In 1976, the month of February was designated as Black History Month in the United States. From a theological perspective, I believe there is great value in recognizing Black History Month. One of the clearest Bible passages that supports this view is 1 Corinthians 10:1-11.
In this chapter, Paul makes a transition in his counsel to Gentile believers as he points to Old Testament (Israelite) history to challenge the church to “take heed lest [they] fall” (verse 12). Using Paul’s recollection of the children of Israel’s experience in the wilderness as a parallel for Black history, I believe that there are three compelling reasons that Christians of all races and ethnicities benefit from recognizing Black history.
First, Black history is our history. Paul uses the word “our” three times when addressing the Gentile believers in reference to the history of the children of Israel (see verses 1, 6, and 11). It is as if Paul is saying, “This history was not written exclusively for the benefit of the children of Israel. This is your history too. This is our history.” Similarly, Black History Month is a time to recognize that history told from a Black perspective not only benefits the Black community, it benefits us all. As iron sharpens iron (Prov. 27:17), we can become more well-rounded, culturally aware, and compassionate when we engage with perspectives that are different from our own.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly” (Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963).
Second, Black history is an honest retelling of the past. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, Paul recounts God’s provision for the children of Israel by alluding to the cloud that led them by day, their safe passage through the Red Sea, the leadership of Moses, the manna that fed them, and the water that was provided from a rock. Right afterward, Paul describes the failures of the children of Israel, describing those moments when “God was not well pleased” (verse 5). Paul does not romanticize the children of Israel’s experience. He recognizes that the unadulterated truth of the past would serve as an example and a warning to believers outside of the Israelite community.
Since we live in a society in which some seek to idealize history and America’s treatment of racial minorities, attempting to downplay or remove certain portions of history that they find uncomfortable, I believe that we need to recognize Black History Month now more than ever. Black History Month reminds us that we have much to grieve. While we celebrate the legacies of people such as Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Hank Aaron, who broke down the barriers of prejudice, racism, and inequality, we also ought to grieve that those barriers existed and, in many ways, still exist.
Third, Black history is an opportunity to recognize “the Rock.” When Paul mentions “the Rock” in 1 Corinthians 10:4, he alludes to Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1-13, instances where God used Moses to bring water out of a rock. Paul encouraged the Corinthian believers with the reality that the rock was symbolic of Christ, who was present among His people. This same Rock would be the foundation on which the Corinthian church could stand firm and overcome the temptations they faced.
It is a constant recognition of the Rock, Jesus Christ, that has sustained the Black community from the very beginning of our time in America. In the song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon Johnson beautifully captures the role of faith in the Black experience:
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
May God bless you throughout the month of February. Happy Black History Month!
Rodney Osborne Jr. is pastor of the Charlottesville and Grottoes Seventh-day Adventist churches in Virginia, United States.
The original version of this commentary was posted by the North American Division Ministerial Association.