As the Advent season is now upon us, I’m reminded of an unfortunate Twitter exchange I got into last year during the middle of the season. I had wanted to write more about it but at the time was a little over a month away from my wedding and in the throws of packing for the out of state move. Taking a breaking from the pile of responsibility, I stumbled upon this statement made in a tweet;
Still hearing way too many white church leaders uncritically equating darkness with evil this Advent. I mean what are you thinking while you’re looking into the (few) black faces of your congregants, colleagues, and sometimes children?
My immediate retort was that the darkness spoken of at Advent relates to the corruption of this world because of the Fall that happened through one man’s disobedience. So yes, it is associated with evil because of the sin that entered into the world (see Rom. 5:12). Advent points us to the hope in Christ in his overcoming the impact of the Fall. After all, Advent IS about him and what he came to do in this world on our behalf. The darkness associated with Advent has absolutely nothing to do with skin color although historically, some have made that association (I’ll get to that in a minute).
Furthermore, the theme of darkness as it relates to the corruption of sin in contrast to light is a central theme in John’s writings and he certainly wasn’t referring to skin color. Are we really going to undermine the very expression of Scripture itself for some type of validation of ourselves and undermine the significance of Advent in the process? It is not only perfectly acceptable to speak in these terms related to sin but more importantly, direct attention to the remedy for it.
And this is the judgment; the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (Jn. 3:19)
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. (Jn. 8:12)
In context of both of these statements, Jesus is directing his audience, the Pharisees, to the fact that their stature as religious leaders were of no consequence because they were stumbling around in the dark, so to speak. They needed to acknowledge him as the one sent by God. There is also a nod here to the Old Covenant that could not fully expunge sin. Furthermore, we can look to the opening page of Genesis and see that darkness by itself is not bad but the light following it makes for creation as God intended, a good one. But certainly we can look beyond Genesis 3 but also to our chaotic world and see that darkness indeed has invaded it.
Needless to say, my spurning of this statement made in the tweet garnered the charge that white supremacist theology was so imbedded in the bowels of Christianity that I couldn’t even fathom interpreting Scripture any other way. Imagine that, focusing on Christ and sin as opposed to skin color meant I wasn’t interpreting Scripture correctly.
But I get it. It’s not lost on me what has happened historically with this association. Ensconced in the false construction of a white race and black race, the white supremacist mindset relegated the “black race” to an inferior class of people and used Scripture to justify it. People with black and brown skin were not granted the same stature of humanity and were deemed to be a product of the curse that stained the world from the fall of Adam in the garden. Passages such as Gen. 9:25 were used as justification that descendants of Africa were sub-human. It’s why you could easily find evangelical pastors and theologians extolling the virtues of chattel slavery and deeming it a fitting providence because they misappropriated darkness with skin color.
Yes, we have this wretched history and we do well to be honest with it. But we also need to separate it’s tragedies from the realities of what darkness of sin is about, including the imposition of skin color on to the biblical text. After all, this is what the so-called white race did for centuries.
But you see what’s really going on here. The biblical text must be interpreted in a particular way to accommodate any sensibilities people of color may have. This raises an ever increasing urgent question for me. Which is greater–the supremacy of Christ or the white supremacy that distorted views on his creation? Honoring Jesus as Lord means all is subjected to his words, his paradigm, his plan and his purpose. He is the author and subject of Scripture and all creation. Are we really going to let the abuse and misuse of others dictate the revelation of God in Christ to satisfy the need for ethnic affirmation? What God does through his Son is what really matters here.
Sadly, this falls in line with a growing trend I’ve observed and the need to identify Jesus by his skin color, a brown skinned Middle Eastern man, and persistently addressing him in these terms. It’s as if this is necessary to for the God-man’s ability to relate to us according to our ethnicity and skin tone. Yes, he intersected his creation in a particular cultural context and one that could have produced a variety of skin tones. But his time here on earth, his perfect obedience and sacrificial atonement was for people of all cultures and skin tones. He is building his church of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. That doesn’t mean we look at him or the people he came to redeem as colorless blobs but it does mean we put the ethnic and cultural aspect in its proper perspective.
This perspective will be revealing about where we find significance and validation. Does Jesus really need to look “just like us” in order to be acceptable to us? Do we really need to circumvent the reality of sin so that it doesn’t offend our sense of ethnic affirmation? We don’t have to dismiss ethnicity, nor should we, but we certainly can’t let it govern our theology. Because it is indeed a tragedy to persistently impose ethnicity or skin color and make God into our own image. By doing so we are stating what is of higher importance and placing ourselves above him.
A choice must be made. We are either going to subject our sensibilities and earthly validation at the feet of Jesus or we’ll continue to shape his identity into one that affirms ours. We are either going to indicate that he matters most or us. We must choose who and what has more importance here.
So back to the question in that tweet: what are those white evangelicals thinking? I’d like to think when that minister looks into faces of all hues is that God the Son took on flesh of whatever color it was, to become like us to redeem us from the curse of the Fall. That as we light our candles this Advent season we can peer into the darkness of a world shattered by sin and despair and look to the hope in Christ and wait for his return.
Tish Harrison Warren wrote a beautiful Advent reflection on darkness that is worth a read, Want to Get into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness. It has zero to do with skin color and everything to do with looking to Christ.