Jesus Unfiltered is Durham CU’s new podcast that aims to make sense of Christianity in the Modern World. In our most recent episode ‘Faith and Racial Injustice – Is God a White Man’ we interviewed Christian Aid’s Chine McDonald about racism within the church and her thoughts on the whitewashing of Christianity:
The Bible talks about God having no partiality and that all people are made equal. But obviously, there are lots of people who have personal experiences of racism in a Christian context. How is that possible?
As Christians we believe that God shows no partiality, and that’s really easy to say. Yes, God doesn’t show partiality, but I think humans do. And that’s shown in the day to day of how we do church, who our friends are, how we engage, what we think deep down about people who are different to us. Whiteness is held as superior within our church space.
What kind of music do we play in church? Who is at the front and whether that is the church leader or the worship? And who are we hearing from, not just in terms of from the front within our own churches, but the theologians that quoted in our sermons, the examples that are given that very much present a middle-class majority white viewpoint about how the world is.
Would you say that your personal experiences of racism within the church and that lack of representation has affected either your faith or your view of the church as you’ve grown up?
I’d say that my individual experiences haven’t been that bad. A lot of the experiences I have had are microaggressions, subtle little things that make me feel like I’m other. However, when I think about, let’s say, how I picture Jesus when I pray, I think of a white man who’s got blue eyes and sandy blond hair. He looks a bit like an American hippie from the 1970s. But obviously we know that Jesus was a Middle Eastern Jew, he was a brown man. And for me as a black woman, there is a slight distance, therefore, between me and Jesus.
I remember a few years ago reading a book called The Shack. And it’s about a man who encounters God in three forms, as an Asian woman, as a Middle Eastern man, and as a curvy black woman from the southern states of America. That representation of God completely blew my mind. I remember having conversations with my mum because we were suddenly like ‘Wow, this is this is a representation of us in the divine?’ Obviously, I don’t think that God is a black woman, but I also don’t think that God is a white man. So when I picture Jesus, I picture a white man. And that is problematic for me.
How do you think other parts of the Bible and Christianity have been whitewashed in that way that Jesus has?
Some people act as if God’s default is white skin. But when we look at the Bible, actually most of the people are brown from the beginning to the end. It’s not that being brown or black was and is an exception. So why is it that for some people that is surprising to hear?
We don’t see David or Moses or Jacob as brown people, we see them as white people because of a pervasive white supremacy across the whole world. I think there’s, for me, an added complication in that I am an African immigrant. And so, my Christianity has been intertwined with whiteness and colonialism.
Europeans came to Africa centuries ago to convert people to Christianity, and I’m really thankful that they did because I love being Christian.. But unfortunately, because of that my faith has been intertwined with colonialist narratives.. And you see that perpetuated in lots of people’s understandings of Christianity as the white man’s religion. A lot of black women and young black millennials are turning away from Christianity because of that problematic intertwining with colonialism. Turning back towards African indigenous religions because they see depictions of goddesses or African deities in themselves.
So, if we’re looking towards moving forward and creating hopefully a better, more equal future, what can the church be doing to show solidarity with the black community?
I’ve been so encouraged over the past few months since the death of George Floyd to see church leaders who I never would have expected to talk about these issues, asking how they can help. I’ve never seen an outpouring on the sense of injustice on issues of race like I have this year, so that’s amazing. And I think that is something of a move of God happening.
What’s most important is listening. To listen to what the black experience is and has been within particularly white majority church contexts. To listen, without defensiveness; without wanting to prove that you’re not a racist; and to recognise whether or not it is you as an individual who has caused harm. Recognising that we as a collective, as the church in the UK and further afield, have caused harm not just over the past few years or decades, but over centuries, and realising tangible changes need to happen in order to rectify that.
There are also ways in which we need to make room, which means relinquishing power in some spaces. I really hope that in the next few years that all white male leadership teams will be more diverse and that means doing a bit of extra work. It means doing some hard stuff of identifying who in your congregations can step up.
Chine’s new book ‘God is Not a White Man’ is out in May 2021
You can listen to the rest of this interview and other episodes of Jesus Unfiltered on Spotify, Apple, Anchor and other major podcast platforms. Look out for next week’s episode ‘Faith and Free Will’ w/ Krish Kandiah and our second season launching sometime in the spring.