New York Times op-ed: How I Learned That Jesus Is Black, by Danté Stewart (Author, Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle (2021)):
For years, I made my home with white people in white churches. I knew how to run and to hide and to move my body in ways that made white people feel more safe and less racist and more godly and less violent. Whether on the football field or in the pulpit, my performance gave them what they never deserved: confidence that the world was OK.
It started in college at Clemson University, where I played on the nationally ranked football team. Many young Black athletes like me left home and quickly found ourselves around white Christians because they were the ones who had greatest access to us. Between Bible studies and church outings, our worlds became white, our Jesus became a blond-haired and blue-eyed savior. This Jesus cared about touchdowns and Bible verses written in white letters underneath our eyes over the black paint.
As the weeks and months and years went by, I found myself closer and closer to white people. After graduating from college, I joined a white evangelical church and entered seminary in the hopes of becoming a pastor there. In my pursuit to be a better person and a better athlete and a better Christian, I viewed Black sermons and Black songs and Black buildings and Black shouting and Black loving with skepticism and white sermons and white songs and white buildings and white clapping with sacredness.
But before long, images of Black people dying started appearing all over our televisions and newspapers and newsfeeds. And too many of the nice white people around me just didn’t seem to care. And I knew: I had to find a way to get free and survive. ...
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 Blues” and “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.”
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. ...
If the white people I worshiped with and went to school with and had dinner with had the imagination to see C.S. Lewis’s Aslan the lion in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” as Jesus, then I knew there should have been no problem when Black people said Jesus was Black and Jesus loved Black people and Jesus wanted to see Black people free. But I found out that many could see the symbol of divine goodness and love in an animal before they could ever see the symbol of divine goodness and love in Blackness.
My world changed when I stopped sitting at the feet of white Jesus and began becoming a disciple of Black Jesus. I didn’t have to hate myself or my people or our creativity or our beauty to be human or to be Christian.
When I left, many white Christians around me thought I had betrayed them. They didn’t understand that I was leaving white supremacy behind. They saw it as leaving Jesus. What a terrible, terrible thing.
Danté Stewart, Shoutin’ in the Fire: An American Epistle (Oct. 12, 2021):
A stirring meditation of being Black and learning to love in a loveless, anti-Black world
“Only once in a lifetime do we come across a writer like Danté Stewart, so young and yet so masterful with the pen. This work is a thing to make dungeons shake and hearts thunder.”—Robert Jones, Jr., New York Times bestselling author of The Prophets
In Shoutin’ in the Fire, Danté Stewart gives breathtaking language to his reckoning with the legacy of white supremacy—both the kind that hangs over our country and the kind that is internalized on a molecular level. Stewart uses his personal experiences as a vehicle to reclaim and reimagine spiritual virtues like rage, resilience, and remembrance—and explores how these virtues might function as a work of love against an unjust, unloving world.
In 2016, Stewart was a rising leader at the predominantly white evangelical church he and his family were attending in Augusta, Georgia. Like many young church leaders, Stewart was thrilled at the prospect of growing his voice and influence within the community, and he was excited to break barriers as the church’s first Black preacher. But when Donald Trump began his campaign, so began the unearthing. Stewart started overhearing talk in the pews—comments ranging from microaggressions to outright hostility toward Black Americans. As this violence began to reveal itself en masse, Stewart quickly found himself isolated amid a people unraveled; this community of faith became the place where he and his family now found themselves most alone. This set Stewart on a journey—first out of the white church and then into a liberating pursuit of faith—by looking to the wisdom of the saints that have come before, including James H. Cone, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and by heeding the paradoxical humility of Jesus himself.
This sharply observed journey is an intimate meditation on coming of age in a time of terror. Stewart reveals the profound faith he discovered even after experiencing the violence of the American church: a faith that loves Blackness; speaks truth to pain and trauma; and pursues a truer, realer kind of love than the kind we’re taught, a love that sets us free.