Recent events have conspired to remind us of a prevailing sentiment about black men in America. It has become almost a cliché to say that there is a serious problem with black men. So many are in prison. So many grow up with out fathers. So many are in gangs. So few are in college or even finishing high school. Of course, this is personal for me. Even though I am not counted in any of the aforementioned categories (I’ve never been arrested, grew up with my father, am a college-graduate, etc.), I feel the pain of my brothers who have not done as well. So when our plight was thrust into the spotlight again, I began to meditate – first to calm myself, and second to seek some insight. In particular, I wanted to know what course of action I could suggest to help solve the problem. Thankfully, God’s Word has illuminated something that I believe is relevant. In fact, there is an event in Scripture that I believe parallels the situation concerning black men in America. It is an exchange between an early Christian evangelist and a black man, as told by Luke in Acts chapter 8. This black man from Ethiopia was struggling with some of the same issues.
The Book of Acts is a narrative account of the spread of the gospel, beginning “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 2:8) By Acts chapter 8, the disciples were being scattered because of persecution and were preaching the gospel as they went. Luke highlights one Evangelist in particular, Philip, who crosses ethnic barriers and preached to the Samaritans. Next, Philip is led by the Spirit to approach a black man riding in a chariot on his way back to Ethiopia. But this was no ordinary black man. He was a high-ranking official who handled the finances for the Queen of Ethiopia. He was also a religious man, as he was returning from Jerusalem where he had gone to worship. When Philip approached him, he was reading from the Jewish prophet Isaiah. The other thing about him was he was a eunuch, which means he had been castrated. During ancient times in some cultures, certain men were physically emasculated in order to make them more trusted and loyal. Also, to those in the ancient middle east, Ethiopia was considered the end of the earth. And this man who had traveled that far to worship would not have been allowed to enter the temple because he was a eunuch and because he was a gentile. So no matter how sincere he was in wanting to worship God, he was treated as an outsider.
It is interesting to note what this black man was wrestling with. Philip comes up to him as he is reading and asks if he understands what he’s reading. The Ethiopian Eunuch responds in seeming frustration. He says, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31) This man had probably tried to go to the synagogue and the temple but had not been received because he had been emasculated and because he was an outsider. In fact, because he was a eunuch he was doomed to remain an outsider. He was trying to understand the Scriptures, which were the foundation of Jewish culture. But up to that point no one would help him. Philip, led by the Holy Spirit, got into the chariot and used the Scripture to preach Christ to him. The Ethiopian Eunuch responded with a mixture of defensiveness and hope. As they came upon a body of water he asked, “What prevents me from baptized?” Philip stops the chariots and baptizes him. Tradition says that the Ethiopian Eunuch went on to his homeland spreading the gospel to his countrymen.
This passage (Acts 8:25-39) is a gold mine of insights that can be learned. But I will cut to the application that I think is most relevant today. In some sense, black men in America are considered outsiders. I would also argue that today, there are covert efforts to emasculate black men – pushing drugs into black communities, racial profiling & imprisonment, even bribing black male entertainers into roles where they dress like women. There are many Black men today who do not fall prey to these ills – who have retained their manhood. Nevertheless, today the Ethiopian’s cry can figuratively be heard, – “how can I understand unless someone guides me?”
Just as the Holy Spirit guided Philip, I believe God is showing us the way to help our brothers. I believe this is a call for Christian black men in particular. I believe we have to make every effort to educate and mentor young black men. That means more black men becoming teachers. That means black men organizing support for schools that are dedicated to educating young black men. That means joining, supporting, and promoting organizations that incorporate mentoring programs for young black men. That means evangelizing young black men and creating a supportive environment for them in the black church.