Updated: Feb 28
noun reasoned arguments or writings in justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine.
I grew up in an all-black, Baptist church where I listened to my pastor shout about how “Jesus (ha) died (ha) and He roOose (ha) for you and me” every Sunday. While I believed in Jesus and His resurrection, I never really understood why the entire congregation was always moved to such intense emotion hearing about His blood. I also didn't understand why they believed Jesus and His blood are the answer to both their problems and the world’s. Perhaps the concept was too big for me to grasp as a child. Perhaps I had to observe the darkness in the world and experience my own encounters with evil to truly appreciate the notion that God overcame it through such a selfless act of sacrificial love. How can pain bring forth healing? How can something so sad be the impetus for joy? How does His death give us life?
Upon reading “Archbishop Desmond Tutu Reflects on Working Toward Peace,” I’m confronted with these questions. As a believer, I couldn’t help but realize how Tutu’s Christian faith edified his activism with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tutu helped lead this commission by creating a safe space for South African citizens of all races to process the evils of apartheid and colonialism. Perpetrators and victims alike openly talked about the violence, rape, discrimination, exploitation, and isolation that came along with their country's racial caste system. Archbishop Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer while engaging in this work and processes his infirmity by saying:
Forgiveness and reconciliation were not to be entered into lightly... My illness seemed to dramatize the fact that it is a costly business to try to heal a wounded and traumatized people and that those engaging in this crucial task may bear the brunt themselves… But suffering from a life-threatening disease also helped me have a different attitude and perspective. It has given a new intensity to life… The disease has helped me acknowledge my own mortality, with deep thanksgiving for the extraordinary things that have happened in my life… What a spectacular vindication it has been, in the struggle against apartheid, to live to see freedom come, to have been involved in finding the truth and reconciling the differences of those who are the future of our nation.
From victims and perpetrators to translators and facilitators, everyone involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission walked away with battle scars. Yes, there were tears and tension, but truth was the foundation of this safe space. Their slogan: “The truth hurts, but silence kills.” Whether you’re cleaning wounds or confronting trauma, the healing process is never painless, but the temporary discomfort is worth it in the long run. Tutu wasn’t responsible for the white-supremacist violence that plagued his country, but the consequences of reconciling the wrongs were still worth it to him.
Tutu’s dedication to racial reconciliation in South Africa was a cross in his life--a call to suffer for not only reconciliation but righteousness. This brings me back to the cross, which in itself is a paradox. Jesus says it this way:
Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:23-25)
Here’s some context. Jesus hadn’t been crucified yet when He addressed this crowd. “The cross” wasn’t just a metaphor or the universal symbol for Christianity like it is today. When Jesus spoke these words, the cross was one of the most gruesome torture devices of the age. The Romans used crosses to publicly humiliate and brutalize “enemies of the empire.” It was a weapon of state-sanctioned violence. So imagine how the crowd felt hearing their spiritual teacher say, “Yeah if you want to follow me and gain eternal life, you have to get crucified every day and have faith that your suffering is working for the greater good. Give up your life for my sake.” What is His sake? Truth. Restoration. Love. All through the Gospels, Jesus urges people to refine and redefine their ideas of righteousness with love. He teaches radical faith, humble service, gracious critique, heart transformation, and sacrificial suffering as entry points to understanding true love--God’s love. Die to self. Die for others. Achieve salvation and receive everlasting life. On top of that, He’s pretty blunt about how this way of life isn’t easy:
Since they persecuted me, naturally, they will persecute you. (John 15:20)
But He’s also encouraging:
I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth, you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
The heart posture Jesus promotes is difficult to master. It goes against our first instincts of self-preservation, pride, and fear, but I think that’s what makes it so appealing to the persecuted and weary. It gives purpose to our suffering. It offers hope of restoration. It places love as the conqueror of evil and faith as the overcomer of fear. It emboldens us to fight for reconciliation with God and our brothers and sisters here on Earth.
