What if a White church canceled Bible study or Sunday worship service to go watch Spike Lee’s Black KkKlansman?
What if all churches in the United States did it?
Last week, (Days 57-63 of my yearlong break from Bible study), my husband and I watched the Spike Lee joint, Black KkKlansman.
Afterward, we made time to reflect on the film together, discussing thoughts and feelings the movie raised for each other.
As for me, this movie provided scripture, church, Bible study, Vacation Bible School, and it sparked my idea for church congregations to forgo a service to watch the film.
It took up parts of the U.S. history of race, racism and the church that I believe can be a useful launching point for people, especially those who do not commit time to study these issues. In this post, I identify three reasons for a church to consider watching Black KkKlansman in place of a worship service.
1) Troubling the White Savior Narrative in Film
The movie follows Ron Stallworth, an African-American detective, as he with the help of a fellow officer, Flip Zimmerman, a Jewish man, infiltrate the Colorado Springs chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. Considering the minimizing of Middle Eastern and African presence in dominant theological teachings, I am reminded of Simon of Cyrene, a Black man, who carried Jesus’ cross. How often do White churches-or any churches teach about its significance?
Jesus Christ has been Whitewashed to the point that masses envision him as White-more than they care to admit.
In troubling the dominant image of White savior, Black KkKlansman highlights God’s sense of humor/justice by using Black and Jewish men, again, to challenge people who were hypocrites in a work of loving sacrifice.
I believe this movie can be useful to disrupt the White savior narrative in films. We see the imagery in movies like Gran Torino, Dangerous Minds, and The Blindside.
Often the White Christians who cling to these narratives avoid evaluating the dominance of these messages communicated by Hollywood. There are People of Color who do just as much sacrificing and help for People of Color, so where is the proliferation of these stories?
When we consume a diet of White saviorism, we feed the beast of “good” White racism where people use their good works as evidence of living without any prejudices, bigotry, or discrimination.
I recall the first time my husband challenged me on the sacred/secular divide-a popular teaching in Church traditions.
He spoke of finding Christ in all art forms without a specific designation such as “Christian” or “gospel.” I see Black KkKlansman to have Christ-themes/images worth exploring.
I know this movie will not appeal to a segment of White Christians because it is not Left Behind for the Umpteenth Time or God’s Not Dead 973, or because Kirk Cameron did not play the role of David Duke in the film. I argue that it stretches you to grow to see and hear things that will challenge you. We can expand our capacity to see Christ symbolism beyond the image of White Jesus.
2) Piquing More Interest
Black KkKlansman can pique more interest in how the race and racism continue to be updated and not uprooted with the fervent support of White Christians of any political ideology.
The film hints at how much of the White church in the United States, worship Whiteness than God.
When leaders are puffed up with pride and consumed with debating Bible passages and policing others over them, they fail to study the racial history and legacy they live out through the institution of religion. As a result, much of the U.S. White church’s problematic talk and practices, especially about race has not changed much since slavery. They have a contemporary makeover.
As much as there are a wealth of books on these subjects, today, masses of White Christians are unaware of the same racial and religious rhetoric that has been used for generations to keep racism alive in the country. I can confidently say masses because we still have White churches, Black churches, Latinx churches, Korean churches.
Certain multiracial churches can be guilty of being predominantly White churches who mainly use the People of Color to ease their racial consciences (Look at me! I am a good White Christian because I go to church with People of Color.), regurgitating colorblind racist rhetoric.
Doing work across race does not absolve any of us from looking at ourselves.
3) Challenging Oversimplified Views of Racism
I hesitated about writing about this movie because of the popular connection of racism to White hate groups. Nevertheless, I think the film is useful as a launching point into a deeper dive in to understand the evolution of race. Instead of throwing away the textbook, we can use it to show how other perspectives are missing.
The Klan and other White supremacist terrorist organizations have long been used as a scapegoat for “good” White people, especially Christians, to avoid looking at the possible myriad of ways they, directly and indirectly, contribute to maintaining racism.
When racism becomes reduced to bigoted statements and involvement in these organizations, then it leaves no room for people who have uninterrogated racially problematic ways of thinking and traversing through our social world.
When racism is defined as the Klan, racial slurs, and identifying race, then it does nothing to uproot the visceral racism produced “good” White Christians who love to vocalize their social justice credibility, as long as long as you do not call them on their prejudices and destructive practices. It reinforces the deceptively virulent colorblind racism that has become common post-Civil Rights era. Therefore, instead of enhancing these dynamics through passive consumption, the movie can provide an impetus for expanding the ways we think of race and racism.
Conclusion: Church at the Movies
Consider canceling church services.
Actually, make the movies the service. Take up an offering and use all of the money to help people in need.
Some of our church services are like going to the movies, anyway: they have loud sound systems, enormous screens, and concessions.
Various ministry leaders laud not having “church as usual” only to have “church as usual” with some gimmick tossed in the mix.
Others proclaim taking God out of the box, but they cannot fathom leaving their brick boxes, forgoing a service on a Sunday to reveal that their colorblind church has been maintained through unexplored racial framings.
Then, we have the fear-the ever present “God is gonna getcha” fear- that haunts and prevents people from doing so.
You will not go to hell for shutting down your weekly high to go challenge your spirituality differently.
The church will be okay-more than okay to forego a service to go watch Black KkKlansman. I believe the Church could move in a direction that better aligns walk with talk if they took at least the next two services afterward to challenge their thinking about race and the Christian religion.
Besides, how many times do folks need to read “Jesus wept” to truly understand that… well… Jesus wept.
What if we inquired about why Jesus might still be weeping over much of the White Church’s willful ignorance about racism and unrepentant contributions to it for hundreds of years?
If Jesus happened to return while you were watching the movie, He might say, “’Bout time,” before proceeding to take a seat and munch on popcorn as He watches the film, too.