An English Speaking God Is A White God

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A Black Woman with a yellow head scarf looks up. text reads I found liberation in knowing that Jesus was a person of color. Lindiwe Mpofu

“Father God, thank you for the food laid before us. Please sanctify the hands that worked the ground for it and the hands that prepared it. Bless it to our bodies. In Jesus’ name, Amen”

This is the prayer I’ve recited before meals for about 22 years. I think I was 8 years old when I first memorized it. I remember hearing these words from the African American missionaries who made our house their home for two weeks every year.

Oh how I loved those missionaries. To my young mind, they looked and sounded like the cast members of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, role models to a young African girl.

I memorized this prayer before I even knew what the words meant. I thought the words sanctify and certify where synonyms. I was sure that the prayer had something to do with asking God to get a birth certificate for the food we were about to eat.

The prayer soon became my party trick. I would recite those words at every church get-together, school birthday party and family event. The adults marvelled at how good I was at praying in English. By the time I said “amen,” they were calling me a bright girl with a bright future.

I was 28 years old when I first realized that I believed God only spoke English. I had been socialized to think that English was superior to all languages, especially over African languages. Naturally the supreme God only understood and spoke English.

An English speaking God is a white God.

The ability to speak good English is a major imprint of whiteness in Africa. One’s ability to speak English becomes a measure of one’s intelligence or lack thereof. As such, the adults who heard me pray in such good English concluded that I was intelligent and, therefore, would have a bright future ahead of me.

Because of the rhetoric that white missionaries brought to Africa along with the Gospel, Christianity is often referred to as a white man’s religion on the continent. My experience in my predominantly white charismatic church did not do much to disprove this assumption. The unspoken rules of engagement dictated that I accept a white man as my lord and savior.

In that church, I perfected the art of assimilating to whiteness and burying my blackness under weighted blankets made from articulate English prayers and reverence for the handsome long-haired white man whose image graced the church the walls.

I was very happy to live my life in service of this version of Jesus until my disillusionment led me to realize the power of incarnation and proximity. With the help of fellow disillusioned saints, I realized just how significant it was that the Son of God was born a Middle Eastern boy in a time of great persecution against His people.

This brown Jesus did not need me to swallow my mother tongue in order to communicate with His Father. He knew how it felt to grow up under the gaze of a culture that regarded itself as superior, he could understand why I succumbed to the pressure to assimilate and become more palatable to whiteness.

This brown Jesus is not quick to dismiss all aspects of African culture as demonic. His people, like mine, placed an importance on being mindful of how the ancestors who came before us paved the way for the lives we enjoy now.

In this Jesus, I found the meaning of fellowship in suffering. I had never seen a white man in South Africa choose to live among the poor in shacks made of corrugated iron and plastic. But this one, this brown Jesus, had begun his life in a manger and at times was a homeless man with no place to lay His head.

I found liberation in knowing that Jesus was a person of color. 

I do still say that prayer for grace. I owe that to the fact that I still think in English, although I can speak four other African languages. My journey to decolonizing my experience of life and the Gospel continues.

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About Lindiwe Mpofu:

LindiweLindiwe is a writer whose voice was shaped under the African sun and now find itself navigating life in the prairies. She is passionate about strong cups of tea and seeking out stories that shine a light on the inherent dignity of all humans. Like a true millennial, she shares most of her writing on Instagram @bylimbo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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