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By Wes Crawford

            For the better part of the 20th century, white and African American leaders within Churches of Christ perpetuated an illusion of racial unity through their public speech, sermons, journal articles, and lectureships. If one’s only windows into 20th century American society were lectureships and journals affiliated with Churches of Christ, she or he would never know about the thousands of lynchings that occurred in cities and towns across the American South, or Jim Crow segregation, or even the Civil Rights Movement. The most prominent voices and most influential platforms within the movement were utterly silent.

            In 1968, however, that illusion of racial unity was shattered for two important reasons. First, Marshall Keeble died. The principle African American figure connecting African American and white Churches of Christ died, and when he died no other black leader took his place as a regular speaker and writer in white-controlled journals or lectureships. During the first half of the 20thcentury, Keeble had been the glue that held white and African American Churches of Christ together. When he died, the two racially defined segments of the movement drifted further apart.

            The second reason the illusion of racial unity shattered in 1968 was perhaps even more impactful than Keeble’s death. In 1967, the white-controlled Board of Directors of Nashville Christian Institute (the school Keeble operated for the purpose of educating African American students), decided to close the school and liquidate its assets and use the proceeds from the sale of the property to establish a scholarship fund at the recently desegregated David Lipscomb College for an African American student. Alumni of NCI and other African American members of Churches of Christ responded swiftly and strongly, filing suit against the Board of Directors and attempting to block their decision. They even hired Fred Gray, NCI alumnus and attorney for Martin Luther King, Jr., to take the case. When the dust settled, the court ruled in favor of the Board of Directors, the Burton-Keeble Scholarship was established at David Lipscomb College, and decades of deep-seated resentment from African American members of the movement toward their white counterparts spilled into the public through speeches, sermons, and journal articles. One African American leader called the Board’s action, the “grab of the century,” while another referred to that same action as robbery. 

            Keeble’s death prevented him from mediating the discourse between these oppositional parties. NCI, which had provided another point of connection between black and white Churches of Christ, no longer existed. Following 1968, African American and white Churches of Christ became more and more physically separated, and each began to grow and develop independently of one another. On one hand, white members of the movement centered themselves around institutions, such as Abilene Christian College, Harding College, and David Lipscomb College. They subscribed to the Gospel Advocate and Firm Foundation, and they attended the Tulsa Soul Winning Workshop and other lectureships held on the campuses of predominantly white colleges. On the other hand, African American members of Churches of Christ centered themselves around Southwestern Christian College, the National Lectureship, and the Christian Echo. Lacking any official denominational structure, these three entities—colleges, lectureships, and journals—have historically provided cohesion to our otherwise autonomous congregations. In the years following 1968, white and black Churches of Christ became more estranged from one another, each locating itself around its own racially defined loci of cohesion. In short, for all practical purposes there exist in the opening decades of the 21st century, two racially defined movements each bearing the name “Church of Christ” on their marquees.

            All hope, however, is not lost! In recent years courageous voices from within African American and white Churches of Christ have raised their voices in attempts to heal racially motivated wounds and to bring these two movements together. (Notice I do not write “together again,” because in reality, these two movements have never experienced togetherness).

            At the turn of the century, Royce Money (then President of ACU), convened the One in Christ Conference in Abilene. This gathering brought together key white and African American leaders to discuss the past and present sins of racism of white Christians against black Christians. These closed-door meetings consisted on truth-telling, confession, tears, repentance, and forgiveness. Not long after these meetings, Money publicly confessed ACU’s sins during an ACU chapel ceremony. Weeks later, Jack Evans (then President of Southwestern Christian College) invited Money to Terrell, TX, where he made that same confession in front of the student body of Southwestern Christian College.

            In recent years, Jerry Taylor, African American faculty member at ACU has courageously led efforts to build community between black and white members of Churches of Christ. He has hosted a series of “Racial Unity Leadership Conferences” in cities, such as Abilene, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Birmingham to bring together leaders from these two movements for conversation, confession, prayer, and relationship building. Taylor also led a bus ride through the American South, allowing a handful of younger black and white leaders of Churches of Christ to visit key Civil Rights Movement sites together. Most recently, Taylor became the first Director of the Carl Spain Center on Race Studies and Spiritual Action. The Center exists to conduct important research on the historical and contemporary role of race and racism within the church. The Center also hosts regional and national events to bring together prophetic voices on the topic of race and racism.

            Jerry Taylor is not alone in his work of reconciliation. Tanya Brice, Dean of the College of Professional Studies at Bowie State University, also has lent her voice to this effort through her important writings and speeches. See, for example, her 2016 book, Reconciliation Reconsidered. From his post as Preaching Minister at North Atlanta Church of Christ, Don McLaughlin has added an essential voice from white Churches of Christ. McLaughlin has accompanied Taylor as a speaking partner at many national meetings, and the two are currently working on a collaborative book project. Another white member of Churches of Christ, Doug Foster, has spent the better part of his academic career researching and writing about the presence and effect of racism within the church. 

            This short recital of names and initiatives provides but a glimpse of the many black and white members within Churches of Christ who are working to make our future much better than our past. To this small sampling could be added countless others. To recognize the scores of church leaders within Churches of Christ passionately working for racial equality and justice is extremely important, because some prophets for this cause, much like Elijah, feel as if they are the only prophets left. In fact, however, you are not alone. So, be bold.

            Ministers, have the courage to stand in the pulpit and name the sin of racism in your ranks. Yes, some folks will get upset, and some may even leave your congregation for another one down the street. You will be charged with being a “race baiter,” and you will be accused of bringing politics into the pulpit (even if you never mention politics). Remember, you were not called to win a popularity contest; you were called to be a prophet of God.

