Written by Adam Coleman
In my last article, I laid out a context for what appears to be a growing problem in the black community. I discussed the lingering identity issue that seems to grip so many people of African descent and then illustrated how it poses a barrier to the spreading of the gospel as well as a stumbling block for many believers. With this article I provide a more detailed characterization of the sub-culture I have been referring to as the Consciousness Community/Movement (CC).
The CC is a rather nebulous entity. There are a few main belief systems that people who consider themselves to be conscious* tend to subscribe to, but no formal creed or organization around which the CC revolves. These include the Hebrew Israelites, Moorish Scientists, Egyptian (Kemetic) spiritualists, and practitioners of African mysticism. In a moment I will give a brief overview of these belief systems, but first I would like to revisit the matter of identity in a way that may shed light on the manner in which people come to engage them.
Recently, it occurred to me that the groups most prominently represented amongst the CC make a unique claim that other religious groups do not. Each of these groups purport to solve the identity problem, faced by people of African descent, by restoring the individual to their true identity. The primary draw for these groups is that rather than simply offering an alternative belief system, they offer an identity system.
For example, the Hebrew Israelites’ sales pitch to black people goes something like this. “According to the curses in Deuteronomy 28, the Africans who were brought to the West during the Transatlantic Slave Trade are the real Hebrews. Therefore you are a Hebrew and on the basis of your true Hebrew identity you ought to adopt the Hebrew Israelite religion that corresponds with your true identity.” In like manner, the Moorish Scientists claim one’s true identity as a person of African descent. One is a “Moor” by nationality and following from that one should adopt the brand of Islamism that Moorish Scientists subscribe. The idea is that adherence to these religions follows from one’s acceptance of what is presented to them as being the identity that slavery and western society has stolen from them. For those who belong to these groups, their new identities serve as a basis for self-esteem, personal worth, moral framework, sense of purpose, and so on.
As with any sub-culture there are a number of themes, values, and sentiments common amongst its members. Two of the pillars that undergird this sub-culture are Afrocentrism and anti-European prejudice. Those who consider themselves “conscious” typically take on some form of Pan-Africanist or Black Nationalist ideology. That is to say they hope to reclaim control of Africa’s resources and establish an autonomous nation of African people including those of the Diaspora. Based upon the Transatlantic Slave Trade and beliefs about ongoing oppression, the CC generally considers Caucasians to be inimical to the black/African community. Among the CC, anti-Caucasian sentiment ranges from latent resentment to violent aversion. By extension, Western society as a whole is viewed as a power structure that is bent on subduing people of color.
In addition to the two main pillars of the CC, a hallmark of this sub-culture is a thirst for knowledge; being well studied is considered a virtue within this movement. Unfortunately, the desire for knowledge is generally not coupled with a firm understanding of how to obtain or identify reliable information. For most CC members, their research does not extend beyond Youtube and the Afrocentric websites they frequent. Prominent figures in the CC such as Brother Polight, Dr. Umar Johnson, and old-school CC celebrities like Dr. Ben Johacanan provide CC members with a steady diet of information aimed at affirming blackness, opposing Western oppression, and casting off the shackles of Christianity. Given the general distrust for Caucasians, CC members have an affinity for non-European authors/sources and are often suspicious that the scholarly works contradicting their views are disseminated by the Western power structure to miseducate the public about black people. For this reason reliance upon pseudo-scholarship, Jesus mythicism, and conspiracy theorism is a staple among the CC.
One often encounters CC members who profess to be former Christians who often say something along the lines of, “I used to be a Christian but then I found out who I really am so now I’m… (i.e. Hebrew Israelite, Moor, etc.).” These CC former Christians generally have a “been there done that” attitude about Christianity and believe themselves to now be enlightened beyond that mythical “White Jesus” stuff. In my experience, it is uncommon to encounter a CC member who is a former Christian who was well-versed in Christian doctrine and church history prior to their deconversion. With that said, consider what preventative steps the Body of Christ can take address these sorts of issues and how we may engage those who identify with this sub-culture.
I examined my own past and see at least one level of intervention the church has at its disposal to address the identity issue that seems to fuel the CC. When I was about 12 or so my family and I attended a church that made a biblically based effort to reconcile African ethnicity with Christianity. My pastor at the time taught a series entitled, “Seeking the Lost”, wherein he went from Genesis to Revelation pointing out people of African descent in the Bible and discussing roles they played in various Biblical events. From this teaching series I learned at a young age that people “like me” had a place in God’s kingdom and plan. This served to vaccinate me from influences I would later encounter in college that attempted to persuade me that Christianity is at odds with my black skin.
Both the Bible and church history are rich with diversity. In addition to the Biblical characters there are a number of African theologians, martyrs, thinkers, missionaries, etc. by which we can make a robust case that Christianity and the African have a deep and long-abiding relationship. Educating believers about this aspect of Christian heritage is a preventative measure churches can take in equipping the saints against challenges to the faith that center upon the alleged discord between Christianity and African ethnicities.
Most importantly, believers need to be theologically prepared to deal with the types of objections they may encounter within the black community. Sound teaching concerning the basics of the reliability of scripture, church history, deity of Christ, Trinitarianism, God’s moral nature, original sin, and historical facts surrounding Jesus’ resurrection will go a long way in equipping believers to defend their faith and counter the sorts of objections to Christianity the CC has to offer.
In that the CC primarily revolves around race and identity, I cannot stress enough how important it is that believers have an understanding of what it means to be made in the Imago Dei and to find one’s identity in Christ. It is our God-given identity that brings true worth and trumps all earthly conceptions of self. When the center of who we are is who He has made us to be, only then will we have peace with ourselves.
