Malcolm X Was Right About Christianity

Yesterday I was reading one of Malcolm X’s speeches, “Black Man’s History,” and I came to this:

When you go to one of the churches you will notice that it is named after some word in their Bible: Big Rock Baptist Church, or Drinking at the Well Baptist Church, Friendship Baptist Church, Union Baptist, Israel Baptist, Jacob’s Ladder Baptist. They find some kind of old funny word in their Bible to name their whole religion after. Their whole doctrine is based on a verse in the Bible: “He rose.”

Apparently Malcolm knew a lot of Baptist churches, but that’s not what jumped out. It’s that last sentence, what he surely meant as a humorous insult. I read this and thought: He understood Christianity better than many of us Christians. I’m not sure if Malcolm had in mind the angels’ explanation to the disciples at the empty tomb or the Apostle Paul’s explanation in 1 Corinthians, but either way he was absolutely right that for Christians our entire doctrine rests on this singular belief: Jesus rose. This isn’t everything we’d want to say about the nature of Christian faith, but without it there isn’t anything to say. I wonder how many Christians could be this precise about the nature of our faith?

Beyond this essential fact is what I take to be his tone, simultaneously playful (he knew his audience) and dismissive. Throughout his speech Malcolm extolled his experience of Islam for it’s universality- that, according to Malcolm’s teachers, it had extended far longer than Christianity or Judaism and that its doctrine was drawn from the entire scripture and not, as he saw Christianity, a single verse. Here again Malcolm got something about Christian faith that many of us forget, which is the utterly strange and embarrassing nature of a faith that requires belief in a dead God-man’s return to life.

Malcolm would have agreed with Paul– this is a foolish stumbling block of the greatest magnitude.

Author: David Swanson

Pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Bronzeville. Collecting signs of life.

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