Aubrey Barnes: The Black and White of Faith

“Not to be offensive, but you’ve heard of slavery, right?” 
He typed in response to my profession of faith.

Social media really is a wild place. I’ve come to believe it sometimes gives people a seeming strength and illusion. We don’t have to be accountable to anyone in our conversations. We can comment some subjective thought, and if enough people share that thought, it all of a sudden becomes truth. 

I believe that is the spirit in which this individual made the above comment in a brief conversation about faith, and where it fits in Black communities. Mind you, not to play colorism, but to more so point at irony; the fellow identifies as a “White” male. When I say “White,” I am more pointing at an “idea” than I am a person. “White” and “Black,” as real as they may be, are at the end of the day, labels that carry a certain idea about them. Which is worth pointing out in this conversation. 

When it comes to the conversation of where faith fits from the western perspective, there’s an important aspect of race that should be a component of discussion, yet I have rarely seen it brought to the table. That being the narrative of what has been termed the “Black” church. 

If you’ve always had the privilege of being seen as creator, and never canvas
How can you expect to understand how it feels to be under heavy strokes of a
plagiarized picture that illustrates a false narrative…
Without even citing original source?

Just for sake of conversation, before my career in education and art, I was going to school to obtain my church planting license. So with such a position considered, a lot of my preparation entailed bible study, theology study, and observing church history as well. This existed for a span of about six or seven years; from youth ministry to preaching on selected Sundays. I grew up in a heavily faith influenced family as well. 

So I speak from a sense of objectivity when I speak of religion. Mind you, that don’t mean my perspective is monolithic. It’s just part of a narrative I both experienced and observed. In this context, that observed experience is the various ways in which faith is perceived in different narratives. 

Being someone who holds value in the wisdom and truths of various spiritual practices and religious beliefs, one thing I am always reminded is that, specifically Christianity,  there is more nuance than we’d like to wrestle with. Christianity, at its roots, has been used to cause much bloodshed. Has been used to create and justify division. It continues to be backbone to political views that are dehumanizing. And if we’re honest with history, has been used as a vehicle for the progress of folks who identify as “White” and more privileged than most, than it has been for those who do not have that privilege, as we as those who do not identify as “White.” 

What this does is make a narrative monolithic. It makes Jesus White and only White. It makes the conversation of faith start with slave boats, and not with Africa. It makes the world of Christianity only belonging to people who are White, and not cultures who were rooted in spiritual practices long before colonization did what it does. Black churches can’t even have their own narrative, because it is seen as a “White man’s religion.” 

Which, again, has truth in it. But again, things are more nuanced than we want them to be. The nuance being the recognition of how faith has played in the protest of the Martin Luther Kings. That compelled churches to unite arm in arm in their marches, singing gospel songs of Reverend James Cleveland as if affirmations. Where faith was used as sword against one, it was also used as shield against other. 

Where we should critique the “sword,” unlearn its ways, we should also have the wisdom to recognize when it is shield. Not a shield as merely a “defending” tool, but an energy that pushes back. fights. resists. Has resisted for years. And will resist for years to come. These are the narratives of underprivileged communities. The narratives are worth hearing rather than rejecting. If you find yourself thinking of “slavery” whenever you hear “Christ,” you may have only heard the narrative we’re conditioned to Learn.

That don’t sound like slavery to you?
As if you’ve possibly confined yourself to this country’s conditioned certainty for so long
That you’ve never considered stepping outside to see the stars?

Excerpts from Poem “Stars of Mizak.”
From “It is Good, It is Written” and “Aubizms II”
By Aubrey Barnes