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Seeing Me in the Bible

In eLetter
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For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a strong relationship with God. I grew up in the church, worshipped sincerely, prayed hard, and loved to read my Bible. I also remember loving to read my illustrated Bibles and my Adventure Bible comic book (if you can call that a Bible) as a child. I was consumed by these stories and getting to know Jesus.

Still, even with the scriptures being very alive to me, I couldn’t help but feel distant from the text. As far as I knew, everyone in scripture was white, with either blonde or brown hair. No one looked anything like me except for Ham (a bad story) and the Queen of Sheba. It appeared to me that God had chosen white people to be the gatekeepers of all that was good and righteous. Even as I grew older, the imagery of Christ, the disciples, and other biblical characters remained white.

I didn’t struggle with this much until years later when I was a youth pastor and one of my kids told me that she wanted to be white because God only uses white people. In her eyes, white was good and being of color was bad. It was then that I realized the consequences that white imagery in the Bible can have on my community and family. Making all the people in the Bible white takes away the significance and dignity of people of color who are undeniably present and instrumental in God’s story.

I am proud of the fact that the Bible is primarily told in a land where the people are of color. Knowing this now, I can connect with the text on a deeper, more personal level. Equipped with the biblical knowledge I now possess, I know that it wouldn’t make sense to assume Christ was white—far from my beliefs as a child—because geography informs us otherwise. As an adult I learned that Mark, the writer of our second gospel, was African. Mark was black. He was born in Cyrene and migrated to Jerusalem, followed Jesus, wrote the gospel, and eventually moved backed to his home in Africa and started the first seminary. I am confident now that God used people of color to reach the world.

For some, this may seem insignificant. But for me, it’s not. It broke my heart when my daughter recently told me over the dinner table that she didn’t like her brown skin and preferred that it be white. I have grown to understand that an all-white Bible and imagery can be damaging and harmful to the beauty of God’s desire to work in all nations. The truth is that we are all made in his image, and it is important that we see that truth reflected in the stories we read and the pictures we see.

If you’d like to explore this topic more, I’d recommend reading “The Whitewashing of Christianity” by Jerome Gay. You can find more information on that here.

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