February is Black History Month and a needed annual reminder that the citizens of these United States, from their origin down to today, have not lived up to the professed vision of “liberty and justice for all.” Even more, as Christians, this is a chance to celebrate the creative brilliance of the God who “made from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26), and the redemptive beauty of his Son who, with his own blood, “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
And in 2017, we welcome Black History Month all the more, when racial tensions nationwide may be at a generational high, in the wake of the Ferguson unrest, viral videos of violence and brutality, and a racially charged election cycle. Campaign 2016 repeatedly pushed racial buttons, not only for Mexicans and Muslims, but African Americans. And observances such as Black History Month, even though they can’t do all the work on their own, have a role to play in our healing as a nation.
Into our racially charged environment, Black History Month presents an opportunity not only for us as Americans, but in particular as Christians.
I remember well my unsympathetic heart as a teenager growing up in South Carolina. Not only was I uninformed, but unrighteous. I remember rolling my eyes and saying, “So, when’s White History Month?” Which is not at all the spirit of Christ. Nor is it Christian to keep silent with our children about the realities of ethnicity in view of Christ. If we don’t cast a positive vision for our children about the glories of God-designed ethnic diversity, we leave their inherent ethnocentrism to swell and take root.
Rather, as Christians, we can rehearse the many reasons why we love ethnic diversity. And where the grand, theological, and global theory meets practice is in the particular locality in which God has placed us. For most of us in America, the Christian journey to loving all peoples will eventually take on countless shades and textures, but it typically begins very Black and White.
In this country, we simply cannot ignore that the plight of the African American has been uniquely difficult in this nation. This is in no way to minimize the unique pains and terrors of Native Americans or other groups. But it is to acknowledge that, for generations, the nation in which we live was built on and profited from a wicked system of God-dishonoring human abuse called chattel slavery — and that it is inevitable that we continue to deal with structural effects of such sin and evil.
Black History Month is about remembering the horrors of our shared history and celebrating the progress that has been made, in God’s common kindness, and specifically the many successes of black Americans despite such a history. As Christians, we honor this month, at least in part, because it helps us understand the painful plight of a people made in God’s image, many being fellow believers, and it acknowledges God’s goodness at work in the remarkable achievements of a people who often have been treated with utter wickedness.
Beauty of Ethnicities
And for Christians, the specific stories of pain and triumph in black history ripen as our roots grow deeper into the mind of Christ, and we mature in appreciating the beauty of various ethnicities and ethnic harmony. We rally to the vision of Psalm 96:3–4:
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
The shared praises of diverse and unified peoples are a tribute to God’s greatness. He is too great not to win worshipers from every tribe and people and nation.
And in exalting the glory of God, we undercut the power of sin. A Christian celebration of ethnic diversity is a frontal attack on the dragon of human pride. No ground at the foot of the cross is raised above another, no slightly higher hill assigned to certain ethnicities. God first levels our pride in the equality of our creation (Acts 17:26), then Christ packs the ground tight in the equality of our redemption (Galatians 3:28). Here is neither black nor white, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ. Such specific verses and truths are what lodge and expand in a soul when “the gospel” goes to work on racism.
So let’s thank God for his brilliance and breadth in creating diverse peoples. And let’s cast the vision for our children again and again. It is a beautiful thing that God made so many types of humans reflecting his image as the pinnacle of his creation. Black is beautiful, and particularly so with Spirit-opened eyes against the backdrop of horrors in this nation’s history. One month a year is not too long for reminding ourselves of it and celebrating it. Let’s pray.
Prayer of Confession
Father in heaven, we confess as sinners that pride and arrogance lurk in every soul, especially our own. And a natural aspect of that pride is a kind of ethnocentricism that has dwelled in all of us. But Father, we have come to love your Son, Jesus Christ, and we are learning to hate human pride, especially our own, and our common rebellion against Jesus’s kingship. We want to grow in appreciating your good gift of ethnic diversity, and not just globally, but in the specific manifestations you have given us, in your good and wise providence, in our nation and in this city. We renounce racism, in all its forms, in our land, and in our hearts. And we confess to you now our sins in the quiet of this moment. . . .
Note: President Ford’s original charter for Black History Month states the purpose as “to seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans.” For starters, watch the two-minute overview video from History Channel. For black history in the church, consider reading about Lemuel Haynes (1753–1833), Daniel Payne (1811–1893), and Francis Grimké (1850–1937) in Thabiti Anyabwile’s [The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors](https://www.amazon.com/Faithful-Preacher-Recapturing-Pioneering-African-American/dp/1581348274/), or learning from John Piper on the life of Clarence Thomas and on how Martin Luther King, Jr changed his life. Perhaps dip into Piper’s Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, available free of charge in three digital formats, or listen to his message on “The Sovereignty of God and the Soul Dynamic.” This exhortation is an abbreviated version of a longer article on Black History Month that appears at desiringGod.org.