GUEST BLOG PART TWO: Christianity and The African

This entry is a follow-up from last week.   

Given that contemporary Bahamian society contains a plurality of religious and secular views on the meaning and purpose of God in relation to humanity it seems unfortunate to push all persons in a society toward a particular religious belief.  In situations like this, a culture of conforming to the dominant group, in this case, religion is typically experienced. With this in mind, this entry is a review of how Christianity in a pre-slavery and slavery context constructed negativity surrounding Blacks.  It is clear that early Christian theologians used these contextualized studies of Race and Body Politics as a basis for making universal theological claims. This practice of a dominant group pushing their views on a powerless group is a problem. By contrast, I offer history and practical suggestions toward a better life for Blacks.


Rev. Jevon Neely in Ghana 2007
Throughout history, the interpretation of the Bible has played a critical role in the formation and promotion of race (racism) and sex (especially misogyny) dynamics.  The difference between the existence of Black and White, Male and Female, and the correlation of Black to evil and White to purity, were products of Christianity from very early times. 


In the Epistle of Barnabas (70-115 CE), the devil, the epitome of the Christian symbolism of evil is portrayed as Black in early Christian philosophy.  In his Greek Commentarium and Homilae in Canticum Canticorum, Origen presents an interpretation of the Black bride in Song of Songs 1:5-6 as representative of the Gentile (non-Jew) Church, which is said to be Black by virtue of its “illegitimate birth”, yet possessing a beauty only by forgiveness from God. 


Then the Church officially reinforced this predicament of beauty, carnality, and negativity about Blacks at the fifth-century Council of Toledo.  Also, Jerome’s translation of Song and Songs 1:5 as “I am black but beautiful” is rather interesting, if not interpretively suspicious.  In Hebrew the conjunction between the “black” and “beautiful” is a waw (meaning ‘and’) and even the Septuagint’s (one of the first versions of the Bible) translation uses kai (again meaning “and”).  However, Jerome translates the Hebrew waw as the Latin sed (meaning “but”), rather than et (meaning “and”), as if the fact of being beautiful is abnormal for a Black person. This language is the basis for the color prejudice that was present in Christian conversation long before the first use of term “race” in the fifteenth century.


The biblical “Cain” (after killing Abel) was depicted as Black in the medieval period with Negro features and the so called curse on Ham (Canaanite Curse) was also associated with Cain. From the days of St. Augustine, Christians had already linked Cain to the Jews.  However in 1146, this changed and in 1215, papal decree validated this position.


Based on these ideals of beauty that used skin color to support White Christianity’s fascination with the degradation of the Black Body, Enlightenment writers such as Hume and Kant assumed their racist views needed no evidence (White Privilege).

So by the time of slavery, when the first slave ship named “Jesus” landed on the shores of Africa, the Europeans viewed and treated Africans as soulless animals (not human) who lacked cerebral ability for intellect and morality. Also, Africans were deemed inferior because they were mainly Muslim or practitioners of African Traditional Religions (ATR’s).


With transatlantic slave-trading, Africans were fully reduced to the status of property. For those Africans who actually survived the journey across the Atlantic and social death or family displacement or decided not to commit suicide, the “new life” brought a new heave of abuses: children born into slavery, masters with the authority to murder, maim, rape, lynch, sexually and emotionally abuse, and place limits on education, religion (Islam and ATR’s) and movement.


As before, the Bible played a big role in the assault on the Black Body. To justify slavery’s regime, Anglican Bishop of London (1727) sanctioned slavery with his reading of 1 Corinthians 7:20-24; and many slaveholders in North America and the Caribbean appealed to the Bible as well (e.g., Gen. 9; 14:14; 14:18-20; 17:13; Exod. 12:43-45; 20:17; 21: 2-6; 21: 20-21; Lev. 25: 44-46; Deut. 23:15-16; Eph. 6:5-9). Evangelism of Blacks was not done on a large scale until the Great Awakening in the 1730’s.  Prior to that it was believed that Blacks had no soul, and with no soul (the part of the human body that will be judged in the Judgment) there was nothing to be saved by White Christianity’s “Jesus”.


Deconstructing the myths, however, reveals that the biblical myths are just that, myths.  They are not authentic or accurate, but are simply the duplications of views that take on the appearance of reality. These myths must be perpetuated by White Christianity (not only Whites, but persons who support, think, broadcast and continue the teachings) because the view of Blacks as emotive as oppose to intellectual, sub-human, criminal, diseased, evil and hypersexual is the basis of the . 


