Did you know?
During the 4th century A.D., that both the church father of the east and of the west were both African. Yes, that puts a ruffle in the Islamic claim that Christianity is “the White Man’s Religion”.
In the east, there was Athanasius of Alexandria. It is noted, that some people even called him “the black dwarf” back then. Nonetheless, he was the church father of the eastern church, and is noted for valiantly defending the full deity of Christ, even to the point of being temporarily excommunicated.
Simultaneously, Augustine of Hippo was the patriarch over the west and was also from North Africa. His massive works and development on theology are still studied vigorously to this day. It is his theology that Calvin and Luther would later draw from to arrive at what we call today western theology. While their theology is very different and distinct from Augustine, making some claims and assumptions he never did, it is indisputable that he is the Father of Western Christianity and Theology.
While some could argue that the western tradition has used theology to promote and justify slavery, racism, and apathy towards social justice, those current ideologies were not held by these church fathers. In fact, at that time the church was much more multi-ethnic, and its face was very diverse. The amazing thing is that simultaneously both the two primary church fathers were African, yet few are aware of it. Check it out for yourself.
Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD
Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well.
Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance.
His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign.
Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today.
His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action.
Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo.
Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.
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12 thoughts on “White Man’s Religion???”
Thanks Drew! I think it’s very helpful to return to the early church to find wisdom for our faith today. And I so appreciate the connections you’ve drawn between the early church Fathers and questions of race for Christianity.
Great post Drew!
Those greats such as Athanasius of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo did an magnificent job setting up the stage for us people who live now and all those who’ve lived and practiced the beliefs. They helped us get and understand. I have studied about Athanasius in the past back before I moved to the States. He was a very holy man. We should always thank God for those who he sent to help people and guide them through times when it was hard to stay faithful and close to God as far as living among those who didn’t believe in the same beliefs they believed in.
It’s good to reaffirm that Christianity is not just a faith for one kind of person. Sometimes we learn about these early church leaders and don’t stop to think about how diverse the church was back then as it is/should be now. No, definitely not just a “white man’s religion” at all! Interesting post!
It still is a religion mostly run for the benefits of whites
American Christianity-ism sure… I would agree that it is often just a systematic religion that benefits some in spite the welfare of others. However, there has always been 2 streams of Christianity in almost every context. Fredrick Douglas made the distinction between “true Christianity” and what he called “Christianity of this land”. We see that lived out here, in the west, in Africa, in India… everywhere. Jesus himself warned there would be wolves in sheep’s clothing, and basically. The mark of his disciple is one that feeds the hungry, loves their neighbor, and lets the oppressed go free. All direct quotes from Jesus.
Yup, some get it and some don’t. My problem is having love for the Christians who are more about loving their lifestyle and posessions than loving those who Jesus loved, the poor, sick, lame, opressed and imprisoned and who use their theology to justify not caring and doing for these folks. I get so crazy, I can see no logic in their explanations…yet i know God loves them and calls me to do the same. Don’t mean I have to hide from truth-talking, though.
Yes it is the white man’s religion. He invented it. Athanasius and Augustus were not the originators of Christianity. They were converts. Also, putting a black man in charge of a institution that serves the best interests of whites at the expense of blacks (or any one else for that matter) does not mean that it is not racist.
However if you want to argue with Muslims about the “white man’s religion”, hit them with this: Islam is NOT the black mans religion either! Blacks were enslaved and converted by white Arab muslims as well; this was the precursor to the transatlantic slave trade.
The black man’s true ‘religion’ exists outside of today’s monotheistic interpretation. Before the coming of monotheism to Africa, we practiced a vast variety of disciplines and “religions”, too numerous to count and too diverse to categorize. Most of what we practiced then would be considered as pagan today.
Christianity is not a “religion” it’s the truth. It is a description of what is real and what is not (you could look at it that way).
Some body … anybody…
Arabs are white?
He doesn’t know what he is talking about… Arabs are located in minor asia… it was a weak argument which began on a ill informed premise.
It’s amazing to me that racial history is often framed in the dualistic terms “white man” and “black man”. The ancient Mesopotamian regions were diverse:
At that, nearly every historical text and particularly those considered Abrahamic, canonized or not, make nearly no mention of race and when so it’s usually highly debatable because the references are ambiguous and metaphorical. The Book of Gates is clearly exceptional and its nearest counterpart is classical Greek.
So the bottom line, whether you consider it *sexy* or not, is that the ancient world was racially agnostic. Kingdoms, tribes and cities consisted of diverse ethnic representation and modern re-writes ignore this fact to frame a divisive political agenda.
Christianity is not the white man’s religion nor is it the black man’s, any latin, asian man’s or any group’s or single person’s. It was created and meant for all to embrace.
As to the colorful though thoroughly crass movie 300 (cue the corny rock music) or some evil Muslim scientist supposed creation of white people (zombies attack!!), and other forms of immense bullcrap, it’s up to you what you choose to consume.
As to Hitler, he also served a colorful and doomed propaganda. So have African war lords in leopard furs. George Bush does in a cowboy hat.
All the while, the ideal practice of Christianity remained colorful and yet color-blind, South Africa thrived and Caesar remained Caesar when named Robert Mugabe:
So while blue helmets and red crosses in the heart of Africa can only do so much, many Christians yearn for leaders to cooperate for peace and prosperity without regard to their styled identity or national inclinations.
Along the same line, Christianity should connote no ethnic association and serve all of mankind.