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  • Writer's pictureDon Walker

Christianity Isn't a "White" Religion

“He made from one man every nation of mankind” (Paul the Apostle – Acts 17:26)

In the 1950’s and early 60’s, Elijah Muhammad, and his key disciple Malcolm X, were the primary voices in the black community declaring that Christianity was a “white” religion. The alternative was Islam, which they proclaimed as the “true religion of the black man.” Though the Nation of Islam (“Black Muslims”) is a departure from orthodox Islam, they were definitely a catalyst propelling many black Americans to examine Islam. Since that time we have seen the phenomenal growth of Islam in the black community.

Unfortunately, many have been deceived by the myth that Christianity is a “white” religion. The truth of the matter is that Christianity is not the sole property of white Europeans. It is much more African and “black” than is often realized.

In the book of Acts, the very first “Gentile” recorded to embrace Christianity was an Ethiopian (Acts 8:27-39). Greek writers used the term “Ethiopians” to refer to all Black Africans, who were the standard by which the Mediterranean world defined blackness. This Ethiopian eunuch was a court official of Queen Candace (Acts 8:27). Other ancient sources mention Nubia’s queen whose dynastic title was Candace. Nubia was an ancient and powerful civilization, which had continued since around 750 B.C. Luke, the author of Acts, probably intended this account to historically document the beginning of the spread of Christianity in Africa, which occurred rather rapidly. Nubia not only became predominately Christian, it did so without coming under the sway of Roman law (unlike much of “white” Europe). Thus we see the expansion of Christianity southward on the African continent.

African scholar, John S. Mbiti states: “Christianity in Africa is so old that it can rightly be described as an indigenous, traditional and African religion. Long before the start of Islam in the seventh century, Christianity was well established all over North Africa, Egypt, parts of the Sudan and Ethiopia.”

European scholar Theodor Mommsen acknowledged that “through Africa Christianity became the religion of the world.” Christianity developed earlier and spread more rapidly in North Africa than in most of the Roman Empire. Latin Christianity originated there, ultimately shaping the thought of the Roman Church. Christianity spread in Egypt so widely that that it remained predominately Christian into the tenth century. Even today at least ten percent of Egypt remains Christian.

Nearly half the prominent church leaders of the first few centuries were North African, and in all likelihood were dark in complexion. For instance the “nickname” of Athanasius was the “Black Dwarf.” (That ought to tell us something!) Augustine, whom I have always seen painted as a “white” man, was a North African. Guess what! Origen, Cyprian, and Tertullian were all black! In fact how “white” were Jesus and the Apostle Paul?

All of this is to show that Christianity is not, and never has been, exclusively a “white” European religion that was forced upon “black” Africans. From its very beginning it was ethnically diverse, not only in terms of Jews and Gentiles, but within the entire panoply of Gentile nations. It is not a “white” religion, nor is it a “black” religion. Neither is it yellow, brown, or red. It transcends ethnicity and unifies redeemed humanity in the New Covenant (Rev. 5:9). We must learn to appreciate what various ethnic groups bring to the Body of Christ in expressing the diversity of God’s creation. No one group can adequately express all that God is. God is both the source of our diversity and the source of our unity. This is a major theme of the Apostle Paul and his revelation of the mystery of the Church (Ephes. 2:11-22).

The attempt, by those who seek to deceive others into believing that Christianity is the “white” religion, must be met with the truth and a visible expression of Christ’s Kingdom. We must move beyond “racial reconciliation” and build “covenant relationships.” Let us demonstrate to the world the unity of the Spirit (Ephes. 4:3-5) which overcomes ethnic, social, educational, and economic barriers.

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