The religious concept of the wrongful Black Body is not new.  There was/is a very intentional history started by White Christianity to dehumanize Blacks. Where we cannot go wrong is blaming Jesus (the historical figure and the Christ) for the sinful efforts of the man-made social entity called "Christianity".  One cannot blame Jesus for what Christianity did. 

By detailing a historical review of the Christianity and the African Salve it is understandable that the efforts of Christianizing the Slaves were doomed before it ever started. The starting point of White Christianity in its method to the Black Body (and soul) is theologically inappropriate.  It is unavoidable and imperative that all people – professionals and paupers – investigate the value of indigenous theology and work towards their own salvation.


In Christ,

Rev. Jevon O. Neely


Farrell Goff said...

My brother you have made me proud. I started reading with such skepticism which quickly turned into admiration. I always ask folks "What religion is God?" and "Was Jesus a Christian?"

Christianity and Religion is and has been very destructive to the world and in particular to the black race the world over. Jesus (or the life his character portrayed) on the other hand is what anyone should aspire to follow, regardless of your origins or religious exposure. The message was so simple... LOVE. We can never go with LOVE.

Religion is meant to control and manipulate. I'm sadden by folks who believe the bible literally. But then again I know it's hard to condemn them because it's the only thing they've been fed since they came out of the womb. I'm grateful that I was able to see the light... The real light and open my eyes to what's really important. The basic principles of Jesus.

We need less Christians and more CHRIST-LIKE people on this earth.

I still can't believe these words are from a Reverend. I'm so amazed but also so overwhelmed with more questions. I'm sure the bible that you referred to above as mythical is center to your teaching and preaching as a pastor. So I'm not sure how that works....

Anyway let's save that for your next blog.

Good job sir I thoroughly enjoyed reading this piece and most important I was edified!

Sandena Neely said...

I cannot begin to express my sadness at how many times people have sought to pay me compliments that were utterly and horribly prefaced, saying, "you know something, for a dark-skinned girl, you're really pretty!" or "even though you dark - you still pretty" or if they are in close proximity to me they say, "I didn't imagine that your skin would be so smooth because of the fact that you're so dark".

Meanwhile I'm left thinking, is the color of my skin a deficiency? how is it such a shock that I can be dark and pretty at the same time?

These myths are stronger than we know. They have survived through many generations and sadly, they seem almost innate. I do not propose to know how to combat the myths, other than with love. I do not hate or think less of people who make these comments to me, some of whom have even been my close family - I am rather sorry for them and their state of insecurity and unknowing and I pray earnestly and fervently for their eventual enlightment and release from bondage.

Thank you Rev. Neely for your continued enlightment on this ever-so-critical subject. Moves me to much more introspection. MUAH!!!

Eric Hall said...

Well done Neely.

Keep writing so the Internet can get smarter!

MWMs said...

Rev. Jevon O. Neely! I thank you for writing this post. If only for Farrell's sake! LOL. What a great post. I enjoyed this both posts thoroughly and have shared them both on my Facebook page and Mamma's Marketplace (which as almost 4,000 members). @ Sandena, you are so right when you say the myths are stronger than we know. It's LOVE. Unconditional love for self and others. Love is the answer to eradicate such innate behaviours. Behaviours that are so rooted deeply in the very fabric of our existence. It must change. It will change.

Natasha Nixon said...

Dear Rev Neely,

After reading this article, several time I might add, I felt compelled to add a comment. I was really moved by your blog last week so much that I had to google Saartje (Sara) Baartman story in depth. I have a great appreciation for history of all regions and I'm a little embarrassed to say that I've never heard of Saartje's tragic fate. Maybe if we were taught historic and ancestral events such as this our schools as appose to other irrelevant topics we would have a better appreciation of the power we have to choose. Unfortunately too many of our young woman don't know their true value... priceless, irreplaceable! They aren't told enough "Your special, your beautiful you have so much potential" sadly, once they realize what they're really worth it's too late, run down, bag lady. Thank you for sharing this story, I will definitely keep Saartje Baartman story alive and share it with my girls when the time is right!!

With regards to this weeks post, very informative but I was a little confusing at times. I can comprehend that there are many misinterpretation of The Bible not The Bible itself, which lead to different religions, segregation, hate and in some cases cause more harm than good. Having said that, one can easily misinterpret your paragraph which draws reference to biblical myths or also known by many as Parables. After reading it three times I finally got it! Case in point many will read your blog and misinterpret it to their favor. Can you please clarify this statement. Please tell the world you did not refer to the Bible as a myth??

Jevon Neely said...

A few points. First of all, thanks Candi and Tiff, continue the good work. Secondly Farrell, Sandena, Eric and Natasha thanks. Natasha, yes some interpretations of the Bible, such as the interpretations on the topic written about are myths. We must be the change. God bless...