Morning Worship: Braxton asks congregation to imagine an Afro-centric Christianity

“What does God look like? What does God look like to you? What does God look like to me?” asked the Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “What does ‘I AM Who I AM’ look like?” The Scripture reading was Exodus 3:1-15, Moses and the Burning Bush.

Bishop Braxton is using his pastoral letter, The Racial Divide in America, as the basis for his sermons this week.

“Dear people of God, we must ask what does God look like, what does I AM look like?” he said. “What does the divine mystery revealed to Moses look like? What do Christian churches say in their art?”

“When Moses was speaking to I AM in the bush what did he see? What does I AM that I AM look like?” Braxton asked.

He asked members of the congregation to use their imaginations as he related a story that he wrote for the prologue of the pastoral letter. He asked them to imagine that the majority of American Christians were people of color and that whites were descendents of slaves, a “so-called minority.”

He imagined two young men, friends but not friendly. One is a poor white teenager who lived near a Catholic church. He had never been inside, and the church showed little interest in getting whites to join. The white teenager thought of God as a liberator who would confront the latter- day Pharaohs.

One day, he visits the Catholic church with his young black friend. It is named for St. Charles Lwanga, for the Ugandan martyr. Almost all the members of the church are of African ancestry; all the images are Afro-centric.

“God is painted as a distinguished, older, black gentleman,” Braxton said. “The white young man wonders if the people in the church are only people of African ancestry. Do they believe that is the way it is in heaven. Why are all races not represented?”

The young black man tells him that Afro-centric art represents all people; he should see himself in that imagery. Yet the white boy knows God is a pure spirit without color or gender. And there are no white angels. All the angels are black. Black and dark are good and white and light are evil and satanic.

The young white man asks if the church would be more universal if it included images of white people. The young black man tells him that, while his point makes sense, the black boy does not think African-Americans will ever portray God looking like him. It will never happen.

The young white man asks “Why not?”

As he walked away, the young white man thought of an old slave song, said the bishop.

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more warnings — the fire next time,” he said. “Praise be to Jesus Christ.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. presided. Ed McCarthy, a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church read the scripture. The Chautauqua Choir sang “Hosanna in Excelsis Deo” by Charles Gounod. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services. 

The full text of Bishop Braxton’s pastoral letter, The Racial Divide in the United States, can be found at bellevillemessenger.org.