If there is any contemporary meaning of the Antichrist (or “the principalities and powers”), the white church seems to be a manifestation of it. It was the white “Christian” church which took the lead in establishing slavery as an institution and segregation as a pattern in society by sanctioning all-white congregations. ~ James Cone
Jesus was like the original rapper, though. He was arguably a Black guy, or at least dark; hung with a posse of homies, one of them was strapped with a knife; went to war with the government–lost, just like a lot of Black guys do; and everybody loved him more after he died, like Tupac. ~ Killer Mike
Is there anything more humbling, more convicting, more threatening to a comfortable White Christian like me than the exercise of imagining God as Black? I don’t necessarily mean skin color, though I think the image helps. Nor do I mean that God is a rapper, though that also helps. But what if it’s true that Whiteness is the anti-Christ as James Cone argued? What if Jesus meant what he said and what if he meant White people when he said it– that it’s impossible for some to enter the kingdom of Heaven? We White men have always had clever answers for why he couldn’t be talking about us. What if it’s those very answers that we so cleverly construct that will ultimately prevent us from ever entering the Kingdom of Heaven?
It was actually when we first started to consider adopting a child from Haiti that I began to recognize the cultural prestige of my White skin. I was running through scenarios in my mind about how I might inform our landlord in Moscow that we’d be returning to the country with a Black child. Would I tell him the child would be Black? Or would I just let him find out on his own? I felt a flood of anxiety as I imagined walking past our neighbors, who already didn’t trust us for being American, holding the hand of my brown-skinned child. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was in very real danger of losing a roof over my head because of race (not that I really understood, since it wasn’t my race). I imagined the stone-faced passport control officers scrutinizing my passport, then my face, then my passport, then my face, then my child’s face, then her passport, then my face.
We began to feel like it would be cruel not only to uproot a Haitian from a tropical climate to the tundra of Moscow, but moreso to bring an unconsenting Black body into such an unreflective White racist environment. And based on some of the conversation over the past two years around which lives do and don’t matter, I don’t know if I could say America is any better. Maybe more sadly, I definitely couldn’t say White American churches are any better.
It’s a cliche and probably a shamefully accurate picture of my racial naivete, but the anxieties I began to feel about the challenge it would be to bring up a Black child in Moscow (even after adopting from Haiti was no longer an option) led me to search for all the rap music I could find. There were many things being said by rappers, after all, and the communities I frequented often wrote those things off long before anyone would think about listening to them.
Of course, I started with Kendrick Lamar whom I consider a missionary to White millenials like me. His “Blacker the Berry” broke me into pieces, my heart burning at holy and convicting revelation.
You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re fuckin’ evil …
You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’
You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga
Who is Lamar calling “fuckin’ evil”? Surely not me. Surely I’m not evil. I never did anything to hurt him, or any Black person for that matter. Despite my reformed theology that reminds again and again that I’m a sinner (we’re all sinners), and that apart from God I can do no good, I have a sneaking suspicion that most White theology would prefer to admit sin on its own White terms. God forbid we hear it from a Black man, and God forbid we hear it peppered with the f-word for emphasis.
As a thought exercise I like to imagine a White Reformed church, who every Sunday confesses the safe corporate confession, “we fail to care for the weak and poor among us. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves, and we neglect to reach out to those in need”; But this Sunday, instead, in our monotone White voices we confess that “we hate Black people; we confess that our plan is to terminate their culture; we confess that we’re fucking evil and that we sabotage their communities, making a killing, making them killers. Amen.”
It didn’t take me long before I came across several articles about how Kendrick Lamar is a devout Christian. Christianity Today has an article about it; or you could read about it here, here or here. Kendrick not only convicted me, but he began to Bible quite a bit for me. The Bible, after all, ought to interrupt my sinful thinking, right? If the Bible simply confirms what I already suspected, if it doesn’t shock me, alarm me, or offend me, then it might be reasonable for me to wonder if I’m just reading my own convenient agenda into it. Well, Bibling with Kendrick continues to interrupt my thinking in all kinds of ways. My clean White theologies begin to sound like the clean Wal-Mart editions of his albums, which omit just about half of all the important words.
His most recent album DAMN. has far exceeded My Utmost for His Highest for me in the supplementary devotional department. Especially the song FEAR. (Go find it on spotify or amazon or itunes and buy the song. It’s worth it). All the libraries of White commentaries attempting to elucidate the meaning behind “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” could never do what Kendrick does on this track. I have nothing to add to it, other than the comment that I’m grateful for a dialogue with Scripture that brings dusty Biblical images to life in discomforting and jarring ways– I don’t think there’s a single image in that song that doesn’t harmonize with some image from the Old Testament.
Forget sexual sins, or sins about who should marry whom, or sins of “arrogance.” Forget the sins that involve any amount of choice or my control. What if my Whiteness is the sin? What if Chance the Rapper’s comment about “Jesus’s Black life” not mattering is a cosmic indictment of the most oppressive of sins? And what if my lifestyle, my comforts, my privileges are an embodiment of that sin? I guess if that were the case I would be in a pretty tough spot– such a tough spot that I might really be in need of a savior.