Writers Like James Baldwin Led Me to a Black Jesus

, Writers Like James Baldwin Led Me to a Black Jesus, The Today News New York
, Writers Like James Baldwin Led Me to a Black Jesus, The Today News New York

I remember Dr. King quoting James Baldwin. It was the first time I had heard of Mr. Baldwin. In “A Letter to My Nephew,” he wrote: “Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear.”

I had always been afraid of what other people thought of me, what they would do to me, what they would make of me. Mr. Baldwin’s words hit me with a sort of mercy, a grace, as if almighty God was speaking, reaching down to touch my wounded flesh with his words.

I started to read the Rev. Dr. James Cone — “The Cross and the Lynching Tree,” “The Spir­ituals and the Bluesand “Black Theology and Black Power.” I read J. Deotis Roberts’s “Liberation and Reconcilia­tion.” I read Stacey Floyd-Thomas’s “Deeper Shades of Purple.” I read Black poetry. I listened to Black songs. I looked at Black art. I couldn’t find a way out of the dark struggle except by reading Black theology along­side the book of Lamentations and the stories of the prophets and Jesus. If Isaiah’s and Nehemiah’s lives can be inherited as revelations of the divine, then I knew that the book of Baldwin and the book of Morrison awaited my opening.

The more I read these works, the more I let them teach me how to love. Not the type of love that must perform to be accepted — the type that would allow us to embrace our humanity and never allow ourselves to believe that proving what could never be proved was the best we had to offer. The type of love that Toni Morrison writes of in “Paradise”: “That Jesus had been freed from white religion and he wanted these kids to know that they did not have to beg for respect; it was already in them, and they needed only to display it.”

, Writers Like James Baldwin Led Me to a Black Jesus, The Today News New York

I saw why they insisted on saying Jesus is Black. They were not talking about his skin color during his earthly ministry, though it definitely wasn’t white. They were talking about his experience, about how Jesus knows what it means to live in an occupied territory, knows what it means to be from an oppressed people.

Dr. Cone, a central figure in the development of Black liberation theology, particularly spoke to me. It was not so much that he had all the an­swers, but for the first time, I was reading a theolo­gian who looked like me, felt like me, talked like me, loved Jesus like me, who knew the comfort of being around white folk like me, who knew the failures of white folk like me and who knew he had to leave what W.E.B Du Bois called “the world of the white man” like me.

I had entered a majority-white seminary in the fall of 2016, just months after the deaths of Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile and just weeks after I heard someone who worshiped where I worshiped praising the name Donald J. Trump. I was excited to be learning theology and about church history and preparing myself to become a minister. But by the time I started reading James Cone and others, I knew I had to leave the white places that had become less familiar and less worthy of my presence: the seminary where I’d been studying and the white evangelical church I’d attended for so many years.