Lesson 3: Woke Christianity and Racism

Woke definitionIf religion is by nature “woke,” the spiritual wakes us up to what is hidden and sometimes upsetting about ourselves and our institutions. This applies even to the church.

We can begin examining how this works with racism from which the term comes. Back in the 1930s, the Black American singer Lead Belly talked about staying woke in some American regions where his kind of people were not safe.

He was referring to a part of the Bible Belt where the church often reflects the racism of its inhabitants. Ever since the Civil War days, many denominations have broken into Northern and Southern parts over this issue.

However, being woke goes beyond geographic areas. It is evident Sunday morning is the most segregated time in the US week. Churches are predominately white, black, or brown throughout the entire nation. This demographic inevitably affects her practice.

Both sides of this cultural divide can quote Bible passages to support their positions. Racism in the United States is tied to slavery and both the Old and New Testaments assume slavery is part of the economic system in their day. They include commands that instruct slaves to obey their masters.

However, to be woke in terms of being well-informed is to be aware we are dealing with complexity. Torah law emphasizes justice in the treatment of slaves. Exodus lists their rights immediately after the Ten Commandments: “When you buy a male Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years, but in the seventh, he shall go out a free person, without debt. If he comes in single, he shall go out single; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.”

Reading the Torah, you get the idea they were talking about a welfare system that resembles indentured servanthood. In contrast, Southern American slavery focused on owners’ rights and regarded slaves as non-human. Indeed, some consider it the most evil form of slavery in history.

Beyond that, the Bible lays a basis that eventually wakes us to the inhumanity of slavery. The central event in the Old Testament is God rescuing his people from slavery in Egypt. The New Testament ends with the Church offering baptism to foreigners including Africans.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit when reading these foundational texts, parts of the church led the Civil Rights movement that called on the nation to fulfill its promises to Black America. This same understanding of scripture and church history pertains to her championing feminine and sexual rights.

Being woke in this way is not being unfaithful to the church. You can be honest about her errors because you are aware God still operates in her in spite of human resistance. The institution, like individuals, is called to continually repent. Woke Christianity calls us to a better future where God promises all people will enjoy peace, justice, and love.

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