There’s a never-ending debate many folks have on who the greatest NBA player of all time is. Is it Jordan? Is it Lebron? Is it Kobe? There’s no doubt that if you’re an NBA fan, you land on a particular side of this debate, and you have your reasons.
A lot of it boils down to where you’re from. Most folks in Chicago will swear up and down it’s Michael Jordan who deserves the title of GOAT. With six championship rings and numerous all-time stats and awards, it’s plain and simple. Jordan is the obvious choice. Those from the Los Angeles area would say it’s Kobe. With almost the same amount of rings (5) and a domination of all-time stats, it definitely goes to the Purple and Gold. Still, many from Cleveland (or even if those not from Cleveland) would choose Lebron. Even without as many championship rings, he exerts clear dominance on the court.
Not many people would say Tim Duncan. Tim who? Yes, Tim Duncan. Tim helped lead the Spurs to five championship titles and six championship series appearances. He is a leading rebounder when it comes to all-time stats. And on top of it all, Tim was not about grandstanding and making a name for himself. Tim was about the Spurs. He was about the team.
When you think of all-time greats in the NBA, Duncan’s name doesn’t come to your mind. There was no hype around Tim Duncan. He had no huge following. Little boys weren’t going around singing “If I could be like Tim.” But the record is clear; in terms of contribution, Tim holds his own. Now whether he is the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) is another question. You’ll have to ask my friend John Richards about that.
This leads me to ask another question: When you think of the greatest Christian leaders and thinkers of all time, who comes to your mind?
I can bet most of the people who come to mind are white males. When we think of the people who hammered out the Christian, faith we usually think of white males to the exclusion of everyone else. Even when those who come to our mind are from Egyptian and North African antiquity and would not necessarily be classified as white males.
When we think of the most influential people in the Christian faith, we think of Martin Luther, John Wesley, and John Calvin. We think of Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, and the Great Awakening. For those of us who have a broader historical view, we think of Augustine and Tertullian and Athanasius, but in our minds they are still perceived as white males instead of Africans. This confirms the cultural imperialism inherent in our understanding of Christian history. Even when we think of people born and raised on the African continent we think of them as looking similar to Europeans.
How could someone draw a different conclusion when all the pictures and the biographies in Christian history are about people from Europe and America? How could someone not think Christianity is a white thing when this is what we export to the rest of the world? That’s a picture I don’t want anyone to have. It’s a picture some have had for centuries and this is a picture the different cults and philosophies have taken shots at for years.
When you look at real Christianity, you’ll see a multicultural cloud of witnesses cheering us on. This cloud of witnesses goes all the way back to the first century. Yes, before Constantine. This cloud of witnesses can be seen as a many-hued hall of faith. They are from Africa and Asia. They cannot be seen as European, although some have been represented as such. They are as African as Desmond Tutu and as Asian as Genghis Khan.
There is no doubt these folks had a tremendous influence in their time. However, the impact of their faith and their lives have been buried by racism and ignorance. Their legacy needs to be discovered today. There is a roll call of men and women of God who have not had their due as African and Asian heroes of the faith. These men and women were pioneers in interpreting scripture and in leading the church. Many of them were missionaries who crossed cultures to spread the gospel. Others pioneered new ways to worship and live as Christians. Many of their practices and theology were adopted by Europeans. These folks were on the leading edge of Christian faith and practice, while European theologians and church leaders were following them. It’s hard to even think about. It sounds like a Bizarro universe, but it actually happened.
The faith is much bigger than the fifteenth century and the Protestant Reformation. It’s much broader than the context of Europe. It’s about so much more than the Puritans. Our faith is culturally and ethnically bigger than that. It’s peppered with the lives of folks who were nurtured and nourished on African soil. People who had their faith cultivated in the sands of Middle Eastern deserts. Their Christianity went east along the Silk Road and proved that although all roads may lead to Rome, not everybody traveled in Rome’s direction.
This is an excerpt from Reclaiming Diversity by Ramon Mayo. Ramon is an author, speaker, and youth pastor from Chicago, IL. Reclaiming Diversity: Destroying the Myth Of The White Man’s Religion is available on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.