People say, “You know that’s the white man’s religion, right?” This retort saddens me. Yet I’ve learned to sympathize with the well-meaning woke™️ people who throw it around. I now use it as an opportunity to educate--or even evangelize. I’m not ignorant of the ways humans throughout history have warped, diluted, perverted, erased, and reimagined the Word of God to justify the wicked, encourage division, and fuel oppression. This faux-Gospel exemplifies the selfish evil Jesus preached against and overcame through the cross. Be that as it may, I share my personal testimony of how I strayed from the faith for similar reasons until God called me back and placed people in my path to lovingly answer all my questions with His truth. I realized God had all the answers my heart, mind, and soul yearned for, and Jesus really was "the way, the Truth, and the life" (John 14:6). I then refer them to the dozens of scriptures that highlight how God prioritizes justice and has a heart for the oppressed to argue how God ultimately intended the cross for liberation. I also point them in the direction of my favorite Christian apologetics platform that's specifically aimed towards answering the qualms and grievances of black people--believers and unbelievers alike. Shout out to The Jude 3 Project.
I’m a believer because I’ve seen the victory of the cross active in my life, but my faith has also been edified by the places I’ve seen the victory of the cross throughout history. Since I’m Black American, I’ll speak from that perspective. Enslaved Africans had to listen their enslavers use scriptures out of context to justify the sins of slavery. Yet they still saw through the lies of their enslavers and built a theology around the true heart of God. They identified with the Hebrew exodus and prayed for the same fate. They saw their captivity in America as their own Egypt, Babylon, or Rome. The Bible was many enslaved people’s first vehicle to literacy, and worship became one of their few spaces dedicated to communal joy and fellowship. It even served as the framework for many's resistance, (shout out to: Phyllis Wheatley, Nat Turner, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and so many others). Abolitionists were mostly Christians. Black liberation theologian, James Cone, drew a parallel between the lynching tree and the cross. And it’s not a coincidence that many people in the Civil Rights Movement cited the Word of God as inspiration. Yet despite being dragged out of diners, buses, and white churches by those who claimed to know Jesus, black Christians didn't hold the evils of man against our Heavenly Father.
I'm very encouraged by the Black Christians today who continue to pick up our crosses in church congregations, corporate offices, non-profits, publications, outreach ministries, protest marches, corners of the internet, and courageous conversations with all types of folks every single day. The color of our skin doesn't stop us from being living epistles or carrying the Spirit of God inside of us. We know when we pray "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done," that includes grace, truth, love, and justice.
Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD. (Jeremiah 1:8)
I can't ignore the many pockets of Christianity that have been whitewashed and ignore the plight of people of color. It seems like some theologians skip past when Jesus taught restorative justice and conveniently forget the fact that he was brown and poor. Or the fact that the Gospel spread like wildfire through East Africa, Central Africa, and the Middle East at the same time Paul wrote letters to Rome and Greece. Sadly, a lot of American pulpits and seminaries have the same racist, revisionist history as our high school history books. And many theological leaders would rather boil down the tribulation of global anti-blackness to the "curse of Ham/Noah's black son" rather than just calling it what it is: sin. Hate and systemic oppression are sin.
However, I feel blessed to live in an age where God is revealing truth. And the truth is, contrary to popular belief, black people...
...are not CURSED. God never left our side.
We are not CURSED. God made us black on purpose.
We are not CURSED. God created our blackness as a reflection of His glory.
We are not CURSED. Our pursuit of freedom exists because Jesus did first.
We are not CURSED. God's faithful, unchanging hand in the face of those who wanted to exterminate us proves that we are BLESSED.
...and MADE IN HIS IMAGE.
...just like every other people group walking this earth.
Pastor and Christian apologist, Cameron Triggs, puts it this way:
The traumatic experience of African Americans throughout the history of America is a vicious example of the problem of evil. Even more, the existence and persistence of black faith through these gratuitous and gruesome realities is a theodicy in and of itself. The prominence of the black Christian and the survival of the black church is an evidence for God’s existence. We have been believers that persevered, and believed “trouble don’t last always.”
So, I may not be comfortable with the wounds of this world or even my own life, but I'm confident that God purposes them for something greater. The cross isn’t passive, and believing in Jesus doesn’t make us weak. It actually strengthens our fortitude to withstand this world. More importantly, it edifies our faith. It gives us what the Apostle Paul describes as, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). We live in a fallen world, riddled with violence, evil, suffering, and sin. As Christians, we believe Christ overcame the darkness of this world by confronting it with truth and love. Jesus left us the blueprint to do the same.
Triggs, C. (2018, May 7). Remembering James Cone: Trouble Don't Last Always. Jude 3 Project. Retrieved from https://jude3project.org/blog/jamescone
Tutu, D. (1999). Archbishop Desmond Tutu Reflects on Working Toward Peace [Webpage]. Retrieved from https://legacy.scu.edu/ethics/architects-of-peace/Tutu/essay.html