Elders, have the courage to make your own bold decisions about racial justice in your congregation and stand with the ministers when they make bold statements about racism. Yes, you will get phone calls from disgruntled members, and your congregational budget may even take a hit. Remember, you are not a politician called to represent the constituents of your congregation. You are a shepherd of Christ’s church, called to lead people closer to the heart of God.

Make no mistake: Churches of Christ have not handled the issue of race well in the past. As a church historian, I often have witnessed the truth of the old adage: “History tends to repeat itself.” Yet, I also have observed many occasions when history did not repeat itself. We do not have to repeat the sins of our parents. History is filled with people like Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Jr., Florence Nightingale, and Fannie Lou Hamer—people who refused to allow the seemingly immovable obstacles of the past and present from charting a new and better path toward the future. I pray regularly for God’s Spirit to empower such bold and courageous leaders in our movement today.

By Jonathan Storment

I think it’s interesting that the Bible never hints at what race Adam and Eve were. When the first human is introduced into the story he is simply called ’ādām, which means “humankind.” Their “race” is not identifiable; Adam and Eve are neither black or white, they’re not even Jews.

The division of humankind into nations and races isn’t even mentioned until Genesis 10, and even then none are presented as superior to another.

Genesis is emphasizing, unlike all other ancient religions, that the image of God is in everyone, not just the kings or queens, or the elite classes, but in every single human being.

But not everyone throughout history has read it that way.

Louis Agassiz was a widely respected Swiss biologist back in the 19th century. And he argued that black people were not actually descendants of Adam and Eve but a separate species altogether. He believed that the book of Genesis, and specifically the creation of the first humans was really something that applied “Chiefly…to the history of the white race, with special reference to the history of the Jews.”

Agassiz was a Christian, and the son of a pastor, who said that he wasn’t trying to justify racism, just trying to do present the scientific and theological facts as he saw them.

This was the way that the Bible was used and abused by many white Christians for several hundred years. And it had, as you might guess, horrific implications.

No less than the Vice-President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens said in his famous Cornerstone address that the whole Confederacy rests on the fact that ““that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”

He went on to say, “The negro by nature, or by the Curse against Canaan…is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system…. It is best, not only for the superior but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances or to question them. For His own purposes He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another in glory.”*

Growing up in the South in the 1980’s, I heard this idea from a few different people who sincerely believed that when God cursed Canaan for murder and placed a mark on him that this was the origin of the black race.

Churches of Christ great strength is that we submit to the Bible. We believe it is the Testament of King Jesus and we are His people. But an honest reading of the Bible realizes that this is not what Genesis is saying. If anything, it’s undermining the a basic and very revolutionary part of Genesis. 

In its day, Genesis would have been shockingly counter-cultural because the ancient world believed only the rulers were made in the image of god. Genesis is a radical democratization of who are God’s image bearers. 

With This Faith

Last week, I wrote about how science was co-opted in racism through the Eugenics project, but to me the much more troublesome truth is the way Christianity was used to re-inforce the evils of slavery and racism in the deep South.

But maybe you know, that globally and historically speaking, that was only a small group of Christians. Maybe you know that the Church across the world condemned slavery early on, especially the Catholic Church.

Maybe you know that while psuedo-theology/science in American and England was developing ways to justify using people as tools there were, at the same time Christians all over the world who were fighting to remind us of who God really is and that we would all one day stand before Him.

In the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, there’s a place where Martin Luther King Jr. says, “I have a dream …” Most of us have heard this part. “… that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”

But did you know that just a little later in the paragraph, he says, “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

With what faith?

The very same faith that had often been used to oppress them.

One of the things that makes me think Christianity isn’t just some socially constructed thing is that when slave owners taught their slaves Christianity they thought it would make them more submissive and compliant, instead what happened is that it gave them a hope for freedom.

They read the same Bible as the people who claimed to own them and knew that this was a God who was on the side of the oppressed.

Tim Keller points out that Dr. King did not say to white Christians, “Racism is wrong because everybody has to be free to follow their dream.” He got up and said, “Racism is wrong because the God of the universe, the Rock, the unchanging, just God says it’s wrong, and you’re not listening to him.”

Dr. King didn’t tell white Christians to get less religious, to become secular, leave the church and become liberal and liberated.

He told them to listen to the very Bible their ancestors had once put in the hands of slaves.

Church as A New Race of People

So every January, there is a Monday in America which the mail doesn’t run, and many of us have a vacation day because of a preacher from Alabama who gave his life in ministry, Dr. King would say later in life that he saw his primary identity as a preacher of the Gospel.

He did what he did in service to Jesus and the church.

I want you to know that this runs deeper than just one good man, it runs deeper than even just a few hundred good churches.

Before Dr. King, many of you don’t know of a man named John Woolman, he was a Quaker who lived in the 1600’s

Woolman was a entrepreneurial businessman who probably did as much as anyone in America to bring to an end slavery…and chances are you’ve never heard of him.

I read his journal a few years ago, at the beginning of his diary, Woolman realized that he had fallen away from meetings and he recommitted himself to gathering with the other Quakers.

Because he realized that he was becoming a kind of person he didn’t like. He knew that he was gathering with/spending time with the wrong people, and if he wanted to hear the voice of God he needed to be with people who knew how to hear Him.

So he went, and heard from God in more ways than he’d hoped for.

He noticed that some of his fellow Quakers held slaves, and that bothered him…a lot.

