Outplayed: Black Lives Matter, CHH, and the Church
I am pissed off. I am angry. I am tired. I am jaded. I am bitter. I feel like everybody black feels this way, or they have recently, and they have every right to feel these things.
We all watched ‘The Last Dance’ on TV recently, and sports seem to be a fairly tangible way for folks of all backgrounds and skin colors to understand a concept.
So imagine being Michael Jordan on those legendary ’90s era Bulls teams. Matter of fact, imagine just being a fan of those teams in their hey-day. (Just bear with me for the sake of this analogy). Nobody can tell you about your team. You know your squad is elite, you know you’ve got some of the best players in NBA history on your team. You’re willing to die for your team.
Now imagine the Bulls get blown out, straight up embarrassed at home. The United Center is packed, the whole world is watching – and the Bulls get blown out by like sixty. Scottie Pippen turns the ball over like 20 times. Rodman is getting boxed out every play. Horace Grant is missing open layups. Steve Kerr is air balling every shot. And Michael – is not himself.
None of the star players are playing well, nor do they seem to care. All the wrong people from off the bench are trying to make the shots, and Phil Jackson, holding his little dry erase board in hand, is tearing his hair out, flipping chairs and tables, mad as hell.
Now, after the game, imagine none of the players are owning up to any of their mistakes but instead they’re blaming you, gas-lighting you, not valuing you when you suggest a refresher on the playbook, more drills, and practices to improve, or simply to just play better. And instead of this just being one game, one embarrassment that your team can take on the chin, brush themselves off and move past – imagine they get blown out again at home and almost every other home game for like, 400 years.
That’s what it feels like to be Black and Christian.
Personally, that’s what it feels like to be in CHH right now. You know the potential of your guys, you’ve seen them do amazing things down the stretch, help win countless souls. But right now, in this string of seasons, your team sucks.
Don’t read too much into that analogy but, nevertheless, I hope it drove my point home. I think there’s enough symbolism there for you to connect the dots and see who’s who.
Honestly, the only thing keeping me from renouncing my faith right now is the actual physical evidence of what I believe was and is God moving in my life, the Holy Spirit changing things before my eyes, people getting healed, and people getting transformed. I have no faith in the church right now. I have zero faith in Christians right now. That’s where I’m at at this moment. Sorry.
I have white friends who don’t believe in God whatsoever. It’s due to many reasons: church hurt, manipulation, racism, bigotry, don’t feel accepted, ideological differences. But at the same time, these are some of the kindest and empathetic people I’ve ever met. And most importantly, they believe me.
When I say, “Hey, look at this racist video or read this article on the Tulsa Race Riots,” their reaction or their natural reflex isn’t, “Well let me get all the facts first.” They usually swear at first, condemn whatever is racist immediately, ask me how I feel about it, and then they listen to me. I can’t say the same for most white Christians I’ve met. I’ve had many try to invalidate how I feel and what I’ve seen. I’ve been challenged and gas-lighted on the Internet. And many times since the BLM movement started, I’ve found myself essentially pleading for white conservatives, white Evangelicals, white Christians to see my value – to see that black lives matter.
On the other hand, I’ve grown up in black church(es) my entire life. Growing up, my stepdad was beginning his journey as a Baptist minister and he preached at several churches across Georgia, the South, and as far from home as Chicago.
I’ve seen it all and know black church very well, from both the perspective of the pastor and the parishioner, but I still remained agnostic until I was grown and went to the largest evangelical Christian university in the world. (I won’t name it but you can guess and also Google. This is a write-up for another day because it is long and honestly, this isn’t about my life story). But anyway, (to no fault of my pops or anybody close, because they tried), one of the main reasons I was agnostic was because of the Black Church’s failure to address key issues that affect black people.
“Why are we worshipping a white man?”
“Is he really white?”
“Didn’t they enslave us and force us to be Christian?”
“Why do racist people claim to be Christian?”
“Does it make sense for black people to believe in Jesus?”
Most traditional black churches and seasoned Black Christians I was around could not answer these questions. They were not equipped. They would answer with vague answers like “Seek God” or “Pray about it” or avoid the questions altogether.
And all of this isn’t their fault. I eventually learned the fact that there were Black Christians in Africa centuries before European colonization. I learned that Ethiopia was the first Christian nation in the world. I learned that there are numerous black people in Scripture that played incomparable roles in Biblical history; a black man helped carry Jesus’ cross up Mt. Calvary. These truths comforted and affirmed my faith.
But many black people who were brought to the Americas, and especially to the United States to be enslaved were not affirmed like this. We were not lifted up. We were not loved properly. Our culture was destroyed, our language was beaten out of us, and our women, children, and men were raped, brutalized, tortured, and reduced to absolute shells of themselves…by many white people in the name of Jesus. Additionally, we couldn’t read the Bible for ourselves because that meant a beating, or imminent death by a noose around your neck, swinging from the nearest willow or oak tree – or someone gets sold away.
