The “Black Jesus” episode of Good Times is one of my most memorable childhood television experiences. It ranks right up there with the Pearl Harbor episode of The Waltons for TV that taught me something. The White Jesus on the wall is the same one that adorned every church I ever entered as a child. If you don’t know how much White Christians like White Jesus, read up on it at www.stuffwhitechristianslike.com.
JJ defends his painting of Black Jesus with “it’s just a symbol of Jesus.” Just a symbol, like the White Jesus picture is just a symbol because whoever posed for that picture was not born 2000 years ago in the Middle East. But mamas don’t want their babies to grow up to be cowboys, and they don’t want their Jesus symbols messed around with. Jesus might have your soul. Mama has your behind.
The day I watched this show was the day I realized being white didn’t have anything to do with Jesus. Even if no one had actually told me in so many words that whiteness and Jesus went together, in the all white church with the white Jesus on the wall, there were plenty of messages sent out.
Church is still one of the most segregated places around. Some churches in Mississippi are integrated, but I know some that would and have split wide open over the idea.
Imagine a world where religion doesn’t destroy more than it heals. Imagine a world where symbols of love really mean love to the people who sport them, love for all regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or political leanings.
So many excuses for hatred are tangled up with religious beliefs that it’s difficult to even talk about them. When Good Times aired in the 1970s, religious intolerance for racial differences was obvious and up front, at least in Mississippi. It’s not as open or honest now. That doesn’t make it any less real or any less toxic.
I don’t know what Bible people have been reading, but I’ve seen plenty of versions, and I’ve never seen a single one that said, “Jesus saith unto you, Go forth and treat people like dirt in my name.” By all appearances it actually says the opposite. I think that includes people who don’t look like you, people who don’t act like you, and people who don’t believe like you just in case you are inclined to make exceptions to the “play nice with all God’s children” rule.
Imagine. Imagine. It’s easy if you try.
And while you are at it, watch the rest of “Black Jesus.”