Lies Hip Hop Told Me: Christianity is the White Man’s Religion
I was 21 years old when I first heard the gospel message of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. Prior to that, virtually everything I knew about religion in general and Christianity in particular I learned from hip-hop culture.
Hip hop’s music, movies and books communicated diverse views on religion with some explicitly endorsing a particular religion (such as Ice Cube’s album Death Certificate), others choosing pieces from several religions (such as Common on “G.O.D.”) and others rejecting religion in general (such as Nas on “Represent”). Yet for all of its religious diversity, hip hop seemed to have a fairly consistent message about Christianity: It is a false religion because it is the white man’s religion.
This shaped my view of Christianity for years and led me to dismiss Christians and their beliefs as necessarily false. Unfortunately, I did this because hip hop lied to me. Christianity is not the white man’s religion and even if it were that would not necessitate its falsehood.
To join the many voices within hip hop that claim Christianity is false because it is “the white man’s religion” or “the slave master’s religion” is to commit a logical fallacy philosophers call “the genetic fallacy.” We are guilty of the genetic fallacy anytime we decide whether something is true or false on the basis of where it originated.
For instance, Bill might say he knows it to be true that 2 + 2 = 5 because his parents told him so. But the fact that this information was obtained from what Bill considers a trustworthy source does not guarantee it is true.
Likewise, Tanya might say she knows it to be true that 2 + 2 = 4. If you ask her where she learned this, she might tell you that she learned it from a giant purple dinosaur named Barney. As ridiculous as the origin of her belief may be, the origin of her belief is unrelated to whether or not her belief is actually true. It is either true that 2 + 2 = 4 or it is not.
The origin of someone’s belief is irrelevant to the question of its veracity. Each truth-claim must be evaluated on the basis of its own merits and not on the basis of its origins. Thus, even if it were true that Christianity is the “white man’s religion,” that would tell us nothing about whether Christianity is true or false, good or evil.
That is not to say that history is not important. History helps us understand who we are, what we do and why we are who we are and do what we do. History also helps us see that Christianity is definitively not the white man’s religion.
White people in the West did not introduce Christianity to Africans through slavery. To the contrary, it was Africa that helped to introduce Christianity as we now know it nearly 2,000 years prior.
Though sometimes forgotten due to the Arab conquests of the continent, Africa boasts a long and rich Christian history, making the Christian religion just as much a traditional African religion as any other. That history began before the Bible was even completed.
The people of Africa were exposed to the God of the Bible at least as early as the time of Joseph. Though Moses had not even been born to write the Pentateuch at this point, the people of Israel brought with them an oral history of God’s nature and God’s dealings with his people. Generations later, as God led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, many Egyptians recognized the God of the Bible as a God unlike any other.
Roughly 1,500 years later, the people of Africa were again exposed to the God of the Bible, though unknowingly, when he dwelt with them in the person of Jesus Christ, who was taken by Mary and Joseph into Egypt to protect him from the wrath of Herod.
Some 30 years later, Jesus faced crucifixion in Jerusalem. As the weak and battered God-man walked toward his execution, it was an African man, Simon of Cyrene, who helped him carry his cross. The Apostle Mark names Simon of Cyrene as the father of Alexander and Rufus. The specific names of Simon’s sons would only be worth mentioning if they had become Christians who were known by Mark’s readers.
After Jesus lived, died, rose again and ascended, his apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered to proclaim the gospel message at Pentecost. This very first public proclamation of Jesus’ newly founded Church was heard by many people from many places, including Africans from places such as Egypt and Libya, who were gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost.
At least 3,000 people were converted that day. The African converts took this gospel back to their homelands with them after the celebration. Thus, the gospel made its way into Africa not in the 17th century through colonization but in the first century, within months of Jesus’ death, through native peoples.
Several Africans play key roles in the book of Acts, where the gospel continues to spread beyond Jerusalem. One such man is Apollos, an African of Alexandria, who became an influential teacher and co-laborer of the Apostle Paul. Also, at the church at Antioch, from which Paul and Silas were sent out as missionaries, we find at least two key leaders of African descent: Simon called Niger and Lucius of Cyrene. Perhaps the most famous African in the pages of the New Testament is the Ethiopian eunuch whose conversion is recounted in Acts 8.
The Ethiopian eunuch was a high-ranking member of the Queen of Ethiopia’s court. While traveling back to Ethiopia from Jerusalem he was reading the words of the prophet Isaiah from the Septuagint (the Old Testament that was translated from Hebrew into Greek in Africa). While reading, he encountered Philip the evangelist who explained the gospel to him, assured him of his salvation, and baptized him. The Ethiopian then returned home rejoicing, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ with him into Ethiopia where Jesus’ Church has maintained a consistent witness for two millennia.
Just as the gospel moved into Africa from Jerusalem, it would later move out of Africa into Europe and elsewhere. Even as early as the book of Acts (11:20), Africans were already evangelizing non-Africans. Over the next several hundred years African Christians would leave a tremendous impact on Western Christianity, so much so that the Western missionaries who came to Africa nearly 2,000 years later would bring with them an understanding of Christianity that was heavily influenced by Africans, whether anyone was aware of it or not.
The core Christian doctrines that American slave masters passed on to black slaves in the 17th through 19th centuries were shaped in large part by African Christians nearly 2,000 years before. Several of these doctrines (such as the nature of Jesus, the nature of the Holy Spirit, and the nature of the Trinity) were formally codified at Church councils such as the Council of Nicaea.
Some within hip-hop culture have taken issue with these councils on the basis that they were convened by white men (which again is to commit the genetic fallacy). For instance, Ras Kass dismisses Christianity as he raps, “white Romans established Christianity.” In so doing, Ras Kass shows his ignorance of who made the decisions at these councils and how.
Nicaea and the other councils included bishops from all over the Christianized world and, in the case of Nicaea, far more from the East (including Africa) than from the West. It was this culturally and ethnically diverse group of bishops – and not “white Romans” — who translated the teachings of Scripture into the creedal statements that these councils produced and all orthodox Christians now follow. In each case, the creedal statements were heavily influenced by the writings and teachings of African theologians such as Augustine, Alexander, Athanasius, Cyril and others.
Ironically, whenever hip hop identifies Christianity as “the white man’s religion” it takes a religion that is by no means white and actually makes it whiter by overlooking the exceedingly important role of Africans in the Bible and in church history. Thankfully, hip hop does not have the last word on Christianity — Jesus does. He “gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own” (Titus 2:14) which consists of individuals “of every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).