THE TESTIMONY OF CHRIST
The Black church is one of the most important institutions that represent the cultural tradition of black America. It has powerfully influenced and continues to influence the course of American history. The voices of the prominent leaders that have come out of the Black church have influenced generations of Americans, regardless of their faith, race, and color. Understanding the religious vision of the Black church is very important in addressing the issues of race in this country.
The op-ed article “The Unsettling Power of Easter” by Esau McCaulley (The New York Times, April 4, 2021) provides interesting insights into the way that the Black church views Christianity. This view is decidedly dualistic. The author uses Easter to illustrate this dualism. According to his argument, there is not one, but two Easters that struggle alongside each other. One is about the celebration of spring and new beginnings. The other deals with “the disrupting prospect that God is present with us.” The presence of God’s power is, in his view, unsettling. The world in which Jesus is alive, he concludes, is more terrifying than the world in which He is dead.
As McCaulley explains, the reality of living Jesus punctuates the fact that we live in a violent and evil world. It is the world that crucified Jesus. The celebration of Easter is a disturbing reminder of the work that Jesus left for his followers. The enormity of the task is the source of grief and despair from which Christians can find only one refuge: hope and faith in the power of God as the infinite source of forgiveness and the abundance of love. In the author’s view, that is the testimony of the Black church.
This dualistic vision of the perpetual opposition between God’s Truth and the world in which we live has cogent points. However, it is decidedly incomplete. It somehow omits the main message of Christ about salvation or unity between humanity and God. The Creation is the key to salvation. Humans can attain salvation by participating in Creation.
Christ conveys this message in the very beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” The guarantee of unity with God and salvation comes from the very yearning for the Spirit of Creation.
Creation is universally inclusive. It includes all possibilities—past, present, and future—as its particular cases. Creation dissolves any dualism and unifies all reality. Truth, Beauty, and Justice are integral to Creation. They all come together as one unit. Justice that, according to McCaulley, the Black church seeks is unattainable without Truth and Beauty; and all three are only attainable through Creation. The presence of God and Creation in the world can only be the source of empowerment, joy, and beauty, not fear and anxiety.
The author’s call for love and forgiveness as the way to counter the world of injustice is important. However, this approach toward attaining justice is partial and, as such, doomed to fail. Love and forgiveness are important but they will not solve the problem without Creation. Universal inclusion and empowerment is the only way to do away with injustice. Such universal inclusion can only come with Creation. That’s the testimony of Christ and Christianity.
Gennady Shkliarevsky is Professor Emeritus of History at Bard College in New York.