Since 1926, February has been known as Black History Month.
We often tend to think of it as just being something that schools celebrate every year. But a recent book by Edward Gilbreath, titled Reconciliation Blues: A Black Evangelical’s Inside View of White Christianity makes me think that maybe we should be thinking beyond that. The Church, Gilbreath believes, has a lot of thinking and learning to do about black history, and about race relations in general.
Gilbreath is editor-at-large for Christianity Today Magazine and director of editorial for Urban Ministries, Inc. Having spent his life in evangelical churches, colleges, and institutions, he knows the evangelical world inside and out. And while he loves that world, he and many of his fellow black evangelicals are troubled by many things they have experienced.
A black woman who “works at an evangelical Christian company” once wrote to Gilbreath, “The white Christians I encounter often display a shocking provincialism—a real naïveté about the world around them. Frankly, it is as if they are stunned to find out that their cultural, political, and religious frame of reference is not the only one.”
Looking back on his own experience, Gilbreath adds, “I got a rude awakening once I began to ascend the professional ranks at white evangelical institutions. . . . [It] smacked me upside the head in a variety of ways—the acceptable worship songs at church, the photos used to illustrate magazine articles and ministry ads, the feeling of always having to reeducate my white friends and colleagues. Sometimes it was as blatant as an offhand comment from a white superior at work like, ‘If we publish too many articles on the black church, our audience (i.e., white men) might feel alienated.’” While he got tired of playing the “race cop,” Gilbreath constantly felt a need to speak up for voices within the Church that he could not help feeling were being marginalized.
Instead of feeling that their perspectives are welcomed and valued, Gilbreath explains, nonwhite Christians often feel as if they are overlooked or, at best, considered “tokens” or symbols that churches or institutions can use to convince themselves they are being inclusive.
Gilbreath recounts incidents—like a black Christian leader who invited a white Christian to his home only to be rebuffed, or a publisher who featured offensive stereotypes in a Vacation Bible School curriculum. That should make white evangelicals stop and consider whether we are really taking the feelings of minority Christians into account, or just clinging to the status quo. At times we white evangelicals are so busy reacting against pervading political correctness in our culture that we go to extremes to avoid being seen as too “multicultural” or “diverse”—without thinking about how our words and actions may affect our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Edward Gilbreath closes his book with Jesus’ prayer for His followers, “that all may be one.” You know, if we are really serious about living a biblical worldview, all followers of Jesus, of all races and cultures, need to be serious about working together to make that prayer a reality.
And a good place to start would be reading Gilbreath’s Reconciliation Blues.