So he started privately taking these brothers and sisters aside and sharing his concerns. I want you to think about the courage this took, back in the day, many in the abolitionist movement were very harsh and judgmental, they would shout their angry condemnation of slavery from a distance, but not Woolman. Which is why he was so effective.

He didn’t believe you could love people in theory, but only the actual people in front of you, and out of concern for them, and for the people they thought they owned, Woolman spoke for God.

He went all over the country, and everytime he’d go to the Quaker meeting house, they’d all sit for hour(s) of silence, and then when God would give Woolman a word he’d say it.

And it worked.

Here’s something that Woolman said repeatedly:

These are souls for whom Christ died, and for our conduct toward them we must answer before that Almighty Being who is no respecter of persons…I have been under a concern for some time on account of the great number of slaves which are imported into this colony.  I am aware that it is a tender point to speak to, but apprehend I am not clear in the sight of heaven without speaking to it.

Eventually, the 1780 Slavery Abolition act become official, and it comes from the tiny little Quaker colony called Pennsylvania, that was shaped by a business man who was moved by the voice of God.

Yes, in the name of God many people have promoted and reinforced the myth of white superiority. But it was also in the name of God that this myth was and is being deconstructed and revealed for the lie that it is.

It is with this faith that a Quaker spoke for God and told his friends that these people were family, not chattel.

It is the faith of the slaves that taught the slave-owners that God never made second-class variations of His image.

It was with this faith that a preacher from Alabama stood up to the racism of his day, and it this faith that is calling all of those who hold to it today to do the same.*Quotation taken from book “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God” by Kelly Douglas-Brown

By Wes Crawford

Historically speaking, how have Churches of Christ addressed the issue of race? In my article last week, I mentioned that at the time of the American Civil War, members of the Stone-Campbell Movement owned more slaves, per capita, than any other religious body in the United States. In the mid-twentieth century, colleges operated by Churches of Christ were among the last higher education institutions in America to abide by the Supreme Court’s mandate to desegregate, some waiting close to decade after Brown v. Board of Education (1955). Only an extremely small minority of Churches of Christ congregations in the first decades of the 21stcentury could be considered “multi-racial congregations.” In short, Churches of Christ, in their handling of race, have behaved much like other southern, predominantly white, Christian denominations.

Yet, there are those within Churches of Christ, presently and historically, who believe our movement has navigated the tumultuous waters of racism, slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and racial violence better than our regional contemporaries. For example, some leaders within the Stone-Campbell Movement in the late 19th century wore as a badge of honor the fact that their movement did not divide in the years leading up to the Civil War. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other American Christian groups divided along the Mason-Dixon line over the question of slavery. The Methodists did not reunite until 1939, the Presbyterians did not reunite until 1983, and the Baptists remain divided to this day. The movement founded by Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone, however, was among the only American Christian groups to remain united. Or, was their unity only an illusion?

In reality, one could argue that the only reason the Stone-Campbell Movement did not divide was because it lacked an official governing body to declare such an official division. When the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ officially divided in 1906 (at the behest of the United States Religious Census), roughly ninety percent of Disciples of Christ congregations existed in the North, and roughly ninety percent of Churches of Christ congregations existed in the South. The Stone-Campbell Movement did, in fact, divide along regional lines, but their division happened slower and finally came to fruition without an official ecclesiastical proclamation. Our lack of an official governing body shielded from view the full measure of our disunity with our northern counterparts.

Other forces shielded from full view the disunity historically present between black and white members of Churches of Christ. One of those forces was Marshall Keeble. Keeble has long been recognized as one of the most effective evangelists in the history of Churches of Christ (white or black). He held meetings all over the country with blacks and whites in attendance, he baptized an untold number of people, and he guided Nashville Christian Institute, a school in existence to educate black students, for nearly two decades. Keeble was one of the few African American preachers invited to speak at white lectureships, and he even wrote a regular column for the Gospel Advocate. Why was Keeble given such a platform among white members of Churches of Christ? To put it bluntly, Keeble publicly acquiesced to white racism. Strong evidence exists that Keeble privately spoke out against racism, but publicly, he never did. Keeble did not challenge segregated seating arrangements at his meetings, he did not march in civil rights protests, he did not publicly challenge the racial status quo in any way, and because of his public habits, white leadership within Churches of Christ accepted him. In fact, they often held Keeble up as the picture of racial unity within the movement. 

One brief mention of an encounter between Keeble and a well-known and respected white leader, Foy Wallace, Jr., provides ample evidence of Keeble’s customary response toward racism. Upon learning about two Churches of Christ preachers, one white and one African American, rooming together and sleeping in the same bed during a mission trip, Wallace responded:

Aside from being an infringement on the Jim Crow law, it is a violation of Christianity itself, and of all common decency. Such conduct forfeits the respect of right-thinking people, and would be calculated to stir up demonstrations in most any community if it should become generally known…I have always said that Marshall Keeble and Luke Miller could not be spoiled, but if I ever hear of them doing anything akin to such as this I will take back every good thing I have ever said of them. Keeble should teach these negro preachers better than that, even if we cannot teach some young upstart among the white preachers. Their practices will degrade the negroes themselves. It is abominable.

In response to this racist rant, Keeble sent a personal letter to Wallace, which the latter published in his journal, Bible Banner:

            Dear Sir and Brother in Christ:

For over thirty years I have tried to conduct my work just as your article in the Bible Banner of March suggested. Taking advice from such friends as you have been for years has been a blessing to my work. So I take the privilege to thank you for that instructive and encouraging article. I hope I can conduct myself in my last days so that you and none of my friends will have to take back nothing they have said complimentary about my work or regret it. Please continue to encourage me in my work and pray for me.

