Christianity and Black History Month

In “honor” of Black History Month, Chuck Colson would like to remind us of the Christian faith of many famous African Americans.

Stories like these are a reminder of what a central role the Christian faith has played in the lives of many great Americans. We Christians need to reclaim our cultural heritage from those who seem intent on deleting it from history books�and from Black History Month celebrations. So I urge you: Before the month ends, make sure your own kids learn about the abiding faith of Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson, George Washington Carver, and, of course, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. And consider donating some of the good biographies written about these people to local schools and libraries-biographies that tell the whole story.

Is Colson correct in assuming that the credit should go to Christianity rather than to the men and women who made their lives such an inspiring example?

The problem with anecdotes like the ones Colson wants to highlight is that the number of other Christians is way higher than the number of inspirational examples, and the percentage of inspirational Christians is really not remarkably different than the percentage of inspirational non-Christians. If it were Christianity, and not some other factor, that was responsible for making ordinary people into high achievers, we ought to see the same influence across all of those who embrace Christianity. Conversely, if other factors are responsible, we ought to see that individual achievement is the result of the character of the individual and/or the circumstances in which he or she finds themselves, and not their social connection to some sectarian organization or other.

When we look across the whole spectrum of belief, we see evidence of the latter rather than the former. Christianity, for example, notably failed to restrain the wrath of our born-again Christian president, nor was it able to prevent him from launching an unprovoked and ill-advised invasion of Iraq for the “crime” of being ethnically close to the Saudi terrorists responsible for 9/11. Nor could it influence him to uphold his vow to protect and defend the Constitution, e.g. from attacks such as his own on the first and fourth amendments. It couldn’t even dissuade him from violating the human rights of prisoners within his power, by authorizing inhumane practices historically categorized as torture under US law.

One could easily match the list of inspiring Christians with an equally-long list of embarrassing ones (who, of course, would not be “True Scotsmen”), because all Christianity does is to take the credit for the hard work, courage, and high moral standards of those brave and noble individuals who win our admiration. Men do all the work; Christianity contributes nothing that is not already in the character of the believer, for good or for ill.

So I must disagree with Mr. Colson. In honor of Black History Month, I say we ought to give credit to the outstanding accomplishments of African American men and women regardless of their allegiance (or lack of allegiance) to any particular sect. They did the work; they deserve the credit.

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