Responding to the CC
In terms of how we can respond to the CC, I am not proposing that we reinvent the wheel. I believe the apologetics community should do what it has done in the past as challenges arose. When the New Atheists began to emerge Christian philosophers, scientists, historians, textual critics, theologians, etc. went to work using their skillsets to put forth rational responses to the objections raised. Likewise with other societal matters such as recent LGBT activity and the abortion discussion, apologists have been able to demonstrate how Christianity affords us a coherent worldview that both honors God and provides guidelines for how we interact with one another. The belief systems and ideologies represented within the CC can neither support the weight of their claims nor provide a coherent worldview. The CC, however, has gone virtually untouched by our apologetics community and seems to have gained traction while remaining in the shadows. It is time for Christian Apologists to respond!
To conclude my synopsis of the Consciousness Community I would like to provide brief summaries of the identity/belief systems I mentioned earlier. In addition, I have included a short list of points to guide discussions should one encounter those who subscribe to them.
*Note: As mentioned in my previous article, the term “conscious” here refers to having been awakened to one’s true African/indigenous self and being aware of the power structures that seek to oppress African/indigenous people.
The essential claim made by the Hebrew Israelites is that the Africans who were brought to the Western World via the Transatlantic Slave Trade are the descendants of the Biblical Hebrews, who were also dark skinned. For this reason they are often referred to as “Black” Hebrew Israelites, however, many of them find the addition of “Black” to their name to be offensive. Over time Hebrew Israelites have adapted their understanding of who the “true Israelites” are to include some other groups like Hispanics and Native Americans. Many, if not, most Hebrew Israelites are vehemently anti-European and believe the “white man” to be the devil. Most often the term Edomite, as in Edom of the Bible, is used as the term for “the so-called white man.” Hebrew Israelites’ foundational claim of being “the real Hebrews” is chiefly dependent upon their reading of the curses in Deuteronomy 28, especially the 68th verse.
Deuteronomy 28:68 (KJV) reads:
And the LORD shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships, by the way whereof I spake unto thee, Thou shalt see it no more again: and there ye shall be sold unto your enemies for bondmen and bondwomen, and no man shall buy you.
Hebrew Israelites argue that black people are the only group who has undergone the curses described in Deuteronomy 28 and therefore must be the Hebrews referenced in the Bible. Most Hebrew Israelites are KJV onlyists and believe the New Testament reveals Jesus Christ as being the Messiah but not God. There is also a group of Hebrew Israelites who consider themselves to be “Torah Centered” or “Tanahk Centered” who reject the New Testament and attempt to practice Old Testament Judaism. Hebrew Israelite theology is probably the most well established belief system among the CC groups. There are number of “camps” (denominations) whose views vary from one another.
Points that may guide discussion:
-Given their emphasis on Judaizing and salvation for Hebrews only, the book of Galatians is useful in addressing who can be saved, the purpose and fulfilling of the law in Christ, equality in Christ
–Evidence for the reliability of the New Testament (For Torah Centered Hebrew Israelites)
–Evidence for an historical Jesus (For Torah Centered Hebrew Israelites)
–Evidence for the resurrection (For Torah Centered Hebrew Israelites)
Moorish Scientists are like a neo-Islamic group that was started decades ago by Noble Drew Ali. They believe that the African slaves brought to the Carribean and the Americas are descendants of the “Moors.” The term Moor refers to someone from Morroco/Ancient Mauritania. They also claim that their lineage goes further back to the Moabites mentioned in the Bible. Some Moorish Scientists teach that the indigenous people groups in the Americas are Moors due to ancient Moors having migrated to the Americas thousands of years ago. The Moorish Scientist claim that in order for black people to be free from oppression they must have their citizenship legally changed to reflect their Moorish identity and at some point a nationalist shift will occur wherein the Moors are restored to having a sovereign nation of their own.
Points that may guide discussion:
The African Spiritualists are those who drift to the sorts of natural religions that one might find in West Africa. Most often this would include venerating one’s ancestors and calling upon them as guides. Some venture far enough as to practice Voodoo/Vodoun, Santeria, etc. There is also a tendency to appeal to a sort of pantheism. The concept of “god consciousness” or awakening to one’s own divinity and claiming to be god is popular in these circles.
Points that may guide discussion:
Egyptian Spiritualists are similar to African Spiritualists but they tend to focus almost exclusively on spiritual themes from Egypt. For example, in terms of their morality they generally rely upon the 42 principles of Ma’at as recorded in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead.” Some Egyptian Spiritualists believe that the ancient Egyptians worshipped gods, however, it seems the most prominent trend among them is the belief that the Egytians revered the forces of nature rather than actual deities.
The Egyptian Spiritualists often espouse an Egypt-centered brand of pantheism: claiming to be god or at least to be one with and eternal divine consciousness. Of all the CC groups, the Egyptian Spiritualists are most likely to make claims about Jesus mythicism. They generally believe that all major religions came from Egypt (Kemet) and would attribute the New Testament to the story of Osirus, Isis, and Horus.
Points that may guide discussion:
With Afrocentric Atheists one is likely to find common atheistic arguments, or rather, the usual baseless assertions. Christian apologists can generally engage them with the same arguments used when dealing with the “new atheists” following in the line of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, et al. Afrocentric atheists often push the issue of slavery being imposed upon their ancestors by Christians. These atheists would assert that this constitutes a moral problem within Christianity itself that renders it incompatible with people of African descent. Because they view slavery as being an objectively wrong thing to impose on their ancestors, the Moral Argument is a good starting point for discussion.
Points that may guide discussion:
The Moral Argument (chattel slavery is objectively evil>existence of objective evil suggests a moral law> moral Law Giver)