Racism III: E Pluribus Unum

Caution: In this article, I present some historical references that use some disturbing terms. I present these comments not to condone the demeaning references, but to be historically accurate in portraying the attitudes and racial climate of the times.

 
Racism has been a blight on churches for decades, maybe even centuries. I have recently been exploring the incidence of racism in churches of Christ, and found, to my grave concern, that there was a time when it was rather common. The comments and actions of Foy E. Wallace, Jr. and N.B. Hardeman in the first half of the 20th century were, I believe, indicative of an institutional, ingrained racism that plagued the church and hindered the gospel message. I came across one report that suggested that Dr. Martin Luther King was referred to by the vulgar racist epithet of “Martin Lucifer Coon” from a Church of Christ pulpit in Arkansas in the 1960’s. In brotherhood papers during the 1950’s and ‘60’s, blame was placed on civil rights marchers for causing conflict and harm, with little or no concern for the biblical directives to eliminate oppression and aid the afflicted.

In one rather fascinating example of faulty logic (and self-congratulation over it!), a writer for the Gospel Guardian enumerated his reasons for supporting racial segregation, saying that it was God’s will for races to separated, and essentially condemning biracial people as abominations. In his article dated 23 July 1970, Ervin Driskill wrote,

Why I Believe In Segregation of Races

It has been no secret to those who have known me that I believe in the segregation of the races. My reasons appear valid, to me, and nothing I have seen, on the subject, has convinced me otherwise.

1.  I believe the white race owes its existence to God; God made the white man.
2. I believe the Negro race owes its existence to God; God made the Negro man.
3. I do not believe God made a “Mullato Race” (a mixture of white and black); there is no such “Mullato Race.”
4. When white marry white the off-spring is white, thus, perpetuating what God made.
5. When Negro marry Negro the off-spring is Negro, also perpetuating what God made.
6. When White marry Negro, or when Negro marries White, the off-spring is Mullato. This is a corruption or, perversion of what God made. It is my belief we should be satisfied with what God has done.
7. No one, I suppose, would condemn me for contending for something God has done — namely, maintaining God’s fixed order. That is all for which I contend.
8. Since God has made no “Mullato race,” I take it He didn’t want one. Since He has made a “White race” and a “Negro race,” I take it, it was because that’s what He wanted.
9. This does not mean the “White race” cannot be helpful and kind to the “Negro race” (and the poor unfortunate Mullato, as far as that is concerned) nor, does it mean the “Negro race” cannot be kind and helpful to the “White race,” but it does not require an integration of the two to do so.
10. The integration of the two results in a perversion of God’s arrangement.

For many years there was a complete segregation of the Negro and White and much kindness was shown and help given by both. Some years ago we lived in Meridian, Miss., and when a friend from Abilene, Texas, stopped for the night, and we were unable to find a place for her Negro helper to stay, we gave her a place to stay in our home. This was showing kindness to one of God’s creation but it was not a permanent arrangement.

Also, several years ago, we lived near Waco, Texas. R. N. Hogan (a Negro preacher) was in a tent meeting in Waco. Every night I drove thirty-eight miles round trip, and carried a car load of Negro people, to the meeting, in an effort to start a Negro congregation. One old man obeyed the gospel. Because we did not believe one man could worship God, by himself, and because there were no other Negro members in the town, we arranged for him to worship with us.

This, again, was showing helpfulness and kindness. With one more Negro Christian, in the town, I would have helped them start a Negro church.

This may be “racism” but I am not the least embarrassed at such terminology. The Communists have done everything to destroy this nation and for sometime have capitalized on the “Race issue.” It is unfortunate some Papers, Schools, churches and preachers are cooperating with them.

http://www.wordsfitlyspoken.org/gospel_guardian/v22/v22n11p8a.html

I find it appalling that this ever appeared in a brotherhood paper. Not one scripture was offered to support the conclusion; only one man’s opinion, and that self-vetted. It is hard to imagine that an editor would allow such to be passed on–unless the editor was in agreement. The logic was completely flawed, drawing “valid” conclusions from false premises. (For more discussion of how religious people can use faulty logic, see the article, “Logic and the Turtle on the Fence Post” in this blog.)

It should be noted that not all preachers for the churches of Christ held such racist views. In the same year, Leo Rogol wrote in the same magazine against racism in the church. In his article dated 18 June 1970, he wrote,

“I have heard sermons and read articles in which preachers criticized the Negroes’ involvement in racial strife and disorder. Now these occurrences are the ways of the world and we do not follow after them. And neither do I wish to leave the impression that I am in favor of such. But on the other hand, let those brethren who speak out against this social injustice be reminded that such expressions of outrage are the effects of the injustice inflicted upon the black race. Let it be known that the Negro himself is the victim of and suffered because of a violation of civil laws by the white society. Laws of our nation, of our free society, should guarantee the peace and tranquility of all people without respect of nationality, class, or color. Then those who have violated the rights of any class protected by law, are as guilty as those Negroes they accuse of such behavior in their retaliation against this abuse.

