Do you really want freedom?

On a trip to Kansas City, one of the Ethiopian priests asked me:

How is it that Rastafarians can believe Haile Selassie is their savior?

Now, I couldn’t answer that question on behalf of all Rastas. But I could answer for myself.

You see: I remember when I was Rastafarian…

And I know how Haile Selassie saved me…

If not for Haile Selassie, who knows where I’d be? In life…in my spiritual journey…

Maybe I’d be an atheist…

Or Muslim, like my dad…my granddad…and the long line of Ballentines who trace themselves back to the expression of Islam that was born from Ethiopia

Or I could have simply been “spiritual, not religious” – going to church sporadically at best. I had done that before too…

I couldn’t take Christianity seriously

I mean: there were no answers for any of my most troubling questions. Questions about being Black and Christian…especially when my ancestors were enslaved and oppressed with the Church’s blessing…when churches and pastors and priests owned slaves…

I had to escape White supremacy and abandon the White man’s interpretations…

And by the grace of God, I became Rasta…

As a Ras, I consumed everything I could on Zion…on Ethiopia.

I consumed everything I could about His Imperial Majesty, Emperor Haile Selassie I.

And reading Haile Selassie’s constant praise of Jesus Christ…knowing his defense of the Christian faith…seeing him bow in submission to the Church and Cross of Christ, I was convicted…

If I’m following Haile Selassie and Haile Selassie is following Jesus Christ…shouldn’t I just follow Jesus?

That was my rationale…

If not for Haile Selassie, I wouldn’t be Christian now.

His Majesty freed me to embrace Christianity in a deep way…

Rather than seeing the most difficult concepts of the faith as merely “the White man’s efforts to control me” – or ignoring those hard topics altogether, I was forced to confront myself with the faith. I had no choice but allow the faith to transform me.

And that was the first step to freedom…

I want you to experience the liberation of this sort of transformation.

And you won’t have to become a Rasta…

But you will have to have discipline…to want discipline…to receive discipline…

So if you aren’t absolutely determined to break free from White supremacy, then the rest of this really won’t interest you…

For the rest of you: let me tell you something that “just makes sense…”

And what I’m about to tell you is the point that makes the old guard of the Black community upset with me. But I think you’ll appreciate it…

You’ll wonder what it all means for you and you’ll want to know how to make the necessary changes in your life and faith.

But it will definitely make sense…

Historian Albert J. Raboteau says,

No single story captures more clearly the distinctiveness of African-American Christianity than that of the Exodus.

You probably don’t think of it often…but it just makes sense.

The Exodus is about a group of people being freed from slavery. This group of people had been forced to build the nation of Egypt into a superpower, but were denied their basic humanity by that same nation. Egypt was so ungrateful for the contributions of the Hebrew people that they oppressed them so hard they could not stand.

Sounds exactly like our experience in America…

All we could do is hope for another Moses to come and proclaim that God had ordered the American Pharaoh to “let His people go!”

As Raboteau continues,

Christian slaves thus applied the Exodus story, whose end they knew, to their own experience of slavery, which had not yet ended, and gave meaning and purpose to lives threatened by senseless and demeaning brutality…In times of despair, they remembered Exodus and found hope enough to endure the enormity of their suffering.”

Free Blacks took the Exodus narrative to it’s conclusion, where it served as a foundation for their hopes of a mass exodus of Blacks from America to Africa.

The problem is: we – as a people – have never “exodused.”

The Exodus did not end with the Hebrew people making nice with the Egyptians and remaining together in some unified Egyptian utopia. Rather, the Hebrews took reparations, left Egypt and God killed all the Egyptians who dared pursue the Hebrew people in hopes of returning them to slavery.

So being that most of us ain’t about to leave America and move to Africa…

…being that it’s been almost 30 years since Congressman John Conyers first asked Congress to merely study the idea of reparations for slavery, and they STILL cannot vote on that…

…being that every country in Africa is under the yoke of White supremacy…

Leaving America isn’t the answer.

And so, the Exodus narrative doesn’t fit our experience…

Makes sense, right?

But our spiritual identity is rooted in Exodus…our cultural identity is rooted in Exodus. The way we embody our faith and the way that faith guides us in our lives, is rooted in Exodus…

How can we ever break free from White supremacy if our foundational narrative is rooted in Exodus?