrating elements derived from Christianity in the Caribbean and its diaspora during and after the slavery era” (233). In Brazil prior to “1888, when all forms of slavery were abolished in Brazil, candomblés also referred to sizable jamborees and gatherings celebrated on the enslaved Africans’ free days. They provided opportunities for the faithful to honor African deities cleverly disguised as Catholic saints and were one of the first Hoodoo-Magic-Spell-Boss-Fix-Honey-Jarconcrete examples of African resistance and agency” (Omari-Tunkara; 3).

More could be said but this should suffice for a blog article. At this moment some may wonder who the hell I am and what gives me the right to question these men and their work. Well to answer that I must be frank and say that while I have not put in as much time as they have in attempting to elevate my people’s minds I can say this. I am currently trying not only to elevate the Black mind but I am also trying to elevate them economically in more than just talk. Also academically I have a Bachelor of Science, a Masters of Arts and a full Master’s degree and additional credits valued at a third Master’s degree from a regionally accredited college and university. Also I am currently enrolling in a PhD program at a South African graduate school. I am a published author and business man. I think I am standing on good ground when I say the things I do.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited:

Burton, Michael C. Deep Roots: The African/Black Contribution to Christianity: a Study of the African/Black Personalities of the Bible, African/Black Church Fathers and the Major Contributions of the Early Black Church to Christianity. Bloomington, IN: IUniverse Inc, 2008.

Gates, Henry Louis, and Kwame Anthony Appiah, eds. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience. 2nd ed. Oxford: : Oxford University Press, 2005.

Harvey, Graham, and Robert J. Wallis. Historical Dictionary of Shamanism. Lanham, Md. [u.a.]: Scarecrow Pr, 2007.

Lincoln, Charles E., and Lawrence H. Mamiya. The Black Church in the African American Experience. Durham [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press, 1991.

Oden, Thomas C. The African Memory of Mark: Reassessing Early Church Tradition. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2011.

Omari-Tunkara, Mikelle Smith. Manipulating the Sacred: Yoruba Art, Ritual, and Resistance in Brazilian Candomblé. Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 2005.

 

Christianity: The Oppressor’s Religion?