Fraternally yours,

M. Keeble

Keeble publicly acquiesced to white racism in order to secure financial gifts for the school he led, Nashville Christian Institute. Tragically, this accommodationist posture remains the primary picture of African American attitudes within twentieth century Churches of Christ. “If you wonder how blacks and whites get along in Churches of Christ, just look at Keeble,” so the argument went. Such a vantage point allowed Reuel Lemmons, longtime editor of Firm Foundation and one of the foremost 20th century white leaders within Churches of Christ, to make the claim, “We do not believe that segregation has ever been a problem with the Lord’s church…The kingdom of heaven is the most completely integrated institution we know, and all the brethren accept all the brethren as brethren. We have never had a problem here.”

Keeble’s voice, however, was not the only one speaking in the 20th century. Historians of African American religion, such as Gayraud Wilmore in his much heralded book Black Religion and Black Radicalism, have often discussed the long continuum between accommodation and protest. Booker T. Washington has long represented one end of that continuum on the side of accommodation. He, like Keeble, publicly acquiesced to white racism in order to appease white power brokers. He believed the best way to achieve uplift for African Americans centered on working within white-led systems. On the other end of the continuum exists a figure such as W. E. B. DuBois. Throughout his life, with his writings and his activism, DuBois openly challenged white racism. African American leaders within Churches of Christ have existed all along this continuum; however, most white members of Churches of Christ have been content to assume Keeble’s more accommodationist voice represented the voice of all African Americans. To accept such a position, however, is to turn a deaf ear to other prominent voices within Churches of Christ.

George Philip Bowser spent his life establishing and leading schools for African Americans in Churches of Christ (much like Keeble), but one would be hard pressed to label Bowser an accommodationist. He confronted white racism throughout his life. Perhaps because of his willingness to protest against racism within the movement, his name did not become as well known among white members of the movement. In fact, most of the schools he founded closed not long after they opened due to a lack of funds. 

Another voice of protest among African American members of Churches of Christ came from Floyd Rose. As a young adult, Rose was denied admission to Abilene Christian College because of his skin color. Instead, he attended school across town at McMurry University, a Methodist institution. Floyd spent most of his adult life in the North, protesting discriminatory laws and systems in Toledo, Ohio. A sheriff in Valdosta, Georgia, Rose’s hometown, once referred to Rose as “the Martin Luther King, Jr. down here.” During his life, Rose has served as President of the Toledo chapter of the NAACP, boycott instigator, and march leader. Throughout his life, he also served as a preacher within and without Churches of Christ. Though influential in regional and national fight for civil rights, Rose’s name is hardly known among white members of Churches of Christ.

To this list of unheralded agents of protest one could add Fred Gray, attorney for Martin Luther King, Jr. and longtime leader within Alabama Churches of Christ. Molefi Kete Asante, formerly known as Arthur L. Smith, became a strong advocate for equal rights and one of the leading authorities in the fields of African American and African studies. Before he became an internationally recognized scholar, he graduated from Keeble’s Nashville Christian Institute. From his post as editor of the Christian Echo, a journal established by Bowser, Richard Nathaniel Hogan castigated white leaders in Churches of Christ, particularly white colleges affiliated with Churches of Christ, for their unwillingness to desegregate. Numerous African American leaders within Churches of Christ raised their voices against the racism within the movement, but few white members were listening. Instead, key white structures within Churches of Christ—journals, lectureships, and colleges—focused almost exclusively on Keeble. 

If the only picture white Christians have of race relationships within Churches of Christ is a portrait of Marshall Keeble, it is not surprising that some would hold up our movement as a model for the rest of the world to emulate. When one begins to listen to the voices that have been silenced by white power brokers within the movement, however, one begins to get a truer, less flattering image. Listening to voices that disagree with us often causes pain and discomfort, which is why so few people, even in the present age, watch more than one news network, have conversations with people from opposing political parties, or form friendships with people of different skin tone. We are content to live our lives in political, religious, and racial echo chambers. Certainly, new laws need to be passed and entire systems need to be uprooted, but perhaps the place we should all begin our quest to heal the racial wounds of our nation and our Christian family is a dining room table. Invite someone who does not look like you to dinner and simply listen.

By Jonathan Storment

“The highest goal of human beings [is] not the preservation of any given state or government, but the preservation of their kind.”-Adolf Hitler

In the 1940’s two Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark performed a series of tests on African-American children designed to see how living in a segregated society impacted them.

They gave the children two different dolls, identical in every way except one was white and one was black, and asked them questions like “Which doll is nice?” “Which one is bad?” “Which one is good?’

Consistently the kids would point to the white baby as good/pretty/kind, and the black baby as bad/mean/ugly.

And then the researchers would ask the question “Which doll do you look like?”

The test became known as “the Doll Test” and it’s research became a cornerstone piece of evidence in Brown vs. the Board of education to overturn institutionalized segregation in America.

The problem is when black children are given the same test today, they still often give the same answers.

So I wrote last in this series, about how the Myth of White Superiority traces all the way back to a first century Roman historian named Tacitius and his observations about an Anglo-Saxon tribe he believed to be more moral and courageous than other humans he had interacted with.

This is the myth that influenced so many of the founding fathers of America (this is uncontested fact coming from the writings of people like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin).

But today we don’t talk about Tacitus, most of us aren’t even familiar with his ancient line of argument, even as it undergirds the reality we live in.

In fact, in the 19th and 20th century this particular line of argument actually hid behind the two most respected disciplines of the day: Science and Religion.

Next week I’ll talk  about the way religion was co-opted for this myth, but today I want to talk about the way a kind of pseudo-science was implemented toward the myth of white superiority.

