Racial Equity

From Hate to Love: How Black History Month Helped Rebuild My Faith

Young people protesting for human rights. (LeoPatrizi/Getty Images)

Young people protesting for human rights. (LeoPatrizi/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: Italicized and bolded texts in this piece are excerpts from Amar Peterman’s article “How I Changed My Mind About Black Lives Matter,” published in Sojourners on October 31, 2022.  


“Oh Lord, not this again,” I thought.   

In the fall of 2015, I sat with my freshman peers on a worn-out, red, upholstered seat in Moody Bible Institute’s Torrey-Gray auditorium. The president invited a Black preacher from the South Side of Chicago to the stage along with “Embrace,” the campus student group focused on creating a welcoming community for Black students.   

As they made their way to the stage, I gathered my belongings and prepared to leave. As soon as the pastor began to speak, I rose and turned up the aisle, only looking back once in a small act of self-righteous defiance. I hoped the speaker would catch my gaze and feel convicted over the heresy he preached. Pictures of Black Lives Matter protests scrolled across the screen, confirming in my mind that leaving was the right decision.  


I am halfway through Tim Alberta’s new book, The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, an extended journalistic effort toward understanding American evangelicalism today. Each chapter offers a larger story accompanied by in-depth interviews with some of evangelicalism’s most notable figures and conversations with lay people attending their Sunday service, conferences, rallies, and the like.   

What resonates with me about Alberta’s vignettes about American evangelicalism is the equation of godliness with conservatism. Alberta intentionally clarifies that it is not ungodly to be politically or theologically conservative (much of the book is made possible because Alberta, the son of an evangelical pastor, is speaking as an insider to this movement).  

Instead, his concern is the fusion of these two ideologies to the degree that not being conservative (however it is construed) is to be unfaithful as a Christian.  

However, this resonance with Alberta is painful because I see myself in these stories—not as the resilient leader combating division in the pews but as the one causing the division.   

I came to Chicago as a bright-eyed and incredibly ignorant 18-year-old. To better understand the pressing issues of our society, I turned to clips from political commentators and conservative provocateurs like Tomi Lahren, Ben Shapiro, and Matt Walsh on Facebook. They spoke passionately about a liberal movement hellbent on deceiving and dividing our nation, embedding Marxism into our democracy, and making everything about racism. The pinnacle of this not-so-hidden liberal agenda was the Black Lives Matter movement.  


I often think about this stage of my life— the beliefs I held about those unlike me, the hatred and fear I had in my heart, the rhetoric I consumed, and the fierce conviction I possessed that what I was doing was correct.   

What pains me even more about this season of my life is that I allowed these lies—particularly about Black and brown folk, immigrant communities, and the role of race—to inhabit my own brown, immigrant, Indian body. I was a parrot for white professors who told me to rid myself of Indianness to indeed join them in the faith. I sat in the school dining hall, reciting what ‘The Blaze’ had taught me earlier that day. And I pushed away my peers who sought to offer a gentle, correcting voice.   

That is, until something gave way.  

By the Spring of 2016, my stack of “John” books — John Piper, John MacArthur, John Winthrop — that occupied my bookshelf was replaced by a new collection of “James” books — Willie James Jennings, James H. Cone, and James Baldwin. By 2017, I was writing essays on a “post-colonial” reading of Romans and challenging the whitewashing of Christianity in my undergraduate courses. By 2018, I spoke on public panels about the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement and MacArthur’s erroneous statements regarding “Social Justice and the Gospel.”  


Classes resumed near the end of January. I had completed my first semester of Bible college, which only stirred up more questions rather than provided significant answers.   

These questions were coupled with an election cycle. It was the first time I could vote in, and I was determined to pay close attention. But the more I listened to my regular talk shows and news pundits, the more dissatisfied and disillusioned I became.  

Of course, this growing dissatisfaction was not isolated. It collided with new voices and stories—or, more accurately, voices and stories that have always existed but were new to my ears. During Black History Month in February 2016, I picked up Baldwin and Cone, Thurman and Morrison. An ethical imperative became clear: Protect and care for those pressed down by our society’s systems of structures.  

As I was reading these authors, my Black and brown peers taught me about the historical unequal access to healthcare within marginalized communities, how Augustine and Athanasius were African theologians, how anti-Black racism differed from anti-Asian racism, and how Christian missionary efforts are often codified in deeply racialized language. In return, I learned how to embrace my own Indian identity as a fundamental part of my Christian faith, not a hindrance to it.   

Moments like the Charleston church shooting, the presidential election of Donald Trump, and the murder conviction of former Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke were all key landmarks for me in the coming years. But these markers don’t outline a path to “progressivism” or “liberalism.” I don’t think of myself as belonging to either of these categories. In fact, ‘progressive Christianity,’ to me, is just as vacuous as the “conservative Christianity” I had practiced for much of my life.   

Instead, responding to these events (and many like them) reaffirmed that this turn in how I understand and perceive the world was neither a whim nor the deception of a new “agenda.” The Spirit guided me toward God’s redemptive work in the world—toward that ethical imperative of love.  

Looking back, this shift that began in the early moments of 2016 has profoundly shaped my faith: I care less about what people believe and more about what people do—how they act and respond, how they care for and uplift others; I care more about space about hospitality—creating opportunities for joy, kindness, and belonging; and I am more attuned to creation and land beneath my feet—the dirt we come from and will one day return to.   

Every February, I return to some of these texts that were so revolutionary to me nearly a decade ago. I encourage you to do the same.  

Just a month before graduation in the spring of 2019, I sat in the front row of the Torrey-Gray auditorium as Willie James Jennings presented an honorary lecture on the importance of land and place in theology.   

I did not make an early exit this time.  

Amar D. Peterman is a Program Manager at Interfaith America.