In the Black American and Afro-Caribbean world, Jesus is kind of our guy.
We praise him and worship him on Sunday mornings. We ask him for forgiveness in the still hours of Saturday night. We carry him into our jobs and avocations during the week.
There are velvet renderings of Jesus displayed at our grandparents’ homes, right between similar portraits of MLK and JFK.
We have T-shirts, pendants, license plates and car accessories all acknowledging Jesus.
And Jesus has a higher approval rating in our world than Nelson Mandela, Usain Bolt, and the current president of the United States.
Jesus is a significant part of the Black experience and is tightly interwoven into our history and culture.
He was with us during slavery and Reconstruction. He was there during segregation, and the Civil Rights Movement. And he is even on the front lines with Black Lives Matter activists.
We see Jesus as our collective consciousness. Our chief good. Our savior.
But, there are some within the Black community who don’t believe that Jesus is our savior at all.
Rather, they believe that he is a savior we were forced to adopt by slave owners in America upon our arrival in this country. A construct of a dominant American culture designed to keep slaves docile and servile.
A white man’s god.
However, while the concerns about Jesus and Christianity are well-founded, they are not historically accurate or even true.
There is biblical and historic evidence to suggest that Christianity is indigenous to Africa, and that Africans subscribed to it well before their arrival in America.
Biblically, we know that much of the land Jesus spent his public ministry teaching and preaching the gospel, was in what we would call modern day Africa.
What is more, the The book of Acts and the authentic letters of the Apostle Paul suggest that both eastern and western Africans had received the gospel decades before Paul ever made a missionary trip to Europe.
Historically, we know that there is definitive proof of the organized Christian church in Africa in the third century, when Christianity was the dominant religion in Egypt and most of north of Africa.
And church fathers Clement, Origen, Tertullian were all natives of North Africa.
This is dispositive because while we view Jesus as our collective savior, we do not believe Christianity, Jesus’ religion, is our own religion.
It is certainly true that the Black church has retained its pew statistically better than white mainline Protestant communions–black millennials and professionals are not leaving the church at the same rate their white counterparts are leaving mainline Protestant church.
However, the pew of the Black church has become largely disillusioned with the notion of worshipping a God in a tradition which they believe has no link to their African history before slavery.
And while the Black church has not yet had a mass exodus of its laity, clergy and pastors of the Black church must be equipped and willing to inculcate a gospel that spans from the beaches of Sag Harbor to the shores of the Niger River; one that acknowledges that God was with them well before slavery.
Christ is many things. He is radical and revolutionary. He is a source of renewal for many. He is encouraging and loving. He is relentless and myopic. And he can be, by his own words, divisive.
But, of all the things Jesus is, he should never be characterized as a white man’s god.