From the Desk of Rob McDowell
Over the past several years, the Lord, in His kindness, has continued to diversify our church family. And with it, a growing awareness of our role in the need for transparent conversations that lead to healing. And so it is with joy, and respect that we celebrate Black History Month this February. As followers of Jesus, it’s a chance to revel in the brilliance of the God who “made from one man every nation of mankind” (Acts 17:26), and the redemptive beauty of his Son who, with his own blood, “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
As racial tensions nationwide may be at a generational high, we stand arm-in-arm to shine bright the light of unity in Christ. Observances such as Black History Month, even though they can’t do all the work on their own, have a role to play in our healing as a nation. Into our racially charged environment, Black History Month meets a need, and presents an opportunity not just for Americans, but followers of Christ of every background, skin tone, and heritage.
Have you ever wondered how Black History Month started, and why it’s important to God’s heart that we stop and celebrate it? Let’s start with a quick history lesson.
Where did the idea originate?
For those who don’t know, Carter Woodson (1875–1950), son of former enslaved people and one of the first scholars to study African-American history, planted the seeds that grew into Negro History Week in February 1926 and then Black History Month fifty years later. Woodson, known today as “the father of black history,” had noticed in his graduate and doctoral studies “that the role of African Americans in American history was either misrepresented or missing altogether from the history books.”
Why did he chose February, and how long has the United States officially recognized it?
Woodson selected the second week in February, to coincide with the birthdates of Abraham Lincoln (February 12) and Frederick Douglass (February 20). And President Gerald Ford first recognized Black History Month in 1976 during the nation’s bicentennial year; every president since has continued to honor this month as a time to stop and reflect on the amazing contribution of African Americans and to take a somber look at the painful history that brought us where we are today. Ford’s original charter was a call for Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
So why should ALL followers of Jesus care about Black History?
Black History Month isn’t simply about ethnic diversity in general, but also remembering the atrocities of our shared history and rejoicing in the progress that has been made through God’s common kindness, and specifically the many successes of Black Americans despite such a history. Followers of Jesus honor this month, at least in part, because it helps us understand the awful plight of a people made in God’s image. Many of those we memorialize felt the sting of enslavement and racism and were fellow believers.We do so to acknowledge God’s goodness at work in remarkable achievements (like the presidency) in and through a people who often have been treated with utter wickedness.
For followers of Jesus, the specific stories of pain and triumph in Black history ripen as our roots grow deeper into biblical thought and into the mind of Christ, and we mature in appreciating the beauty of various ethnicities and ethnic harmony. We rally to the vision of Psalm 96:3–4:"Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.Why do we marvel, in earshot of diverse peoples, about the glory of our God? Because he is great enough not only to have our praise, but theirs as well. “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.”
The shared praises of diverse and unified peoples are a tribute to God’s greatness. He is too great not to win worshipers from every tribe and people and nation. When we notice (not neglect), and when we love (not despise), the ethnic diversity God created, we unite our hearts with his mission in the world: to magnify the worth and beauty of his Son in the harmonious praise of diverse peoples. Embracing His mission only enhances the mission He has called us to as We Help People Find & Follow Jesus!
In exalting the glory of God, we undercut the power of skin and sin. A Christian celebration of ethnic diversity is a frontal attack on the dragon of human pride. No ground at the foot of the cross is raised above another, no slightly higher hill assigned to certain ethnicities. God first levels our pride in the equality of our creation (Acts 17:26), then Christ packs the ground tight in the equality of our redemption (Galatians 3:28). Here is neither black nor white, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, but all are one in Christ. Such specific verses and truths are what lodge in a soul when “the Gospel” goes to work on racism.
Like I often say: “If you don’t like unity in diversity on Earth...you are going to hate Heaven!” God has called us as His children through Christ to come together as one in unity. Whether we are African American, Caucasian, Latinx, Middle Eastern, Asian, Native American or any other ethnicity — we thank God for His brilliance and breadth in creating diverse peoples. And let’s cast the vision for our children again and again. It is a beautiful thing that God made so many types of divine-image-reflecting humans as the pinnacle of His creation. Black is beautiful, and particularly so with Spirit-opened eyes against the backdrop of horrors in this nation’s history. One month a year is not too long to remind ourselves of that which we need to lament and that which we need to celebrate.
Simply put, if you love Jesus Christ and hate human pride and its rebellion against His kingship, you will want to grow in appreciating God’s good gift of ethnic diversity, and specifically this manifestation of it in our nation.
Black History Month is not just for my African American brothers and sisters. It’s for all of us.
To God Be The Glory!