Progressive Racism

I want you to imagine having your head physically measured to tell you what kind of job you would have or person you should marry.

Imagine being subjected to a battery of physical tests by “scientists” who already had a priori assumptions about who you were and what your future ought to be, based solely on the color of your skin and their assumptions about what that inferred about your ability to think intelligently.

This is the world that black men and women lived in for centuries, and in some ways have still inherited.

Some scientists used to argue that black men and women were “poor in abstract thought yet good in physical responses.” They were believed (by some scientists as recently as the 1960’s) to have lower IQ’s than other races (of primarily European descent) This lead some politicians to begin to push for all incoming immigrants to America to have to take IQ tests before allowing them entry.

There are so many more, and frankly more disturbing examples of the way the Eugenics experiment in Europe and America both colluded with and compounded the systematic racism against black people. If you grew up in church, you know that Christianity was co-opted in this, but for today what I’d like to notice is that this didn’t start with religion.

It was, in it’s day, a progressive view of the world.

In fact, in a New York Times article from a few years ago titled “The Case For Old Ideas” the columnist Ross Douthat pointed out that religion played a key role in fighting against these ideas:

When technological progress helped entrench slavery, the religious radicalism of abolitionists helped destroy it. When industrial development rent the fabric of everyday life, religious awakenings helped reknit it. When history’s arc bent toward eugenics, religious humanists helped keep the idea of equality alive.

If you’re thinking that this is just another preacher trying to “defend the faith” by spinning some revisionist history consider this.  Hitler based much of what he did to the Jewish people on Eugenics theories developed in America and Europe, based on politically motivated pseudo-science that was working toward progress, toward a certain utopia that was built for and by white people of European descent.

Race As A Scientific Category

Adolf Hitler looked across the world and saw a growing population and with a limited amount of earth, he foresaw a growing struggle for land, and so he wrote his book Mein Kampf (German for My Struggle).

He believed that human races were like animal species and that racial struggle was just a part of life.

Hitler rejected any notion of God or religion (although he would manipulate them and use them) and ultimately Hitler said, “If I can accept any divine command, it is this: Thou shalt preserve thy species”

In fact the reason that Hitler was seemingly unstoppable was because the “liberals and socialists [of his day] were constrained, whether they realized it or not, by attachments to customs and institutions; mental habits that grew from social experience hindered them from reaching the most radical conclusions [about their lack of faith in God].”

In other words, the biggest hinderance to actively opposing Hitler, was that Christianity had so captured the imagination of the West, that people still believed the implications of the Gospel, even if they no longer believed the Gospel.

Imagine that, imagine a world, where people believed that all people were created equal, but they slowly begin to no longer believe in a Creator, and you will begin to understand why the brutal force of Hitler’s logic was so effective.

I know that some of you reading this will disagree. Richard Dawkins vehemently denies that Hitler’s atheism had anything to do with his evil ethics.

But the philosopher John Grey, himself an atheist, wrote a scathing response to Richard Dawkins dismissal of  in his article in the British Guardian called “The Atheist Delusion”:

Always a tremendous booster of science, Hitler was much impressed by a vulgarized Darwinism and by theories of eugenics that had developed from Enlightenment philosophies of materialism. He used Christian antisemitic demonology in his persecution of Jews, and the churches collaborated with him to a horrifying degree. But it was the Nazi belief in race as a scientific category that opened the way to a crime without parallel in history. Hitler’s world-view was that of many semi-literate people in interwar Europe, a hotchpotch of counterfeit science and animus towards religion. There can be no reasonable doubt that this was a type of atheism, or that it helped make Nazi crimes possible.

In other words, the idea that the first century Roman historian Tacitus promoted, that there was a superior race of Germanic people, had now merged with Nietzsche’s observation that God was all but dead in the European culture and institutions.

And without a Creator who made people in His image, all that is left is power and force and a fight for land.

This is how the evils of slavery, the holocaust, and systemic racism happens. It is what is capable of changing people from being an image-bearing person of dignity to rats (vermin) fit for heinous science experiments.

The Christian hope for the future is to be a place of worship for people from every tribe and every tongue. The Jewish/Christian story is of a God who made all of us in His image, and who stands up for the dignity of everyone.

And it’s that story, and that story alone, that has convinced the world that racism is wrong.

It’s why your heart breaks when you hear a black boy or girl talk about a white doll being better than a black one. Not just because it’s a lie, but because it’s an especially evil one.

The Christian story is the one we are reaching for when we say that the idea that there is a superior race is a myth.

And the world depends upon the people of God to keep saying so.

By Wes Crawford

Paul Overstreet, country music songwriter and singer who had a handful of hits in the mid-1990s, released a song in 1990 entitled “Seein’ My Father in Me.” The chorus of that song includes the lyrics: 

I’m seein’ my father in me
I guess that’s how it’s meant to be
And I find I’m more and more like him each day
I notice I walk the way he walks
I notice I talk the way he talks
I’m startin’ to see
My father in me

My father passed away in 2003 from cancer, so I haven’t seen him in nearly two decades; nevertheless, I remember enough about my father to recognize the truth of these lyrics. Whether I care to admit it or not, I have inherited many wonderful, and a few less than admirable, traits from my father. I bear a striking physical resemblance to him. I have inherited many of his mannerisms. As I have grown older, I recognize that I make decisions and process information a lot like he did. In short, I’m “seein’ my father in me.” I bet most of us could trace our habits back to a previous generation.

