The inequalities suffered by black Americans continue. The killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent injustices. The taking of black lives has caused many people to unequivocally state that black lives matter. Because black lives have not seemed to matter, it is important to focus our voices to contradict that narrative with words and actions.
The inequalities are broader than the justice system. In 2017 on this blog, I wrote a post titled “Black is Beautiful” that unequivocally stated the truth that black is beautiful in the eyes of God and therefore should be beautiful to God’s children as well. While the current situation shows that racial issues have life and death importance, I believe that combating racism needs to go down even to the “aesthetic” level. Many others have recently discussed the structural injustices much more capably than I could. My hope is that this re-post will add a different layer to the discussion and especially challenge fellow pastors and Christians who serve in predominately white churches.
Black is beautiful. Fellow Christian, it is important to say that – unreservedly and without qualification. Fellow pastors and church leaders, has you church ever explicitly declared this truth?
I have neglected stating this truth. I was confronted with this neglect in a recent interaction with my close friend Greg. Greg was describing his disappointment with the lack of support he often feels in the church as he faces racism against blacks in our culture. Greg is not a “social justice warrior” type; he is an encourager who speaks positive words and humbly serves the church and its people. Over the last few years, Greg has served in churches with a predominately white demographic. There have been few people who have been as encouraging and willing to walk with others through their struggles as Greg—in fact, he recently walked with me through family difficulties better than any other friend. So when Greg expressed his frustration and his fatigue with racism, I realized that I hadn’t borne this burden as his brother in Christ. I discussed it with him, but in my mind it was his struggle. I am a stereotypical white suburban dad who makes bad puns; I don’t experience the racism Greg does, and I can’t pretend that I deeply understand his struggles. However, as long as I consider racism his struggle, and not my struggle, I am not truly bearing his burden (for those not familiar with this terminology of “bearing burdens,” it is taken from Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”).
Whenever Christians encounter the sins and struggles of this world, we are confronted with our own limitations and tendency towards hypocrisy. We realize that individuals cannot solve every injustice in the world, but we ask God how we should address the needs and injustices that we personally encounter. As I prayed to God how I could walk with Greg in this struggle, Greg’s words kept bouncing around in my mind:
“Speaking of the church, do you know that I have never once heard an affirming word about being black, and that being black is beautiful, from within the church? I mean my parents’ church taught me that but it was a majority black church so by default I was taught that was true. . . . I’m imagining what it would be like to hear from the pulpit that black is beautiful, brown is beautiful, red, yellow, and white are all beautiful and if that is how God made you, then you should give him glory. And if that is how God made someone else, you should give him glory. What would that be like?!?!? I feel like the issue for so many is that it feels exclusionary to say black is beautiful. But why does only one thing have to be beautiful? The church should be leading the argument that obviously God ordained diversity and therefore it must be glorious! When someone says black is beautiful (which is a direct response to culture which says that it isn’t), the resounding response of the church should be, “Yes it is! Amen! Because our God made people black and somehow it reflects his image!” I would love to hear sermons not about how we should tolerate one another, but really celebrate the diverse identities, culture, and types of aesthetic beauty that I see reflected in the body of Christ.”
As a very first step in walking with our black brothers and sisters, shouldn’t our churches heartily proclaim that black is beautiful? Scripture teaches us that every human bears God’s image and is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Moreover, Christ has proven the surpassing value of every believer by giving his life for them. The One who is of ultimate worth gave his life to redeem people from every racial, ethnic, and language group (Revelation 5:9). In light of these scriptures, fellow pastors and Christians of predominately white churches, let’s unreservedly and without qualification affirm that black is beautiful. Let us state that from our pulpits, in our seminaries, and on our twitter accounts and blogs.
It is a simple statement and a small step. Nevertheless, I know your reservations because I have felt them. We don’t want to leave out anyone so we feel the need to add others to that statement, but let’s just state the truth “black is beautiful,” and allow it to stand on its own. By moving too quickly on to the truth of the children’s song “red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in God’s sight,” we move too quickly past the history and continued struggles of the black community. Until the full equality of heaven is achieved on earth, we are called to bear the burdens of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Bearing another’s burden means hurting when they hurt and walking with our friends through the struggle. Walking with our black brothers and sisters means we remain in both the hurt and the truth of their situation and not run ahead to other things. When we run ahead, we do not give the attention and respect needed to bear that particular burden. If we can’t soak in the simple statement “black is beautiful,” how are we going to move on to the more difficult things?
Perhaps your reservation about clearly affirming black is beautiful centers on the sad reality that there are no black people in your congregation. While black Christians need to hear this affirmation from every church pulpit, this truth needs to be heard by all people. Whites need to hear this truth to counterbalance what our culture constantly whispers: “Black is dangerous,” or “Black is other,” or “Black doesn’t look right.” We need to renew our minds with God’s truth; otherwise we take on the sinful patterns and thinking of our fallen world. We must confess that our hearts are not right, and we often perpetuate the racism in our culture; we do not love our neighbor as ourselves. We must turn to God and ask for the Spirit’s power to conform our hearts and lives to the revealed truth that God beautifully created and lovingly saved our black brothers and sisters.
Perhaps your reservation about clearly affirming black is beautiful is based on your fear of showing your ignorance and looking foolish. This fear often keeps me silent. I am sure that in the above paragraphs I probably say something that reveals my own ignorance or prejudice. In a similar way, I know that talk is cheap, and simply stating black is beautiful is not enough. I may look naïve, or woefully late, in advocating for something so small and simple from my white colleagues. But if simply stating “black is beautiful” is so easy and overdue, then shouldn’t we at least speak that truth unreservedly and without qualification? It is certainly better than leaving it unsaid. Moreover, Christians should be ready to appear foolish proclaiming God’s truth (1 Cor 1:18-31). Whether we are proclaiming the truth that “Jesus saves” or “black is beautiful,” someone will find us foolish or insufficient. Our past failures, ignorance, or foolishness should not keep us from affirming and walking in a truth today.
Fellow Christians and church leaders, let’s glory in the simple truth that black is beautiful because our creator is beautiful. Let us not leave this truth unsaid as we seek even more significant ways of bearing the burdens of our black brothers and sisters.