Thankfully, theological perspectives and ideas from the Black Christian point of view exist and are growing more prevalent over time, but it’s safe to say that we started in the hole and that certainly doesn’t help our faith.
So it’s hard to be a Black Christian. Despite the truths that I learned about Black Christians hundreds of years ago, the issue of racism and slavery in the context of Christianity has never been rectified or reconciled in my heart – probably because it hasn’t been rectified in the Church. And since it hasn’t been handled there, it hasn’t really been handled on any level of the Christian community, including CHH.
There are so many black people I personally know that reject Jesus because they believe that He is white and because of the psychological hurt that comes with that. They reject because black people have had this turbulent, abusive relationship with the American church. They reject because the world tells us black lives don’t matter and the Church as a whole doesn’t seem to disagree either.
Meanwhile, white pastors still refuse to denounce racism in front of their mostly white congregations or merely address it. The Southern Baptist Convention, an organization made up of mostly white conservative evangelicals and their churches, almost had a hemorrhage when they took up a vote to just agree to acknowledge slavery and racism in the U.S. and in the American church – and they still couldn’t agree.
White Christian influencers and public speakers will desire a multi-ethnic church or worship team, a “snapshot of what Heaven is going to look like” but are silent now and nowhere to be found in the midst of a political revolution against racism. And many white, non-black, and even some black CHH artists are either dead-quiet or dead-wrong, while simultaneously having built a career in, and profiting off of a very unapologetically and radically black, progressive artform – the most successful and relevant music genre ever created on Earth. This is what failure looks like.
Let’s be frank. Racism is the longest-running, most effective, most reliable tool that the enemy of God has on deck in the United States today. It’s the MVP of hell right now. Racism has worked for him worldwide for eons but has been especially rich and sweet in the U.S. There is plenty of history and evidence that reinforces this. There are so many accounts throughout time that document this, it is not a secret, it is a simple Google search away. His pride and joy, I imagine, is the fact that he’s doing numbers on Christians with the same old system, that same old stronghold called racism. It has been woven into not only the fabric of America but into the cloth of the American church. It has become such a parasite in the Church that when addressed, the host gets mad and defensive.
Until the stronghold of racism is properly addressed and unequivocally dismantled inside the American church, until slavery is acknowledged and rectified within every single American church body, until black lives in every single church in America matter and are affirmed with the same swiftness as other lives, until the Church fully repents for racism, the American church will never be equipped to fight racism in America.
Our prayers will be ineffective. Our sermons will fall on deaf ears. And as for CHH, our music will be unimportant. Many people already do not care what we have to say. On other issues like the sanctity of life, or sex trafficking, or marriage equality, I see many Christian artists passionately advocating and fighting for or against those causes. But when it comes to racism, police brutality, or the BLM movement, there is indifference, there is silence, there is ya’ll telling me and people who look like me that you don’t really care about us.
With that said, this is a crossroads and many of you all are going to have to draw a line in the sand. Racial justice and reconciliation is a biblical principle affirmed and literally acted out by Jesus himself. It is a commandment to love God and also to love people. And if you don’t know how to love people, Paul tells you how in Galatians 6, in 1 Corinthians 13, and all throughout the New Testament. I assume everyone reading this is intelligent. You can do the research. You can learn. You all can read. You’re reading this. The problem is that many Christians don’t really care, and if you call yourself a Christian, you are commanded to because God hates racism. So now is time to figure out what you are.
As far as those white Christians and Christian artists who do care, this is the stage of racial reconciliation where we’re past conversations. We’re past prayer vigils, town halls, asking for reading lists, being pointed in the right direction to understand or empathize. Trayvon Martin was murdered when I was a sophomore in high school. I am 24 years old now. That’s how long that you’ve had to figure this out.
There are so many resources that you can use to educate yourself if you are ignorant on a subject. Now it is time to do something. Please save your condolences and telling us that your heart breaks for what is going on. What are you going to do about it? When are you going to do your part? You are likely in close proximity with several racist people and probably will be closer to them than I will ever be. When will you challenge them? When will you correct your parents and family members? When will you challenge your pastor or racist members of your church? How are you raising your children? When will you start dying to yourself?
As far as those Black Christians who care, when are we going to start educating ourselves and our church bodies on the full extent of black people throughout Christian history, pre-Slavery? When are we going to start being more vocal about racism and acknowledging and fighting against not just the deeply spiritual but also the overtly physical, blatant, and historical? When are we going to start fighting ignorance and stop over-spiritualizing certain things? When are we going to start telling our people and our kids what color Jesus really was?
As far as the Church as a whole, when are we going to start teaching that Jesus was not white, or any other color or race but Hebrew. He was Hebrew on purpose and for a reason – to fulfill the promise God made to His people, to save his people. God’s faithfulness is essentially what the Gospel is. So any other graven image of His appearance is inaccurate, demonic, and I dare say, heretical.
So depict Him and describe Him as Hebrew. Any other depiction of Him is hurtful and the cause for so many leaving the faith or rejecting it altogether.
