My Ethnicity, My Culture, My Faith
Written by Kevin Chilton
“After this, I looked, and there was an enormous crowd—no one could count all the people! They were from every race, tribe, nation, and language, and they stood in front of the throne and of the Lamb, dressed in white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.”Revelation 7:9 GNT
Does being a Christian and a Black man means I have to forfeit my ethnicity and culture because I am a follower of Jesus? The short answer is no. But I know it’s more complicated than that. There are many reasons, as Black men; we wrestle with this question. One is because America has a history of whitewashing Christianity— making people of color feel inferior or even cursed.
An example of whitewashing is depicting Jesus as a white man when he is a person of color. In “Urban Apologetics: Restoring Black Dignity with the Gospel,” Jerome Gay says: “For whitewashing to continue and for these false narratives to perpetuate, the Black and brown presence in Scripture must be ignored. Whitewashing opened the door for making Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Ruth, Mary, and Jesus white artistically. There are countless examples of people of color in Scripture who were connected to Jesus’s earthly lineage.”
In 2020, I began to work through my experience with whitewashing. The civil unrest brought it to the forefront of my mind more than at any other time in my life. It was a challenging year, especially with the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others.
During that time, I found myself struggling to be present in worship. I was trying to serve at church and educate our white brothers and sisters about racism and systemic oppression while trying to heal from the trauma of the current events.
My soul needed a message that spoke to my ethnic value and culture to strengthen my faith. I found peace in reading Dr. Esau McCaulley’s book, “Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.” In this book, he touches on many things from the Black lived experience and shares how God speaks to them through scripture.
After reading the book, I felt understood and seen. My faith is strengthened due to reading books and talking with people I trust. If you are a Black man struggling with the whitewashing of Christianity, I recommend you read these books, talk with people you trust, and embrace the Black presence throughout scripture. God doesn’t want us to forfeit our ethnicity to be Christian. God created us to be who we are and to express our worship and love to him through the culture he gave us.