White Christ and Black Oppression

“To suggest that protest activity is irrelevant to Christ is to suggest that Blackness is irrelevant to Christ.”

blackchristeichenberg
“The Black Crucifixion” by Fritz Eichenber, 1963.

To claim that a minister’s responsibility is to save souls and not to become involved in social justice issues is consistent with the religion of the White Christ. The White Christ is based upon the understanding of Christianity that minimizes the significance of Jesus’ ministry. The Christian is called to believe that Jesus is God incarnate, not to carry forth Jesus’ liberating work. There is little, according to this interpretation, to compel a Christian to participate in social justice movements. Protest activity is incidental to what it means to be a good Christian. Such disregard for protest implicates White Christ in Black oppression.

Black identity is inextricably linked to protests resulting from being non-White in a society defined by White racism. To suggest that protest activity is irrelevant to Christ is to suggest that Blackness is irrelevant to Christ. Further, the passivity in relation to social injustice, which the White Christ fosters, allows White racism to go unchallenged.

This is Kelly Brown Douglas in The Black Christ (1994) in a section about Martin Luther King Jr. I’m reading Douglas and a few others in preparation for a paper about Christology and embodied reconciliation, but these paragraphs reminded me of some of the misunderstanding our church has experienced when engaging in acts of protest in our neighborhood and city. Those who are confused by protest, typically white Christians, seem to think that protesting injustice is at best a peripheral and occasional act by a church and at worst a distraction from our primary responsibility “to save souls.”

What Douglas points out is that the skepticism about protest is theological in nature, linked to the conception of a White Christ who is disconnected from the mess of history. When white Christians and churches ignore or oppose those who protest injustice they are perhaps saying more than they intend- about the nature of Christ as well as the value of those who share our faith but not our race.

Author: David Swanson

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

1 thought on “White Christ and Black Oppression”

  1. Love Kelly Brown Douglas. That one is helpful because she overviews major Christological themes from within the black theological scholarly world while, also, explaining a womanist point of view. I’m glad you’re reading it.

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