What If God Were Black?

That’s a question posed by Robert F. Kennedy back in 1966. 

What if God were black?  We tend to see the world from our point of view and as you can imagine, there are as many points of view as there are people who have them.  And since our point of view is formed and shaped by our lives, it’s hard for us to imagine how other people look at the world.  But what if our assumptions of the world were turned upside down?  What if the things we thought made us superior or better or right were…wrong?  What if God were black? 

Saddleback Church ordained its first three female pastors a couple of years ago.

This was an historic occasion.  Not because they were female.  The United Methodist Church has been ordaining women as pastors since 1956.  But because Saddleback Church is part of the Southern Baptist Convention which expressly forbids women from preaching.  By the way, in case you think this was an outdated policy that simply hadn’t been overturned, the SBC wrote this into their Baptist Faith and Message statement in the year 2000.[1]  Prior to that there had been rare exceptions where a woman was ordained in the Baptist tradition.  But that changed at the turn of the century.  Owen Strachan, a faculty member at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote this: “There is no exception to 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Not Mother’s Day, not when a woman has real gifting, not when the elders endorse women preaching. Based on his creation order, God only calls men to lead, preach, teach, & shepherd the flock…”[2] If you’re confused by this, Strachan is basically saying that because God created men first, they get all the prime jobs while women are left to pick up the scraps.  They don’t make an argument based on talent or gifts or experience.  It’s based on the “created order.”  And that’s the official stance of the Southern Baptist Convention.  So, what if God was a woman?  If it’s all about the “created order” what if God were a woman?  Would the men of the SBC willingly give up all their positions of power and take up housekeeping as a profession?  Because God could be a woman.  Or asexual.  Or gender-fluid.  While it’s true the Bible often refers to God using male pronouns, no one has ever seen God to know what God looks like.  God could BE anything. 

The United Methodist Church has been ordaining women with full clergy rights since 1956.

But the SBC isn’t the only group of people with a distorted view on reality.

Before we pile too deeply on them, and believe me there’s a lot we could say about their beliefs, we need to realize this inability to live in reality isn’t limited to far right evangelical groups.  It’s something that is a danger to us all – left, right, and center. It doesn’t take much to find people with a distorted view of reality. Each of them believe whole-heartedly in their view, not because it’s the truth, but because of the lens through which they see the world.  The question we need to ask ourselves is: How is our world view shaped by our beliefs and, more importantly, are we open to thoughts and ideas different from our own?  The challenge for us constantly is to make sure we are not seeing life with blinders on, but are receptive to the movement of the Holy Spirit and consider the ways we are limiting our own worldview.  Jesus challenges us to be receptive, to open our hearts to where God is leading in this passage we’re about to share. 

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” – Luke 8:4-8

What kind of soil are you?

Usually, we picture ourselves in this story as being the farmer.  When read that way, this is a story to encourage us to keep sharing God’s love regardless of where our efforts land.  Some will be receptive to it and some won’t but for us to be diligent in continuing forward.  But I read a reflection by Rick Warren of all people who looked at this parable in a new light.  What if WE are the SOIL?  What if God is constantly trying to share his love for us and WE are the rocky ground or the thorny ground or the hard ground where the birds ate it all up?  Perhaps this story is trying to share with us our need to be like the good soil, fertile and ripe for planting.  We need to constantly keep the soil of our hearts tilled and rich and overturned so we are receptive to where God is leading us.  We can’t afford to have our hearts become hardened or rocky or riddled with thorns.  When that happens we become unyielding to the work of God. 

Which takes us back to our question, “What if God were Black?” 

Robert Kennedy wrote about his experience in South Africa when that country was still practicing apartheid – a system of racial segregation which classified white citizens higher than anyone else in society.  In part, the white population justified their treatment of Coloured and Black people based on the Bible, saying this was part of God’s plan.[5]  When Robert Kennedy went to visit, the government didn’t want to approve his visa, but most people thought he could be the next President of the United States and the South African government didn’t want to have bad relations with the next leader of America so they reluctantly let him in.[6]  This is a part of what he wrote about his experience: “During five days this summer, my wife Ethel and I visited South Africa, talking to all kinds of people representing all viewpoints. Wherever we went-Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Stellenbosch, Johannesburg – apartheid was at the heart of the discussion and debate.  Our aim was not simply to criticize but to engage in a dialogue to see if, together, we could elevate reason above prejudice and myth. At the University of Natal in Durban, I was told the church to which most of the white population belongs teaches apartheid as a moral necessity. A questioner declared that few churches allow black Africans to pray with the white because the Bible says that is the way it should be, because God created Negroes to serve. ‘But suppose God is black,’ I replied. ‘What if we go to Heaven and we, all our lives, have treated the Negro as an inferior, and God is there, and we look up and He is not white? What then is our response?’ There was no answer. Only silence.”[7] 

Many historians consider Kennedy’s “Ripple of Hope” speech, which he delivered at the University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966, to be his greatest speech. Courtesy of NPR

What preconceptions and maybe misconceptions are you holding onto?

What are some ways you might be limiting the work of the Holy Spirit in your soul because you are not open to new or different ways of thinking?  Our own denomination is struggling with this right now.  We are not immune from this struggle to be the good soil.  Right now, we are asking the question, “Do people who identify as LGBTQ+ qualify to serve in pastoral leadership?”  It’s an argument that has been raging on for decades and one that will inevitably split us apart. But why? Why is our interpretation on who is fit to serve so narrowly defined? Why is it we predetermine if someone is qualified based on such shallow guidelines instead of by the fruit of their labor? The same argument used to hold women back from serving as pastors is the same argument used against people of color and is the same argument used against the LGBTQ+ community. When will we learn?  

We are our own worst enemy.

We hold ourselves back from all God has to offer because we don’t spend enough time being open to the work of the Holy Spirit.  I want to challenge you this week to test your soil, to be open to different perspectives.  Many of us have a tendency to immediately push back on new ideas, to dismiss them out of hand before even considering it.  Instead, be intentional.  Hold back from your gut instinct.  Promise yourself you’ll give every idea at least ten seconds of time to ponder the possibilities no matter how outlandish they appear to be on the surface.  That doesn’t mean they AREN’T outlandish, but I think you’ll be surprised at how often you are resistant to new things and how just taking a deep breath can give you the chance to be inspired by something different.  Just like a farmer working the land, we need to till the soil once in a while to keep it fertile and prosperous.  So, too, do we need to till the soil of our minds and challenge our preconceptions of the world. 

[1] https://scotmcknight.substack.com/p/the-heart-of-the-sbc-opposing-culture

[2] https://scotmcknight.substack.com/p/the-heart-of-the-sbc-opposing-culture

[3] https://www.bbc.com/news/52847648

[4] https://www.cnn.com/2021/05/13/politics/marjorie-taylor-greene-aoc/index.html

[5] http://www.scielo.org.za/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2413-94672015000200011

[6] http://www.npr.org/2011/08/12/139449268/remembering-rfks-visit-to-the-land-of-apartheid

[7] http://www.rfksafilm.org/html/media/magazines/look.php

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