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Struggling with Christianity
Struggling with Christianity

What Does It Mean to Be Black, Christian, and American?

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Danté Stewart, a minister and writer, honors the central place the Bible held in his family:

There’s an old King James Version Bible sitting on my bookshelf. It is black, rugged; the gold lining on the pages shines as light hits it. The jacket is missing, and the threads have unloosened from one another over the years. It has been tried. It has traveled across the South, across time. Now it sits on a shelf where it keeps the company of books written by Black folk. Black folk who have read a similar Bible, who have wrestled with it, been confused by it. Black folk who have held it as tight as I do today.

When I open up this old Bible . . . I am suddenly surrounded by preachers and mothers and friends and saints and sinners who tried to love and live well—while failing, learning, and trying again. When I read these ancient scriptures, I hear the way they flowed from my momma’s lips. . . .

This was her language. It was the language of my grandmother, the language of her mother. . . .

After many years of worshipping and working in white church spaces, Stewart came to a crossroads in his faith:

As I live and move and have my being in this country, I wonder to myself: How do I be Black and Christian and American?

So I return to this old King James Bible, and our Black prayers, and Black sermons. . . .

I have learned that many of us have not given up on faith, just the way our faith has been used to oppress others. We have not given up on the Bible, just the way it has been used to marginalize others. We have not given up on Jesus . . . we’re not becoming less spiritual or religious. It’s just that we have learned to put up with less, much less. Today many people talk a lot about people leaving churches, giving up on Christianity, and rejecting Jesus. In reality, they have given up on the white supremacist brand of Christianity that cares more about power than Jesus, that does not care enough to take either our bodies or our futures seriously. Like James Baldwin, we are holding on to Jesus while also living with our fear, trauma, doubts, and hope. Our story and the story of Jesus are bound together in faith, hope, love, and community. . . .

Faith—honest, deep, vulnerable faith, as Baldwin writes—is about growing up, becoming more loving, more honest, and more vulnerable. It is facing ourselves and what we desire. It is finding a way to begin again each day. It is not that we have the right answer, or all the right solutions. It is that we have found deep meaning in the story of Jesus. We have learned, as James Cone writes, that “being black and Christian could be liberating.”

Danté Stewart, Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle (New York: Convergent Books, 2021), 3–4, 6, 123, 124.

Explore Further. . .

Image credit: Chaokun Wang, 墙 wall (detail), 2020, photograph, China, Creative Commons. Yoichi R. Okamoto, Munich’s Large and Beautiful Fussgangerzone (detail), 1973, photograph, Munich, Public Domain. Chaokun Wang, 树 tree (detail), 2019, photograph, Qufu, Creative Commons. Jenna Keiper & Leslye Colvin, 2022, triptych art, United States. Click here to enlarge the image.

This week’s images appear in a form inspired by early Christian/Catholic triptych art: a threefold form that tells a unified story. 

Image inspiration: Sometimes the wall cracks or the tree dies. We ponder and question what we profess to believe. It’s a healthy practice that undergirds a maturing faith.

Story from Our Community:

For a long time I’ve been aware of a larger God than my upbringing allowed. My early faith was restricted to those who professed Jesus Christ as their personal savior; if not you went to hell. But for years I’ve loved the bigger God and even told a friend that I looked forward to going to hell where the people I most liked were. Along with an expanded sense of God, and the recent pandemic, I’ve given up the idea of boundaries between countries and ownership of land, of our Mother Earth.
—Karen M.

Share your own story with us.

Prayer for our community:

God, Lord of all creation, lover of life and of everything, please help us to love in our very small way what You love infinitely and everywhere. We thank You that we can offer just this one prayer and that will be more than enough,  because in reality every thing and every one is connected, and nothing stands alone. To pray for one part is really to pray for the whole, and so we do. Help us each day to stand for love, for healing, for the good, for the diverse unity of the Body of Christ and all creation, because we know this is what You desire: as Jesus prayed, that all may be one. We offer our prayer together with all the holy names of God, we offer our prayer together with Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Listen to the prayer.


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