It’s hard for a patriot to look back at her country’s history and see the dark days when sinful practices were legitimized, both in the legal processes of the nation and in the minds of those who governed. I am, for instance, while thankful that Providence allowed for the founding of our great nation, aware that the revolt against British government in the late 1700s, no matter how tyrannical and unfair that government, was a movement that Christians could not support, according to Romans 13.
Certainly, the dark history of slavery is another painful era for Christians to contemplate. While the Bible does not specifically condemn slavery, certainly the kind of forced slavery that occurred in our nation’s history is implicitly condemned by multiple principles and passages beginning with the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12. There is simply no justification for the national sin that continued from prior to the birth of our country until the latter part of the nineteenth century. Much time could be spent on American slavery’s atrocities and the huge and multi-generational negative ramifications in our society. But that is not within the purview of this post.
One of those lasting ramifications was the culture of segregation that persisted for much of the twentieth century. The U.S. military was legally segregated, as was the public education system, as well as many public and private community and social facilities all over our nation. This was particularly true in the South. At first, of course, it was a legal separation mandated by the Jim Crow laws, giving African Americans a “separate but equal” status in southern society. Let me once again emphasize that Christians—people who are called to adhere to the principles of the Word of God—have to constantly examine the culture around us and reject the ideas of culture that are sinful (Romans 12:1,2).
Sadly, there’s considerable evidence that the prevalent societal norm during the early to mid-twentieth century was far too influential in the thinking of many Christians. When I read statements such as the following, from men who were powerful and prominent preachers among us, I can hardly believe it. The devil must have been very happy when he could succeed in getting men who were loudly proclaiming the gospel to make statements such as these:
…From a well-known preacher in the Bible Banner:
“Reliable brethren in the Valley have reported the definite inclinations of the negro man and his wife in charge of the orphan home for colored children at Combes toward social equality. They are supposed to be members of the church, and some of the white brethren are apparently encouraging them. It is said that these two negroes have privately stated that they favor social equality and are working for it. The young editor of “Christian Soldier,” in the valley, admits that he roomed with the negro preacher, R. N. Hogan, and slept in the same bed with him two nights! And he seemed to be proud of it! 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.”
“When (well-known preacher) held the valley-wide meeting at Harlingen, Texas, some misguided brethren brought a group of negroes up to the front to be introduced to and shake hands with him. Brother (preacher) told them publicly that he could see all of the colored brethren he cared to see on the outside after services, and that he could say everything to them that he wanted to say without the formality of shaking hands. I think he was right. He told of a prominent brother in the church who went wild over the negroes and showed them such social courtesies that one day one of the negroes asked him if he might marry his daughter. That gave the brother a jolt and he changed his attitude!”
I could include other quotations. It is a painful process to read and print such. I confess that the above quotations from men who preached the gospel in the 1940s were, to me, shocking and disturbing. How could these men, who studied their Bibles diligently, be so very calloused and hardened to the teachings that permeate its pages, from the golden rule of Matthew 7:12 to the treatise of James in chapter two? Where was the disconnect?
I believe it was in the same place as it so often is today. We, without even recognizing its power, allow the thinking of society around us, to affect our own thinking and the result is that our words and actions are corrupted by the world.
The lesson for me is obvious. It is a parenthetical lesson as we travel through a study of race relations, but it is still important: May I never get comfortable accepting the ideas of the world around me without carefully and honestly scrutinizing them in the light of the Word. This has got to be true for me even in examining legal mandates. It must be true for me even with reference to the ideology of the leaders of society or the community’s respected voices. It must be true for me when examining messages from the pulpit. I am, at all times and in all ways, accountable to the Word. It is the Word that must guide me in matters of race relations and indeed, in all relations. If men who spent many hours weekly in the Word could be so affected by the world, surely I must constantly be on guard, to be sure my mind is constantly being renewed by the Word (Romans 12:2).
Next Time: Lingering Fears in the 2017 Church