            As religious people, we also inherit characteristics from our spiritual parents and ancestors. The Quaker movement, for example, continues in the path of pacifism established long ago by the founders of their movement, including William Penn. Charles Taze Russell set the Jehovah’s Witness movement in motion in the late 19th century. Subsequent members of that denomination, including Will Keith Kellogg, much like their founder, have tied healthy eating to their faith. 

            Among the characteristics members of Churches of Christ have inherited from our parents is our refusal to acknowledge the ways in which our spiritual parents have influenced us! As a lifelong member of Churches of Christ, I have heard on numerous occasions, “Our movement didn’t start with Alexander Campbell or Barton W. Stone. We started in A.D. 33, and we find our habits from Scripture, not any humans who came before us.” Whether we care to admit it or not, we have inherited many wonderful, and a few less than admirable, traits from previous generations. Among our most admirable traits is our love for Scripture. Like Campbell and Stone and many other members of our movement in the past, we hold the Bible in the highest regard, allowing God’s Word to provide direction and governance for our lives. Not unlike our spiritual forebearers, we also believe the church plays a central role in the ongoing redemptive drama of God in this world. Our high view of scripture and high ecclesiology find their roots in the habits and inclinations of 19th American Christian reformers, Campbell and Stone among them. 

            Even as we have inherited many praiseworthy habits from our spiritual parents, we also have learned some bad and even dangerous habits. The recent racial turmoil in America brings to the surface some of our less than desirable inherited traits. Whether we realize it or not, the ways in which members of Churches of Christ engage the topic of race bears striking resemblance to the ways Campbell and other of our spiritual parents addressed it.

            Certainly, our habits originated not only from Campbell and Stone, but also from previous generations of southern Christians in various denominations. In most ways, Churches of Christ mirrored other southern denominations in their handling of race. I would love to report that our strong allegiance to the pattern of Scripture pushed members of our movement to emulate the love of Jesus in the debates centering on slavery. In reality, however, by the time of the American Civil War, members of the Stone-Campbell Movement (of which Churches of Christ are a part) held more slaves, per capita, than any other religious group in America. When the Disciples of Christ and Churches of Christ split apart in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, roughly ninety percent of the Churches of Christ movement existed in the southern states, and white members of Churches of Christ supported Jim Crow segregation much like other southern white Methodists, Presbyterians, or Baptists.  

            Campbell’s views on slavery, regrettably, continue to impact Churches of Christ. Campbell did not support slavery; yet, he did not actively pursue its eradication. His chief criticism of the peculiar institution was that it was inexpedient, believing it not in harmony with the spirit of the age. Campbell held an extremely high view of humanity, and he believed the new American democratic nation was among the highest achievements of the world. He believed, in fact, that human achievement had reached such heights that their activity was preparing the way for Jesus’ second coming. In such an advanced age, Campbell believed slavery did not belong. 

            If Campbell disagreed with slavery, why then did he not join with abolitionists to fight for its demise? There seem to be three reasons for Campbell’s position. First, Campbell did not view slavery as a moral issue. Like many of his contemporaries (and many future generations), Campbell viewed slavery and the racism that undergirded it as social ills, not in step with such an advanced society, but certainly not against God’s law. In fact, in his lengthy series on slavery in the Millennial Harbinger, Campbell regularly pointed out that the Bible nowhere condemned slavery. 

            A second reason for Campbell’s reluctance to take a stronger stand against slavery concerns his position as leader of a unity movement. In taking a middle position between abolitionists and proponents of slavery, Campbell hoped to hold his movement together. The Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians had already divided over slavery, and Campbell hoped to avoid a similar fate by standing in the middle with an arm reaching out to both poles. In the process, he angered people on both sides of the debate. For example, two of Campbell’s sisters, Jane Campbell McKeever and Dorothea Bryant were abolitionists, and they were highly and publicly critical of their brother’s position.

            A third reason for Campbell’s middle position is by far the most alarming. In short, Campbell was a racist. In one article, Campbell wrote, “As much as I sympathize with the black man, I love the white man more.” He may have felt sorry for American slaves, but he did not view them as equal to white-skinned people, and that position, built upon the racist ideology of black inferiority held Campbell back from strongly advocating for the end of slavery.

            Campbell’s views on slavery shaped the way future generations of his movement addressed the question of race. Even in the early decades of the 21st century, many members of Churches of Christ continue to view racism and its effects as a political, not a moral, concern. I spent twenty years as a preacher within Churches of Christ. On those occasions when I directly spoke about racism, I typically had folks criticize me for “bringing politics into the pulpit,” even though those sermons never named a politician or a political platform. 

            As a church historian who has spent a great deal of time studying the American Civil Rights Movement, I find it interesting to see how this distinction between “social” and “moral” has impacted the question of race in America. One of the most important contributions of Martin Luther King, Jr. (and Howard Thurman and Benjamin Mays before him) was his ability to cast segregation and racism as moral issues. His contemporaries, even within the Black Church, had most often discussed Jim Crow segregation as a political and social issue, and they attacked those unjust laws in the courts. King, on the other hand, attacked segregation as sin, and his non-violent direct-action strategy brought that sin and its effects into American living rooms. When King convinced enough people that segregation was sin, the church had to deal with it. They could no longer hide behind the seemingly advantageous strategy of gradualism. If segregation is sin, it must be dealt with now.

Whether we care to admit it or not, we have inherited many wonderful, and a few less than admirable, traits from Alexander Campbell. But as a good therapist might tell her or his patient, “You do not have to follow your parents’ bad behavior.” As the national dialogue continues to center on race and racism, my hope is that members of our movement would cast off this ugly part of our heritage and name racism for what is really is. Racism is sin. I pray we would stop allowing politicians to commandeer this important discussion and that we would quit discouraging ministers and religious leaders from bringing politics into the pulpit. In fact, racism is not only a political issue; it is a moral issue that demands the attention of those who love God and God’s mission in the world.