When are we going to stop producing Christian movies depicting Jesus as a white man? It’s not subtle or innocent, it’s defeating to millions of people. When are we going to start championing Black Christian literature in black AND white churches and theological circles? When are we going to stop perpetuating lies and quite honestly, heresy? When are we going to start addressing and dismantling the sinful legacy of racism within the Church and the Church’s complicity in all of it? When is the church as a whole going to start believing black people and affirming us? It’s the absolute least the American church can do. We’re past feel-good services and ceremonial acts of racial harmony. It’s time to start praying with our feet. Let’s be about action and less talking.
“The Lord coming back soon” should terrify us, because He’s likely going to question what we’ve been doing all this time. If you didn’t catch the symbolism from my analogy at the beginning, Phil Jackson represents God, who I imagine is pissed off at His ‘players’ for not doing their job on the court. If you are a Christian and you and your church already do things to actively combat racism, then good job, keep it up. If you don’t, you should, and you need to.
This is an op-ed for Rapzilla, but I feel like the implications of everything going on go far beyond CHH. In general, Hip Hop was created to be unique, radical, and unapologetic. It was, and in many ways still is the voice of the least of these: poor, black, and brown people of New York City and eventually worldwide. It was meant to be for and to affirm the black sheep, the others. It was created to be progressive and to champion counterculture and the outcasts. Black people in many ways are all of that to America.
Hip Hop is black in essence, black to its core, created by black people and is here to affirm black people. Christian Hip Hop is simply a space to redirect the energy that is already here, in order to point people that consider themselves a part of Hip Hop towards Jesus. We use the same talent, study the same greats, and love the same culture but we just operate from a Christian worldview.
If you’re not black, that’s fine. If you’re not personally all that progressive or radical, that’s okay. But if you consider yourself a member of Hip Hop culture, you must remember to respect its roots and its people. So as a Christian Hip Hop artist, your responsibility to how you love and fight for people is two-fold. So during times like this, in the midst of the current unrest around the country now, you need to learn to be an ally and help amplify the black voices around you who face racism every single day.
Do I agree with the riots? What type of question is that? Who objectively does? Do I understand why people are rioting? YES. That same rage you see manifesting in the protests is the same rage in my heart. Imagine a man beating the mess out of his wife for years, and she eventually revolts against him and then starts throwing and breaking things because she’s reached her breaking point. Do you objectively condone breaking things? No, not really. Do you understand why SHE’S breaking things? Well, hopefully so.
How can we criticize other people’s approach to how they combat a systemic evil that we ourselves have failed to even properly address? How can we criticize and pick apart a revolution started by the world around us when we’ve had the same opportunity to wage war against the same racism for 400 years? These riots didn’t just pop out of thin air or really even happen solely because of George Floyd. They are a result of centuries of systemic racism and police brutality against black people in this country. They are the result of the American church dropping the ball over and over, repeatedly for hundreds of years at the expense of Black Americans – Christian or not. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. You reap what you sow.
I’ll end with this, I know some people have this belief that it’s not okay to “talk bad on the Church” or Christians for that matter, meaning it’s wrong to criticize it. Well, that’s exactly what I’m doing. Have you ever seen the videos of Jordan, or Kobe, or even Lebron in practice talking trash to their own teammates, challenging them? Do you see how serious they are? It kind of makes them look like jerks. Well, in my opinion, that’s how you know that they cared; that’s how you know how badly they wanted to win.
Even though I’ve personally been hurt by the church, my family has been hurt, the American church has hurt my people systemically and simultaneously as the American government does the same – despite all of that, I want the church to win. Because I know the God I serve. I’ve learned to trust Him despite the actions of human beings who claim to love Him.
I am obligated as a Christian to love people & the Church, but I also believe there is a place for righteous anger when you fully love somebody. I decided to go this route with this piece because I deemed it to be the most beneficial for everyone, despite my anger. The anecdotes shared are my personal experiences, but many people share or can relate to my experiences.
So, if any of this applies to you, do what you need to do. Research, read, learn, take some initiative, and put your own effort into it – use that same vigor and work ethic you apply to your music or whatever your passion is. Equip yourself to not only fight racism spiritually with prayer but also practically and in a tangible way that actually means something to people.
It is your duty as a member of CHH if you wish to continue operating within a historically black space and actually make an impact. It is your duty as a Christian to continue operating in a business that revolves around people, period.
This is the crossroads. This is the breaking point for a lot of people. Are you going to love and fight alongside your fellow man? Are you going to bear our burdens? Are you going to deny your own biases and prejudice? Are you willing to die to yourself? Black people are collectively tired; many of us really don’t want to be on this team anymore. Many people of color and white people are tired with us.
I think it’s safe to say, we’re all tired of having so much promise, so much to offer, so much in us and being on a team with so much potential, only for our team to suck – for multiple seasons in a row. The Church is being outplayed.
Czar Josh is part of the upcoming young Christian rap collective Culture Villains. He was a 2019 Rapzilla Freshmen when smashed on the scene with For Your Heart.