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Why White Christians Should Listen to Black Christians

Talk about me much as you please,
Talk about me much as you please,
Chillun, talk about me much as you please,
Gonna talk about you when I get on my knees.

The piece communicates both lament and strength. The writer says, “I been rebuked and I been scorned” to talk about the disenfranchisement he or she has endured. An entire life is soberly summarized in the line, “I’se had a hard time, sho’s you born.” The final words of the song, “Gonna talk about you when I get on my knees” could be interpreted as spiteful. This may be the intention. But the meaning could also be that the singer has no other recourse and no other hope than to trust in God. While the singer may be powerless to fight for justice in the broader culture, prayer to God Almighty brings an even better form of deliverance.


“An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America”
by Henry Highland Garnet

“Go to your lordly enslaves and tell them plainly, that you are determined to be free. Appeal to their sense of justice, and tell them that they have no more right to oppress you than you have to enslave them. … Tell them in language which they cannot misunderstand of the exceeding sinfulness of slavery, and of a future judgment, and of the righteous retributions of an indignant God.”

Rev. Garnet spoke these words to advocate for armed resistance, if necessary, to slavery. His words would prove prophetic, as the Civil War began a few years later. In this brief excerpt, he describes the indomitable desire for freedom that all humankind shares. He exhorts his enslaved kinsmen to tell their White slaveowners that they are “determined to be free” (emphasis original). Then he goes on to invoke God’s character and justice to prosecute the evil of slavery and those who use it to advance their own causes. He speaks of slavery’s “sinfulness” and of “judgment” and “righteous retributions.” God is “indignant” at the way his children, especially those who call themselves Christians, treat other image-bearers. In this selection, we find not only a hope of deliverance in the next life, but the powerful urge for resistance in this one.


“Letter From a Birmingham Jail”
by Martin Luther King Jr.

“There was a time when the church was very powerful … in those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. … But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If todays’ church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned to outright disgust.”

In this famous essay, Dr. King presciently describes what may be considered the contemporary state of the church. Having once been a prophetic voice calling the broader culture to repentance and righteousness, recent statistics seem to indicate that the church has lost its “authenticity,” the “loyalty of millions” and has been “dismissed as an irrelevant social club.” Hence the rise of the “nones”—those who claim no particular religious affiliation. Throughout his letter, King laments the lack of engagement from the majority of White Christians and argues his case for nonviolent direct action. Could there be a day coming when Christians must mimic the methods of nonviolence to change unjust laws restricting freedom of religion? If that day ever arrives, we already have vast resources with which to educate ourselves.

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Jemar is the President and Co-Founder of the Reformed African American Network (RAAN) where he blogs about theology, race, and culture. He also helped start the African American Leadership Initiative (AALI), a program at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi to help recruit Black students as well as train Christians of any race for cross-cultural ministry. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree. Jemar serves as a pastoral ministry intern with Redeemer Church, PCA where he guides their small group ministry. His wife is Janee’ and they have one son, Jack.