By Jonathan Storment

“The Caucasian differs from all other races: he is humane; he is civilized and progressive…. The Caucasian has often been master of other races—never their slave.” – Unitarian preacher and romantic transcendentalist thinker Theodore Parker

Last year, I went with some people from the church I serve to one of my favorite museums. It’s the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis Tennessee, built on the Lorraine Motel the very place where Dr. King was assassinated.

We got to board a bus just like the one that Rosa Parks sat on, we saw actual slaveship manifests, and re-visited some of histories most inspiring and damning moments.

I brought two of my kids along with me to bear witness to the horror and hope of American History.

At one point early on, my kids started asking questions like “How could anyone ever think this is okay?” And I think I said something to them like “The Devil gets people to do some evil things and if you do them enough, eventually you will stop realizing that they are evil.”

I really do believe that racism in America is a Principality and Power, and like my friend Sean Palmer says, “If we don’t recognize this we won’t understand how people can swear their not racist (and mean it).”

But like demons in Jesus day, they must be named. So here’s the name I want to tell you for this one.

Here’s the story I want to tell my kids when they get a little older:

Naming the Demon

What you’re seeing around you is not your fault. You didn’t start this story, it existed long before you ever arrived on this earth.

In 98 A.D. the Roman historian Tacitus wrote what has been called “one of the most dangerous books ever to be written.” And maybe it is, after all, it was a book that helped lay the ground work and inspire the Nazi myth of their racial superiority and thus the justification for the ruthless elimination of “lower breeds of humanity.”

The book is called Germania, and in it, Tacitus is making some observations about the Germanic tribe of people who fought off Rome’s empire, and how impressed he was with them. He’s impressed that they’ve never intermarried, describes them as people unlike anywhere on earth: Red hair, blue eyes, and a strong build.

Tacitus praises their moral character, and how they don’t “laugh at vice” and that they have “good moral habits” He loves their system of governance, a way of self-governance that he describes in detail, one that values participation by everyone. He praises and describes a form of governance that captured the imagination of people like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and the like.

And he connects this form of government, these people of noble character, with a particular kind of skin color and ethnic background.

And the Anglo-Saxon Myth was born.

I first read about this in Kelly Brown Douglas ‘s excellent book Stand Your Ground:Black Bodies and the Justice of God. And I found it fascinating that I had never heard this story before. It never dawned on me to ask, “Where did the first white slave owners get the idea that they could justifiably treat another human being as beneath them?”

Today, the myth of White superiority is still going strong… it’s even making a resurgence in the mainstream politics and media. But for most of my Caucasian brothers and sisters reading this it sounds strange to say. We live, after all, in 2020. Most of us would never say that one race of people is superior to another, but here’s the thing, we live in a world that was built by people who did, and created the world accordingly.

The Great White Hope

I can’t emphasize this enough. The United States was built on this strange and toxic idea that people of Anglo-Saxon descent were more moral, smarter, better people. From the Constitutional declaration that African-American slaves were only 3/4th of a human being, to no less than the people who drew up the founding documents (including many Presidents) explicitly describing their belief about God’s calling for their ethnic group the.

The founder of American democracy, Thomas Jefferson, saw democracy as an virtue given to him by his race…and he got this idea from a book 1600 years old at the time.

Jefferson wrote to his granddaughter Anne, “Tacitus I consider as the first writer in the world without exception,”

So yeah, he was kind of a fan.

Douglas points out that Jefferson believed, like many others, that these new Americans had been chosen by God to “implement an Anglo-Saxon system of governing. He considered Americans to be the New Israelites.”

Douglas notes that this has implications for things much broader than slavery.

It will lead President Theodore Roosevelt  to later be concerned about an influx of immigrants who aren’t people of color, but aren’t of Anglo-Saxon descent (Roosevelt refers to them as “new stock” and was very concerned about the birth rate of people from “old stock”). It will lead to the Jim Crow laws of Segregation. It will lead to Dylan Roof walking into a church in Charleston and murdering people in cold blood and to people of color having to point out that black lives matter.

It is the myth that is responsible for the idea of American exceptionalism and manifest destiny (which I’ll talk about next week). For a closer look at all the implications of this story weaving it’s way into the fabric of the western world, check out this by my pastor friend Sean Palmer. 

It is the story that is behind so many other stories that we today. It’s behind many of our headlines and the news feeds, it’s a story that crawled it’s way out of German forest through the pen of a 1st century historian with some bizarre ideas about how race is connected to morality and character, and how one race in all the world is better than the others.

And it’s a lie.

But at least now you know it’s name.

What does it mean to restore the New Testament church? Does it mean getting five acts of worship right? Does it mean having correct, biblical governance? Does it mean preaching the five steps to salvation? What about how we live our lives the other 6 days a week? What does it mean to restore the New Testament church?

I am going to walk us down a line of reasoning that I believe helps us get a bigger picture and a more biblical answer to this question. So hang on for a few minutes and please share your thoughts in the comments.
Jesus came preaching the good news of the kingdom. He preaches. He heals. He raises the dead. All of that is Gospel. When the broken are made whole, that is the embodiment of the gospel of the kingdom.

Gospel is proclaiming a specific message. Gospel is living a certain way (one that promotes healing, wholeness, and reconciliation). Jesus preaches and lives the message. Jesus is crucified, buried and resurrected. He appears to his disciples (followers), who become apostles (sent ones) with a commission to reach the nations and make disciples through baptizing them and teaching them to obey all Jesus instructed (Matt 28:19-20). Jesus tells them that they will start where they are (Jerusalem) and then go into Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth as his witnesses.

