01.14.19

Black and White Churches: Two Christian Expressions, One Family

America is home to two expressions of Christianity. There is black Christianity and white Christianity. Both Christian expressions have two parents, but not the same two parents. 

In super broad strokes: 

White Christianity is the offspring of evangelical revivalism and various forms of American exceptionalism. White Christianity then is a combination of biblical religion and a certain view of power, privilege, access and influence. It’s a religion that sees itself as best-suited for life at the top. It assumes that at the very least it should have influence over the entire culture and that it should shape the moral and ethical outlook of the citizenry. Certain varieties see the country as a “Christian nation” and sees progress as a matter of reclaiming this Christian ideal now largely lost or threatened. 

Black Christianity is the offspring of American evangelicalism and the “hush arbor.” The hush arbor is the term used to describe the worship of slaves who snuck away into the bush, usually at night, and worshipped according to the dictates of their own conscience and the needs of their own community. So black Christianity is one part biblical religion and public piety (evangelical revivalism). But it is also one part clandestine resistance and self-care. It views itself as working from the bottom and the margins, not to climb atop of everyone else, but to be free, whole, joyful, and useful. 

Because they share one parent (evangelical revivalism), they have a great deal in common. But because they also have different parents, they have very different characteristics too. Black and white Christianity, then, are the half siblings of a step family. They grew up in different family homes and lived very different experiences. Their interactions have been as complicated and tense as any mixed family’s. Those experiences shape their outlook and their potential–in positive and negative ways. 

It remains to be seen just how well the two can live together as one family without reckoning with those different backgrounds and experiences. For most of the history, the siblings have lived in separate homes, connecting only around the holidays. 

But we find ourselves at yet another point in the family drama when we must ask, “Can we live together as one family, valuing the differences without tending to disunity?” And, “What will it take to live in a deeper, richer, affirming, understanding unity than the two churches have known to date?” 

We won’t be able to microwave a wider, deeper reconciliation. It’ll take slow cooking, careful use of ingredients, and a lot of love. But with God, all things are possible. It’s this conviction that drives The Front Porch’s interest and work on gospel reconciliation. Join us for the Just Gospel Conference May 2-4, 2019 in Atlanta, Ga. We have work to do!

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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