“Why should we talk about Black History Month at our church?” This was a question posed to me by someone at a church I am working with.
I had asked for approval to make weekly posts honoring and celebrating Black History Month on the church’s social media page. This church is in a small, rural, Southern town and has little to no experience talking about race productively. I explained this could be a good starting point to learn about the beauty and uniqueness of the Black community’s culture and rich history. A social media post allows people to determine what level of engagement they would like to have with the information. It is a low-stakes intervention.
Even the idea of weekly posts about the reality of the Black community’s contributions to and lived experience in our nation’s history was cause for immediate resistance and questioning in this Southern church.
“Why should we talk about Black History Month?” Because the Black community has contributed greatly to the advancements of our culture, technology, research, music and much more. But also, because the Black community has historically, systemically and presently been oppressed by our society, and we need to name that oppression and work toward dismantling every prejudiced and broken system still woven into the fabric of our society.
Black History Month is about celebrating the perseverance of Black Americans and highlighting their experiences and stories so they can be heard. The intent of this month is not solely to focus on the collective and systemic trauma Black Americans have been forced to endure, but it is to really spend time appreciating and engaging with the contributions the Black community has made to the story of America.
But why should the church be talking about this? If not for the reasons above, then because of the understanding that we are all created in God’s image. Every gift, talent, passion and work done by Black Americans that we honor during this month is because they are a gift from God’s creation. And as the story told in Genesis promises us, it was good.
The church should be talking about Black History Month because the Black church has taught us so much about our shared faith, how to trust in God and how to truly walk like Christ did. As Jemar Tisby says in his book The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism: “Black people immediately detected the hypocrisy of American-style slavery. They knew the inconsistencies of the faith from the rank odors, the chains, the blood and the misery that accompanied their life of bondage. Instead of abandoning Christianity, though, Black people went directly to the teaching of Jesus and challenged white people to demonstrate integrity.”
“The discomfort some feel surrounding Black History Month is rooted in the presence of prejudice and bias that is still surrounding us in all areas of our lives.”
The reality is the discomfort some feel surrounding Black History Month is rooted in the presence of prejudice and bias that is still surrounding us in all areas of our lives. As Christians, we should lead discussions on loving one another by truly knowing one another. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 we are reminded of the unity and diversity that is the body of Christ. Verse 26 states: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices in it.”
We are taught that diversity within Christ’s church is part of his intention for us. It is beautiful and necessary. We must understand that we are a collective community; we should be experiencing life together. We cannot do this if we ignore an entire part of God’s good creation.
Tisby writes toward the end of his book, “In the Bible, James 4:17 says, ‘If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.’ … The church today must practice the good that ought to be done. To look at this history and then refuse to act only perpetuates racist patterns. It is time for the church to stand against racism and compromise no longer.”
The question should not be “Why should we talk about Black History Month in our church?” but rather, “How can we not?”
If you are a part of a church that is new to celebrating Black History Month, here are three ways you can invite your church to honor the contributions of the Black community in America:
- Share from the pulpit. Share a sermon with your congregation explaining why this month matters to us as the church, and why it should be talked about and celebrated. Black history is our history.
- Start a mini book series hosted at the church. Reading novels, memoirs and historical books about Black history is a great way to get your congregation talking about and appreciating the strength of the Black community. Here is a list of 25 books recommended to read during Black History Month.
- Highlight a story honoring important Black individuals, events or spaces weekly. Most churches have a social media presence. Invite your congregants to learn about the different contributions of Black Americans in our history through an educational post. Invite your congregants to support Black-owned businesses today.
Engaging with content created by the Black community allows us to grow in our view of the world, to be inspired by the thoughts and beliefs of this community, and to invite all parts of the body of Christ to be valued in our churches. We have a responsibility to know each other well. Why not start today?
Natalie Ortiz-Lovince is pursuing a master of divinity degree at Truett Seminary and a master of social work degree at the Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. She is a social work intern at The Center for Church and Community Impact.
Black History Month: Remembering, waiting, watching | Opinion by Wendell Griffen
What if we cared about Black History Month as much as Lent? | Opinion by Rick Pidcock