By Denise Rooks
This past Christmas and many Christmases previously, Christians all around the world have celebrated the birth of Christ. This isn’t practiced because the Bible teaches us to celebrate Christmas, but because we want to take the time to celebrate and be thankful for the gift of Christ that God gave us. Christmas, like many celebrations, is an opportunity to share our faith and help others to understand it.
When the Covid pandemic occurred, we had to change the way we celebrated the day, but that didn’t stop us from celebrating. We found a way to celebrate the birth of Christ, and many of us found ways to witness our faith through other mediums than in person. Like many of our celebrations, we understand without Christ in the midst, it is just another day.
With this same spirit, we celebrate Black History Month - not because it is practiced in the Bible, but because it is an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our African American sisters and brothers and to praise God for those accomplishments while looking back from where God has brought his people.
African Americans, like all our Christian brothers and sisters, understand what Paul refers to in Ephesians 4: “that glory goes to God” because he has done a mighty work for black people and caused us to “accomplish infinitely more” than our ancestors could have imagined.
As chairperson of the Advocacy committee, I want you to know that our committee is committed to focusing on unity and love. February is a great opportunity for all Christians to practice exactly that - love and unity. Some would argue that celebrating this creates division among the saints; however, I want to remind everyone that celebrating the accomplishments of brothers and sisters in the faith together is a great way to glorify God in the process.
Celebrating Black History is celebrating America’s history. Through John Wesley’s teaching, which were spirit led, we can see why The United Methodist Church took a stance against slavery at a time when it was not popular to make such a stand. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We, members of The United Methodist Church, have been at the forefront of uniting the body of Christ in unity and love even in our most challenging times. We are the body of Christ, different members, making one body with Christ as the head.
When Carter Woodson came up with the concept of celebrating black history for a week every February, it was at a time when it looked like Black Americans had no history except being an enslaved people. Carter wanted the people to celebrate the wonderful contributions that African Americans had given to this country. His call to arms was to remind the people and the nation that just because people came to this country for a negative reason doesn’t mean God can’t use them for positive contributions. Isn’t that what all of us want? To be acknowledged and valued? We are all more than our mistakes; through Christ Jesus, we are more because God equips us for works of service, and we become, as Paul writes in Ephesians 4, the mature body of him who is the head.
As a child growing up in the South were it not for the church, I never would have known of the many contributions that African Americans made to help this country become a great nation. Back then, Black History was only celebrated the second week in February. It started out that week because Carter Woodson wanted to especially highlight the birthdays of some great Americans whose birthdays were in February: Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and WEB Dubois. Now Americans celebrate Black History Month the entire month of February. It’s a month of celebrating our history with others by showing everyone how God moves in the lives of his people.
This February, as we celebrate Black History Month, we have the power not to change the past but to move forward as brothers and sisters in Christ serving one God not just with words but with our actions. We have the power to confound the world with the things of God by choosing to honor those who helped make this country the great union in which we live. We, the people of The United Methodist Church in order to form a more perfect union, choose to unite in Jesus Christ through all generations to thank God for his grace and mercy given to all who seek to do his will. As Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4:5, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all, in all, living through all.”
Black history is America’s history because it honors the accomplishments of those who made America the great country it is today.
Mrs. Denise Rooks is a member of Harper’s Chapel UMC in Baxley, South Central District Lay Leader, and the chair of the Conference Advocacy Committee.