Current events have no doubt prompted many gospel preachers to treat the subject of racism from the pulpit in the last few weeks. I did so this past Lord’s day in a sermon I called, “One Blood-All Nations,” from Acts 17:22-28. I have preached on the subject several times over the years and was prompted to do so again by some good material put out by my friend Ben F. Vick, Jr., in his bulletin, The Informer (June 14, 2020). The particular points, however, I borrowed (stole) from an excellent lecture by David R. Shannon called, “How Should We Respond To Racial Division,” in the 2016 Freed-Hardeman University lectureship volume, In My Place: The Servant Savior in Mark, pages 262-266. Brother Shannon, in a truly effective way, addressed the core values that we as Christians should understand and hold with uncompromising conviction.
Among the questions I attempted to address was, “What is racism?” Racism is an intellectual and emotional concept that one race is better than another, and this supposed superiority allows one group to dominate another. Bryan Kenyon offered then interesting thought that racism is currently limited to tensions between blacks and whites, and is tied to segregation and integration issues of the 1960’s.[i] He suggested that a more accurate term might be “skin color-ism.” The word “racism” implies that there are many different races. My point regarding Genesis 1:26-27 was to show that there is only one race of humans issuing from the same human pair (Adam & Eve) with different degrees of skin pigmentation and other physical features.
Some are prejudiced because of ignorance or weakness. Others, with a more ingrained disposition, are racist because they were taught it as children. Unfortunately, what parents teach us when we are young makes a deeper impression on us than what the Bible says to us when we are older. Brother Kenyon says, “The number one promoter of ‘skin color-ism,’ without doubt is education, what people are taught! Thus, if the ‘skin color-ism’ problem is to be resolved it must start with proper teaching.” It is my observation that small children do not care about skin color. It is not until much later that they develop ideas to the contrary because of what they are taught. Proper teaching must begin in the home and be supported in Bible school and from the pulpit.
While doing a little reading in preparation for my latest sermon on this issue I learned a few things of interest. The 2015 Florida School of Preaching lectureship volume, Do You Understand Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount? contains three chapters dealing with race relations. On the subject of, “Race Relations in the Restoration Movement,” Bruce Daugherty had some interesting things to say.[ii]
- It is difficult to know how many of the Restorers owned slaves, but it is clear that many of them were deeply involved in the practice.
- Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell both emancipated their slaves. Stone freed his slaves after the Cane Ridge revival of 1801, and led others to do the same. When Alexander Campbell married Margaret Brown in 1811, he inherited slaves along with his farm. Along with emancipating his slaves he also gave them an education along with his children, teaching them a trade so that they could provide for themselves.[iii]
- Alexander Campbell “believed that slavery in the United States was a system that created ‘mutual bondage’ of black slaves serving white masters and of white masters becoming slaves to the system of slavery [Rom. 6:16].”
- Marshall Keeble was the outstanding evangelist of the first half of the 20th century. Keeble did most of his preaching in the south when “Jim Crow” laws were strongly in force. “Keeble had to walk a delicate line as he depended on white support while accommodating white segregation…Keeble never professed to see racism in white men’s words or events…even when he bore the brunt of vicious, violent attacks.” “Keeble’s attitude of forgiveness gained him acceptance in the whole community.”
- G. P. Bowser approached race relations in a manner different than Keeble. He operated three schools, one of which was forced to close when he refused to conform to social custom by entering the back door to the school, as he was told to do, and refusing to give in to segregation.
- As the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s brought the beginning of integration to the nation, churches of Christ were slow to follow suit. “Whites within churches of Christ, with a few exceptions, were slow to raise their voices in support of equal rights and justice as they separated salvation from any social obligation [due in large part to the influence of David Lipscomb’s view on civil government]…This silence and lack of support for the cause of civil rights contributed to the alienation of race relations within churches of Christ. Blacks viewed the silence of whites as ignorance at best and racist at worst.”[iv]
- Finally, on the matter of practical steps to improve race relations in churches of Christ, brother Daugherty noted, “In order to love the brotherhood, the brotherhood must first be known. To live in separate fellowships, with very little interactions among each other, is to give fertile ground to ignorance, which in turn fosters prejudice and racism. Greater communication with one another can increase understanding.”
[i] “Addressing ‘Skin Color-ism,’” in The Harvester, newsletter of the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, Florida (February 2019).
[ii] “Racism, Race Relations, and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount,” by Brian Kenyon in The Harvester, newsletter of the Florida School of Preaching in Lakeland, Florida (January 2015).
[iii] If this is true, then, Campbell reversed the national trend of how emancipation was handled long before it occurred. Martin Luther King, Jr., showed that although the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves on paper, it did nothing to help them provide for themselves. He said, “Four million newly liberated slaves found themselves with no bread to eat, no land to cultivate, no shelter to cover their heads,” unlike white settlers being granted millions of acres of land in the West, “thus providing America’s new white peasants from Europe with an economic floor” (Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 83-84.
[iv] Again, if this is true it is a sad testimonial to the extent of one man’s influence among churches of Christ. In his book, Civil Government, David Lipscomb contended that Christians should basically have nothing to do with the governmental process. He said, “God always forbade that his subjects should join affinity or affiliate with the subject of the human government, or that they should make any alliance with, enter into, support, maintain and defend, or appeal to, or depend upon, these human governments for aid or help.” This is an aspect of the civil rights movement and churches of Christ that I have never heard before.