The Spirit comes at Pentecost and 3000 Jewish people are brought to faith and baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. From there the gospel ends up in Samaria (Acts 7) and to the Gentiles first in Acts 10 and then throughout the rest of Acts (“ends of the earth”, the nations).

If we zoom back to Genesis you might remember that God promised Abraham that he would bless the nations through his descendants. That ultimately happens through Jesus and this is why Matthew takes special effort to point that out in the genealogy in Matthew 1. Through Acts 9 that had not yet occurred. But in Acts 10 it finally happens. The Gospel goes to the Gentiles. In Acts 10 there are some key statements we need to pay attention to:
10:15 – “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”10:19-20While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.””10:22-23 – “The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.” Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.”

Peter was told to not call things unclean God had made clean. Peter was told to accept these Gentiles who were coming to his house. Peter takes Gentiles in to stay with him. There’s more…Peter goes to Cornelius’ houses (a Gentile) and we get this,

10:27-29 – “While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
10:34-35 – “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

10:44-48 – “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.

Then Peter said, “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.”

The Holy Spirit instructed Peter. The Holy Spirit gave the Gentiles the gifts. Peter recognized they were really all the same. That is a BIG thing for a first century Jewish man to say and believe and it took the work of the Spirit to get him there.

The heading for the next chapter is “Peter explains his actions” – makes sense…when people cross these lines people are going to demand answers. This happens again in Acts 13 when Paul and Barnabas go on their first missionary journey. They first reach out to the Jews but they are filled with jealousy (13:45) and then turn to the Gentiles (13:46-48). That turn, to people of another race, drew more scrutiny and persecution (13:50-52). Chapter 14 has more of the same and the chapter ends on this note,

26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.” – Acts 14:26-28. That gets us to Acts 15 which starts with more explaining that has to be done. People want to know if crossing these ethnic, cultural and religious lines are okay. It is the same today as it was then.

This brings us to what Paul wrote in Ephesians where Paul talks about the great mystery of a unified church where God brought together people who would have otherwise been irreconcilable,

Eph 1:8-10 – “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

Eph 3:2-6 – “Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.”

What does restoring the New Testament church look like? It is living out a gospel that reconciles irreconcilable groups. If we want to live into the revealed mystery of Christ, we will do the same. That through Christ we find unity with those we might not ever find commonality with.

We see it in Acts, as demonstrated above. 

We see it in Romans with the expelled Jews coming back to Rome and having to get alone with the Gentile Christians who had stayed behind (read Romans 1-3 and see what kind of Jew/Gentile issues they had). 

We see it in 1 & 2 Corinthians

We see it in Galatians as Peter messed up and separated himself from Gentiles when Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived and Paul confronted him on it. Why? Because he was bringing division where God, through Christ and the Spirit had done so much to bring unity! Paul proclaims in 3:26-29, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Peter, the first Jew to baptize a Gentile, still goofed it up.  

We see it in Ephesians (as demonstrated above) and in Colossians (1:273:11).

Can we have restored New Testament Christianity while avoiding the hard work of racial reconciliation and understanding? Are we united with people of another race just because we agree on doctrine but have nothing to do with each other? Are largely segregated churches at all representative of what the first century church even looked like?

The early restoration leaders had a dream. It was a dream to bring about unity among all the divisions in Christianity (which have only grown exponentially more numerous) through the restoration of first century Christianity.

Some believe we arrived. No. Many believe we arrived. We restored New Testament Christianity, they say, because we look like them on Sunday. Five acts of worship. Scriptural leadership and governance, correct view and practice of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.

We restored it. It’s done. Now we rest on our laurels and defend it against all comers because what we have is set in concrete and any change would make us wrong. The vision is to have no vision. The vision is, at most, maintenance of the status quo.

But look back at the first paragraph. Can we say we have restored New testament Christianity merely through mirroring practice if the actual goal was never achieved? Unity.

I don’t see how we can say it is restored if we aren’t united in the same way they were in those early years.

Unity involves far more than doctrine. Unity in the early church also involved bringing people from all nations in the church. Racially diverse congregations. Jews and Gentiles all in the same house (which was a big deal – see Acts 10:27-28), indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, worshiping the same God (see Eph 4:3-6).

We turned to defense mode because we seemed to have accomplished the “How” of our vision but never the “Why”. We should still be on the offensive – making inroads toward unity – across socioeconomic lines, racial lines, etc. Until that is accomplished, the restoration goal isn’t met because we still don’t look like them and don’t embrace their ethos. We have the first century veneer without the skeletal structure of the first century body of Christ.

I cannot help but wonder if we aren’t getting positioned for change in our churches. COVID19 kicked it off. God has our attention. Now we have a lot of visible hurt in the Black community and we grieve injustice. With many churches just now getting started meeting in person and many others getting ready to, what do we do in a time like this?

We pray.

We humble ourselves. Admit we don’t know what we are doing and throw ourselves on God’s mercy.

We fast.

We put God above all things…that nothing even comes close in importance to God and His will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

Will we finally give up our control game and get God back in his rightful position? In charge?

Of course God is always in charge but he will let us play like we are for a season. When we play like that we lack the power, ability and wisdom to move ahead in meaningful ways.
It is time to get on our knees, ask God what He truly wants and then be willing to do whatever He tells us without apology.

Only then will we bust out of our little box and start seeing the big picture, the opportunities, and finally catch a vision bigger than doing church right one hour a week.