On Wednesday, I awoke to the news that Bethel University’s St. Paul, Minnesota campus – the school I attended for Seminary – experienced a racist incident. A rock that had been recently painted in solidarity with Black Lives Matter was now painted over in white paint with the message “BLM = Racist, Blue Lives Matter.” As I scrolled through my facebook feed, searching for clarity about the event, I became angry but I wasn’t necessarily surprised. Over the years, Bethel has experienced its share of attacks against Black people specifically and other populations of color as well. Back in 2003, there were a slew of incidents targeting people of color on campus which included one student’s car being vandalized with racial slurs. On the night that Obama was elected into office in November 2008, racist language was once against used against black students in reference to the president elect. Then in 2010, a white student dressed in blackface and impersonated Lil Wayne for a campus AIDS fundraiser. Disgusting, right? And sprinkled in between all of these incidents is your typical share of microaggressions and Minnesota Nice covert racism. So once again, I wasn’t surprised. But I was reminded that the school where I spent four years of my life, had a lot of work to do in terms of being an institution that would stand up for racial justice.
But isn’t Bethel University a Christian college?
Yes, it is. Since 1871, this school has been preparing future pastors, lay leaders, administrators, businessmen and women, nurses, and so many others, how to integrate our faith experience into our professions. And while it can be said that not everyone on that campus professes to be a believer, the vast majority of students subscribe to the Christian faith. And yet, these same Christians, who are studying theology and serving in their churches on Sunday, are guilty of racism. How do we reconcile these two realities?
I used to ask myself the same question when I first moved to Minnesota from Milwaukee, WI and attended another Christian college, North Central University. For the very first time in my life, I was surrounded by a sea of white people on a consistent basis – black people were few and far between. Also, for the very first time in my life, I felt as if I was being targeted because of my race – the fact that I felt more excluded at a Christian college than I did in one of America’s most segregated cities ought to say something!
In the North Central bubble, as students so affectionately called it, I felt isolated and alone. For nearly two years, I struggled to make and maintain friendships with roommates and classmates. Between the summer of my freshman and sophomore year, I watched my roommates help move each other’s stuff to another dormitory on campus and left me to carry my stuff alone. When I ended up in the emergency room due to a bad allergic reaction to God knows what, the only person who helped me in my moment of desperation was a Sri Lankan woman who happened to live down the hall (thank God for her). When I spent a holiday completely by myself, as all of my family lived in Wisconsin, and the church I attended was just as white as my school, I seriously contemplated hurting myself because the pain of isolation hurt so bad. Time and time again, no matter how hard I tried, I felt excluded, talked about and ridiculed. These feelings went on and on, in a Christian school, until I found a diverse church outside of campus that loved me for me, a dark-skinned African American woman.
It wasn’t until I learned the history of my denomination, the Assemblies of God, that I started to put things together. The isolation and racism that I experienced on my college campus, which was affiliated with the AG had everything to do with history of exclusion and racism within this body of believers. With intention, the AG broke away from the teachings of William Seymour, an African American man, who was the key leader in the Azuza Street Revival between 1906-1909. With intention, they defamed his leadership and said that it was ungodly for them to submit to it. With intention, they excluded Blacks and Latinos from their membership. With intention, they upheld the same bigotry and racism that was commonplace in America for far too long.
But it isn’t only the AG who has this tattered and torn history of racism, so many churches in America do too. In fact, many churches and Christians themselves, have been complicit if not explicit actors in the terrorism against black lives throughout our country’s history. Everything, from the leadership structure to theology to the way it engages in politics to the way that it conflates the constitution with the Bible, suggests that Western Christianity and more specifically, the white Church, has a strong disregard if not flat out hatred, towards African Americans in this country. Which is why incidents, like those that occurred at Bethel on Wednesday are awful but not shocking. And why the white Church, as an institution – not necessarily every individual within it – remains silent as black bodies are continuously hunted and killed.
Here’s the thing though: no matter how silent the white church is or ignorant it pretends to be about #BlackLivesMatter and its importance in this hour, God still holds it accountable. In the same way, that God called after Cain asking the whereabouts of his brother Abel, God calls out to the white church asking the whereabouts of its black brothers, sisters, and sons. Can you hear God calling? Or will you ignore Him, too?
Ebony Adedayo is a parish pastor at Church of All Nations and the Communications and Capacity Building Coordinator at the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing racial, economic, and environmental justice in the Twin Cities. Originally from Milwaukee, WI she moved to the Twin Cities in 2001 to attend college, and earned a B.A. in Pastoral Studies (Cross Cultural minor) from North Central University in 2006, and a Master of Global and Contextual Studies from Bethel Seminary in 2010. Ebony is passionate about the intersection of faith, justice, and reconciliation and is the author of Embracing a Holistic Faith: Essays on Biblical Justice. She currently lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children.