“Why do I say this? To champion the cause of the civil rights in this racial issues? Not exactly so. I do not deny that some, or perhaps even many, Negroes are abusive toward the very progress they seek to make. But this does not justify a Christian abusing the rights and privileges belonging to the Negroes. I am saying this to point out to these brethren who teach against racial disturbances that they also put the brethren “in remembrance” of their proper attitude and conduct toward the Negro as fellowman. While I often hear and read of matters pertaining to the guilt of the Negro in these perplexing matters, I seldom read or hear of any admonition to the white brethren with regard to their attitude and conduct toward the black race. And I fear that much of the spirit of racial intolerance in the world continues among some brethren in the church!”

He went on to say,

“Paul wrote against “foolish talking” and “jesting, which are not convenient” (Eph. 5:4). The word, “foolish,” means: “insipid, senseless, which is not fitted to instruct, edify, or profit; idle chit-chat.” Jesting is language that is “light, or trifling, and malignant.” I believe that many times Christian, sometimes even gospel preachers, are guilty of this sin. How often do we hear Christians refer to the Negro as “nigger?” It is spoken in ridicule and oft times in scorn and derision of the black man. It is entirely wrong to use such language that degrades and makes the Negro the object of contempt or disrespect.

“I do not propose to have the answer to the social or racial problem of our day. Neither do I intend to become involved in the political issues facing our nation. But I do believe I have the Word of God to instruct and direct my words, conduct, and action with regard to my duty for, and relationship with, the fellow man of another color. I do know that a “racial problem” is not that of the colored man alone. It involves a “problem” of attitude and spirit on the part of the white man toward the Negro. I believe, that as a Christian, I can express no hatred, intolerance, or contempt and ridicule toward any race. And I must respect, therefore, the dignity of man regardless of the color of his skin.

“That also means I cannot consider a Negro brother in Christ as a “third” or “fourth rate citizen” in the kingdom of Christ. A Negro brother is not simply to be “tolerated” out of a self-righteous and haughty spirit of benevolent endurance, but he must be considered with equal respect, without distinction or partiality. He is subjected to, is a servant of the same “king of kings and lord of lords” as also am I. All things being equal in our relationship to Christ, then by what right can I assume a spirit of superiority over him by reason of the color of my skin?”

http://www.wordsfitlyspoken.org/gospel_guardian/v22/v22n7p6-7.html

David Lipscomb, writing in the Gospel Advocate, dated 21 February 1878, responded to a report of a church in McKinney, Texas, where a black man had petitioned for membership in a white congregation. In part of his reply, Lipscomb said,

“We believe it sinful to have two congregations in the same community for persons of separate and distinct races now. The race prejudice would cause trouble in the churches we know. It did this in apostolic days. Not once did the apostles suggest that they should form separate congregations for the different races. But they always admonished them to unity, forbearance, love and brotherhood in Christ Jesus.”

He concluded by saying,

“Our treatment of the Negro at best, is that of criminal indifference and neglect. To discourage and repel him when despite that cruel neglect on our part he seeks membership in the church of God, is an outrage that ought not for a moment to be tolerated.”

http://wordsfitlyspoken.org/gospel_guardian/v22/v22n2p1-3a.html

Over the years, I believe that racism has declined in the churches of Christ. But I suspect that there is still an element of it remaining. There are too many examples of segregated congregations in too many cities. There may be lip service to embracing racial equality, but actions do not necessarily support that. I believe that this is of the un-intentional incidental racism variety, but it is racism that needs to be addressed and corrected.

 
In those congregations with which I have been familiar that have had a few black members, there always seemed to be a low but perceptible level of uneasiness. The white members often try very hard not to offend, and in so doing, it seems they become almost patronizing. Again, this has been my perception alone, and I have no other evidence but what my own eyes have witnessed.

 
If there is any remaining tension or uneasiness involving race, we need to get over it. Color is a superficial matter of skin. Brotherhood is a matter of heart. Contrary to the commonly viewed artists’ renderings of a white-skinned, blue-eyed Messiah, Jesus wasn’t a white European. White people need to get over that misconception and view Jesus for what he was: the earthly embodiment of God in human form. If skin tone had been important in our understanding of Jesus, his ministry, death and resurrection, I am confident that we would have been informed. If we were required to keep some rigorous standard of racial purity, I am equally confident that we would have been directly instructed. It is past time to let cultural bias and prejudice dictate our religious duties.

Paul appealed for unity in Ephesians, but that only echoed Jesus’ appeal for unity among all of his followers in the Gospel of John 17, where he prayed,

“20 I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Jesus didn’t separate the white followers from the black followers. He prayed that all followers of all races and ethnicity may be one. If we divide where Jesus has gathered, we are sadly misled. And even more sadly lost.

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One Response to Racism III: E Pluribus Unum

  1. Dawn Tucker says:

    I think David Lipscomb said it well in these lines: “Color is a superficial matter of skin. Brotherhood is a matter of heart.” Shame on those who said otherwise, and sought to sow discord in the church!

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