By Sophia Bricker, Crosswalk.com
In the short story, The Soft-Hearted Sioux, Native American writer and political activist, Zitkala-Sa wrote about a Sioux Indian becoming a Christian. The young Sioux man adopts Western forms of clothing and thinking because he was taught at a mission school that to be Christian was to receive the white man’s “soft-heart,” (Zitkala-Sa. “The Soft-Hearted Sioux.” Norton Anthology of American Literature: Shorter Ninth Edition. Ed. Robert S. Levine).
Because of his failure to distinguish between Western culture and the truth of Christianity, the young Sioux brought problems to his tribe, which cost him his life.
Sadly, many people across the world have bought into the lie that Christianity is a “white man’s religion.” Despite the misuse of the Bible and misrepresentation of Christianity by past and present Christians, being a follower of Christ is not restricted to white people or males.
Instead, all people can place faith in Jesus. To combat the erroneous view that Christianity is a white man’s religion, believers need to be more intentional about promoting diversity in their churches and by going out into the world to make disciples of all people from various cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
The Development of the Idea of the ‘White Man’s Religion’
Many people in history wrongly mixed Western, “white” culture with Christianity. For instance, some colonizers and missionaries in America sought to “Christianize” the Native American people through mission schools, which taught them the gospel and forced them to adopt Westernized forms of clothing and behavior as a part of being a Christian.
As was shown in the example of The Soft-Hearted Sioux, Zitkala-Sa mistakenly equated Christianity with Western culture. Sadly, Zitkala-Sa and many other Native Americans were repulsed by the gospel because of the mixture of Christian teaching and Westernization promoted by society and missionaries.
Similarly, other ethnicities around the world have also developed the same idea that Christianity is equal to Westernized culture or America. Some missionaries from England and America in the past forced their own customs and culture onto Native peoples, leading to the idea that being a Christian meant adopting the Western culture, such as clothing or worship style.
Also, the problem of slavery and racial segregation intensified the belief that Jesus was a “white man’s God.” Despite the work of many Christians who were the primary fighters for the abolition of slavery and racial equality, there were some Christians who misinterpreted and misused verses to support their racist views.
Despite these misrepresentations of Christianity in the past, Scripture is clear that all people are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). All ethnicities are equal in the sight of God. The Lord and His Word do not condone slavery or favoritism of any ethnic group, culture, or skin color.
Diverse Followers of Christ
When studying the beginning of Christianity in Scripture, the diligent student will quickly recognize the diversity of believers from Christianity’s inception. First, Jesus and His early followers were ethnically Jewish. They were not white but were people of color.
Scripture never describes the appearance of Jesus or His disciples as white, light-haired, or resembling modern Caucasian people. In fact, Lord Jesus is never physically described in Scripture, probably because of the human tendency to create carven images or idols (Exodus 20:4).
In the Book of Acts, many people from various countries were present when Peter gave his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:6-11). About three thousand people became believers after responding to Peter’s evangelistic sermon, which would have included the various people from other countries (Acts 2:41).
Also, a man from Ethiopia is specifically mentioned as becoming a Christian through the evangelism of Philip (Acts 8:27-39). Likely, the Ethiopian man went back to his country and spread the gospel (Acts 8:39).
Furthermore, Paul spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, which would have caused many different ethnic groups to hear the good news and become followers of Christ (Acts 28:14-16, 30-31).
In addition to being ethnically diverse from the beginning, there were also many early followers of Jesus who were women. Mary Magdalene was one of the first evangelists who spread the good news of Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:17-18).
Also, many women are specifically mentioned in Acts as believers in Jesus, including Tabitha (Acts 9:36), Lydia (Acts 16:11-15), Damaris (Acts 17:34), and Priscilla (Acts 18:2-3), among others. In addition, Phoebe is mentioned in Paul’s epistle to the Romans as a “deacon” or “servant” (Romans 16:1-2). Men were not the only disciples of Christ.
Thus, Scripture indicates that there were diverse followers of Christ from different ethnicities and backgrounds, both men and women, Jews, and Gentiles (Galatians 3:28).
In fact, Revelation mentions that, in the future, Heaven will contain people “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NIV). As the Apostle Peter once realized, God does not show favoritism (Acts 10:31).
The Church’s Need to Become Diverse
Churches need to encourage ethnic and cultural diversity in their congregations. Doing so not only properly embodies the truth that Jesus died for all people (1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 John 2:2), but also makes all people feel welcome within church buildings.
If people in a church building are all homogenous, then people who do not look like them will not feel welcome. Instead, they will feel out of place and awkward.
Also, the church will need to be intentional about including and affirming people of all ethnicities. A variety in worship style, Bible teaching, and fellowship meetings will prove helpful in appealing to all types of people, regardless of skin color or background.
Congregations should avoid showing favoritism, rather in terms of ethnicity or socioeconomic status (James 2:1).
Finally, Christians should seek to spread the gospel to all people, not just those within their own geographical location. Jesus said to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).
Instead of meaning “races” or geopolitical nations, Jesus’ command means making disciples of people from all ethnic and language groups around the world. Therefore, participating in world missions is another way to promote ethnic and cultural diversity in the church.
The Savior of All People
While there are many people around the world who believe that following Jesus is restricted to white men, this is not found in God’s Word. The Lord created all people in His image and desires all people to enter a saving relationship with Him.
In fact, Jesus died for all people, not just a select ethnic or cultural group. From the earliest New Testament times, followers of Christ have included a diverse group of followers from people of various ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Jews, Gentiles, the rich, the poor, men, and women throughout history have followed Jesus as His disciples. Instead of focusing on making the church look more like one type of person, Christians need to encourage diversity in their churches so their congregation will more closely resemble the worshipers of Heaven, who come from places all around the world.
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Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. Holding a Bachelor of Arts in Ministry and currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Ministry, she is passionate about the Bible and her faith in Jesus. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening.