Why Black History Month at Fellowship? Part 1

by Joe Johns

As a diverse church, Fellowship has marked Black History Month in February since at least 2010.

But why?

Over the last 4 years in particular, I’ve regularly fielded questions from Fellowship family members who have concerns about why we do so.  I’ve listened carefully to understand the perspective of those asking because their perspective matters to me.

As a diverse community, there are some faith practice issues that we may see differently.  I’m glad for everyone who earnestly asks questions and feels safe enough to do so.  That’s the kind of church I think we all want.

By the way, I recently received an excellently framed request for meeting from a Fellowship person wanting to address a disagreement.  I share it here because it’s a very mature and loving example of how to begin a conflict-type of conversation as believers:

“We're feeling uncomfortable with (issue/decision/action/statement). We'd love to chat with you and try to understand more where you're coming from. Would you be willing?”

Good, right?  That kind of humility and believing the best really gets a crucial conversation off on the right foot.

Regarding Fellowship and Black History Month, here are a couple questions I’ve received, along with some responses I’ve given.  Maybe you’ve had similar questions, or not.

Regardless, I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us to consider views different than our own, and to persist together as believers who all want to agree in the Lord as Paul exhorts (Philippians 4:2).

Question 1: Isn’t Black History Month about political correctness--why bring it into the church?

I get this question more than you might think.  What seems to be behind the question is a suspicion or assertion that Black History Month is mostly about worldly, leftist political agendas than anything else.  From this perspective, I can understand how Black History Month may appear like something we are doing to appease certain interests.

It is possible in some circles that Black History Month might be understood this way, but it is not the understanding at Fellowship now, nor has it ever been.  Every year we have clearly stated the biblical why behind it for us.

We do it as a way of loving those parts of our body who have historically lacked honor in our society as a way of promoting more Christ-like love, understanding, and an equal concern for all our parts (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).

Obviously, Black History Month is not in and of itself a biblical concept, but neither is it unbiblical to rejoice/suffer with people who rejoice/suffer.  Black History Month is a cultural idea that can be easily redeemed by any Church seeking to celebrate the black parts of its body whose unique gifts and values to the whole (of society and Church) have historically and contemporarily been seen as somehow less honorable or worthy.

Black History Month originated with G. Carter Woodson, a sharecropper turned scholar who became the second African American to earn a PhD from Harvard in 1912.

In February 1926, Woodson started Negro History Week to address the lack of education among blacks about their own history, heritage, and achievements.  The effort grew for 50 years and then in 1976 President Gerald Ford made the first proclamation celebrating Black History Month for all Americans.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s Black History Month proclamation stated, "understanding the history of black Americans is a key to understanding the strength of our nation."
G. Carter Woodson
Perhaps Ford, Reagan, and every president since- regardless of party- made such proclamations about Black History Month only to say the politically correct thing in order to appeal to black voters in the next election.  However, I believe that they also saw something good in Black History Month that went beyond politics.

Marking Black History Month at Fellowship has never been politically motivated or influenced.

Rather, it is motivated and influenced by the upside down Kingdom of Jesus where the worldly ideas of first and last don’t seem to apply.  (Matthew 19:30, 20:16)

Question 2: Isn’t Black History Month divisive since it elevates one ethnic group over another?

There is a view among some that honoring Black History Month is divisive and unfair.

“What month do we celebrate white history?”  “Why is black history the only one worth celebrating in this way?”  “Why not mark Irish, German, or Italian histories?”  “Isn’t every ethnicity worth celebrating?”  “Why single out one group—aren’t we all made in God’s image?”

Such questions are truly a matter of perspective.

Imagine an epic yardstick held horizontally.  Now imagine every ethnic group of humanity standing on this yardstick.  From a biblical perspective, every person and ethnic group standing on that yardstick stands with equal worth to any other on the yardstick because we all bear the image of God (Gen 1:26-27—Imago Dei in Latin).

So, in Kingdom terms, the yardstick is straight and level. But in our broken, sinful world the yardstick is not level.

Across the globe certain ethnicities and the individuals within them are historically treated as if they do not have Imago Dei by other ethnicities who have more power culturally.

Whenever and wherever this God-given image is ignored the yardstick drops on their end as their perceived inherent worth as humans falls.

Moreover, as it does, the perceived inherent worth of ethnicities on the other end of the stick naturally rise. Why?

Because that is the way pride and shame work in our world.  If you’re following, this can be a helpful description of the state of our broken, sinful world.

All ethnicities have equal standing, sanctity, and value before God.

But on earth it’s messed up.

Here’s the thing-

Imagine if Christians who believe the stick is level before God helped discriminated ethnicities reclaim and affirm their Imago Dei (therefore helping their end of the stick return to God’s standard). What naturally happens to the other end of the stick? It must return to God’s standard as well since all of humanity bears God’s image equally.

If you happen to be standing on that end of the stick…it may feel like you’re losing your ethnic value, or even that Imago Dei is being diminished in you.  In reality, it’s an opportunity to return to a healthy understanding of Imago Dei in your group wherein God shows no favoritism (Romans 2:11).

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Marking Black History Month is simply one way to regularly affirm that the yardstick of Imago Dei is level in our church for our black brothers and sisters whose inherent human worth is not always regarded in the world.

Even though European immigrants of the 20th century faced bruising discrimination, they eventually assimilated in ways black people could not.

My heart is saddened when I hear that Black History Month at Fellowship appears to some as divisive.  That’s not the heart at all, but it could feel that way if one assumes the black and white experience in America is the same in terms of God-given dignity.

Again, Black History Month at Fellowship is simply one means of remembering the equality of God’s image in us all- despite what the world says.

Even so, there could be better ways to do this.  Black History Month is just one way.

Perhaps there are better, newer ideas.  I’m open to how Black History Month can or should morph at Fellowship.  I’m aware that older African Americans who lived through the Civil Rights era often see it differently than their children or grandchildren.

Whatever the best means, the goal is to live out the truth of our equality before God in defiance of Satan’s lie that some groups are superior to others.

Question 3- Black History Month assumes systemic racism exists in America--isn’t that a false and unbiblical claim created by Critical Race Theory and its Marxist agenda?

I think this question might be underneath some of the other questions I receive about Black History Month.

To respond to this question will require Part 2 next week.  

Stay tuned!

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