Paul R. Lehman, Christianity and the church’s failure to address the problem of race

April 24, 2020 at 3:13 pm | Posted in Africa, African American, American Bigotry, American history, American Indian, American Racism, Bible, Bigotry in America, biological races, black inferiority, blacks, Christianity, desegregation, discrimination, Disrespect, education, ethnic stereotypes, Ethnicity in America, European Americans, Jesus, Nigeria, Pilgrims, race, Race in America, racism, segregation, skin color | 2 Comments
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In the fall of 1947, a young African American man entered the doors of a traditional Christian church near the downtown area of the city and asked to speak to the pastor. This particular church was located in a segregated area of the city and its parishioners were all European American. The young man met with the pastor and explained that he and his family had recently arrived in the city and could not locate a church of his denomination that included African Americans. He asked the pastor if God was worshiped in his church and if so, could he and his family could worship there. The pastor said that indeed, God was worshiped in his church, but he would have to get back to him about him and his family attending service there. A short time later, the pastor informed the young African American that he and his family could attend services at the church, but they would be required to sit in the rear of the church and wait to be last to partake of the Eucharist.
One might imagine how pleased the congregation felt about itself permitting a family of African Americans to worship God in their church. A gold star might be given the church for doing God’s work. After all, ethnic segregation was the norm for America during this period of history, and to go beyond the limits of the law was quite courageous for a European American church. While this incident might seem heart-warming and appropriate for a Christian community sharing God’s love, the action of the church were not consistent with the concept of Christianity.
Christianity, and by extension, the church, has always been complicit in the inhumane treatment of people of color. Before coming to America, the Portuguese and Spaniards destroyed many of the cities and enslaved many people of Mexico and portions of South America. In America, the Explorers from Spain and England captured American Indians and sold them into slavery. In the year 1535, Cabeza De Vaca and his party “…encountered a party of Spanish slave hunters under Diego de Alcaraz in Western Mexico. Seeing the terror of his American Indian escorts at these “Christian slavers,” as he acerbically called them, Cabeza de Vaca became openly critical of Alcaraz, who arrested him and sent him south and seized as slaves the six hundred natives in his company.”The explorers often referred to the Pope as giving them the authority to do whatever they wanted while enslaving the native people to enrich their investors.
When the English came to America under the guise of seeking religious freedom Christianity was used to both defend and condemn slavery and since the majority of the founders were slaveholders the only thing consistent relative to Christianity and slavery was the argument. Karen Armstrong wrote that “After the Civil War, demoralized by their failure to resolve the slavery question, many of the Evangelicals withdrew from public life, realizing that they had marginalized themselves politically. Their religion thus became separate from their politics, a private affair—just as the Founders had hoped.”The key point Armstrong made was the actions of the clergy and the church explains the situation today: “Before the war [Civil War] preachers had concentrated on the legitimacy of slavery as an institution but had neglected the issue of race.” She added that “Tragically, they would remain unable to bring the gospel to bear on this major American problem.” She also noted that for one hundred years after abolition African Americans continued “to suffer segregation, discrimination, and routine terrorism at the hands of white supremacist mobs, which the local authorities [including the church] did little to suppress.”
In recent years the church in America has given some attention to the problems of civil rights for people of color by working independently and with various civic organizations. However, the church has yet to speak to the primary issue of race, only the consequences of race in America. The ignorance or lack of action by the church relative to ethnic biases is not confined to America. A recent article’s (cruxnow.com>church >in>Europe>2020/04) opening sentences brought this message home clearly: “A Nigerian priest in Germany has been forced to leave his parish over concern for his safety after his car and house were attacked and he received a death threat. Catholic officials in Germany say the priest, Patrick Asomugha, who is the head of a parish in Queidersbach, a small municipality in western Germany, will leave his post this week.”The article stated further that “ ‘Concerns for the safety and wellbeing of pastor Asomugha makes this step unavoidable,’ Andreas Sturm, vicar general for the Speyer diocese’s bishop, said in a statement. It would be irresponsible to continue exposing pastor Asomugha to the threat.”One wonders why the church would place a person of color in a congregation that clearly showed ethnic bias.
The article referenced two statements made by members of the church served by Asomugha. The first stated that: “I won’t let my child be baptized by a black man.” The second also noted that “During communion service, one parishioner is also reported to have said: ‘I’m not taking anything from those dirty black hands.’”These two statements underscore a plethora of concerns the church had not addressed.
The Christian church, meaning protestant and catholic religions, have yet to debunk the false concept of races either biological or by skin color on a national and international level, and as a result, have helped to promote the concept of European supremacy. The church has not used the Bible to educate it, followers, that all people are God’s creation and reflect his image, so no one should be discriminated against because of their ethnicity. By not making the effort to educate its parishioners, the church invites segregation and discrimination to perpetuate among its members. The church fails to consider the ethnic and cultural differences among its members and places members of its clergy in harm’s way by not preparing the congregations and the priests appropriately relative to the challenges they face. The experiences faced by the priest could have and should have been avoided had the church done its job.
The church may have done considerable work in combating bigotry, but little work has been done to replace the cause of that bigotry—race.

2 Comments »

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  1. I’ll bet that young man in the first story was Papa Lehman.

    Like


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