Anchor Sunday School Class
A SON OF THE SOUTH AND A CHILD OF GOD
The Klansman seated 4 feet away, looked at me with a disquieting stare, concluding an hour of heated discussion, with a statement that will forever be stuck in my memory: “pastor, you know we are Christians just like you, and the cross is our symbol of our Christian faith.” This was 1969, “an influential” First Baptist Church where the church policy, spoken, written, or merely implied, was categorical: “members of the Negro race will not be admitted,” which was the policy of most local churches in those days. He was delighted to call attention to that systemic policy of non-verbalized racism plaguing me and other SONS OF THE SOUTH. He wanted a “seal of approval.” The Klan was struggling for a renewed legitimacy, for the FBI was now finally making this hideous organization uncomfortable. This Klansman, a local citizen, wanted me to allow his fellow Klansmen to come to church Sunday morning, sit as a group, and during the offering march forward and place on the communion table a sizeable contribution to our building fund. My somewhat questionable sense of humor kicked in with the thought “every man has his price, and you are really close to mine.” However, the penetrating question before me was “can his racism and white nationalism fit into the definition of “Christian’?” What really gnawed away in me was “how far apart is this pitiful human being from many of the ‘church goers’ who occupy pews on Sunday morning, in a totally segregated experience of what they call worship?”
I sat quietly returning his stare. Painful flashbacks began racing through my mind. Some years earlier in Jackson, driving into a parking deck in my beat up muddy Plymouth, pulling in behind a new Ford being driven by an African American gentleman, neatly dressed, apparently there on business, but being turned away by an attendant who snarled at him with a racial epithet, demanding that he move his car immediately. “Why” he painfully asked. I too asked that question. In silence of course. “We do not allow your kind to park here,” was the sinister reply. I had heard that type of reply in cafes, movies, and churches. I had been denied access to a public library because I appeared to be “one them N-loving agitators from out of town.” (I did gain access after a 30 minute inquisition). I know bigotry and racism when it appears in whatever form, whether the hooded KKK or button down “church pillars.” (By the way, Please, let’s not misuse nor misapply the term “racism” so that its vile impact is weaken).
As a “SON OF THE SOUTH,” my opinions about race had been predicated on concepts handed down through cultural and geographical conditioning. Not necessarily through mean spirited racist, but through good people who acquiesced to Jim Crow, smiled at the Theodore Bilbo’s, and quietly nodded at the ranting Governor Barnett’s. (I was in the football stadium when the Governor stood and stoked the fire of racial bigotry that became the conflagration of the Ole Miss riot). Had you asked me “are you racist in your thinking, actions?” I would as most of those around me emphatically and resentfully shot back “of course not. I have friends who are black.” (Please don’t ask me to name them!). I had seen a Number 4 Jackson City bus driver push a Black woman to the back of the bus and thought that was “not nice.” However, the thought did prevail that “she should have known her place.” I had listened to a prominent deacon tell how he was bragging to a black worker in his building about the revival that was taking place at First Baptist. When the black worker responded with “I will be there tonight,” the deacon made it clear that “no you will not!” I had seen a black college coed walk into First Baptist Church during a REACH THE WORLD FOR CHRIST mission’s conference, watched as some deacons stomped out in protest, and sat before them as they grilled me on “allowing our racial traditions to be violated.” I had seen African American clergy rebuked and reviled, homes violated, for daring to insist on justice for all the people of the city. I had heard a Governor spew forth “Segregation today, Segregation tomorrow, and Segregation forever!”
As a SON OF THE SOUTH, I was defined by the stereotypical descriptions and rationalizations that espoused “separate but equal” nonsense, and fervently preached a gospel that came up short on proclaiming AMAZING GRACE FOR EVERY GRACE. After all, there were buildings to be constructed, budgets to be raised, “souls” to be saved, denominational expectations to be satisfied, conventions to attend, and an image of being “spiritual” to be maintained. Seated before this Klansman, I realized that in striving to justify my dubious opinions and give them the appearance of being “Christian,” it was necessary to rationalize these opinions by using spurious interpretations of Old Testament scripture (e.g. The curse on Ham), and silently accept “our way of life.” Fortunately there came the day I had to face these facts, admit that being a SON OF THE SOUTH should not define me completely, and if I were to live as a CHILD OF GOD, there was repenting and renewing of the mind that must be embraced. The pathway to that day is another subject for another day.
However, facing the facts of racial insensitivity (I struggle for a euphemism for ignorance) was painful, disturbing, and potentially explosive. A pastor could lose his pulpit if he messed around in social issues such as justice for all people, freedom from oppression for the oppressed. The act of finally acknowledging that “the King has no clothes,” helped me as a SON OF THE SOUTH to focus more on living AS A CHILD OF GOD, to understand how complicated and emotionally charged the subject of race can be, and yet how clearly the Word of God declares that AMAZING GRACE IS FOR EVERY RACE. I struggled to embrace that within the COMMUNITY OF FAITH, there is no place for racism, racial superiority, and certainly injustice and oppression. These conclusions are firmly and categorically founded on what it means to be CHILD OF GOD (JOHN 1:12; EPHESIANS 5:8-21).
1. How you and I treat other people matters to God. II Chronicles 19:7, “the Lord our God does not tolerate perverted justice…” As Christians we loved to declare ownership of THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, Matthew 5, but slow to put it into shoe leather by treating all people the way God in Christ treats us. Ephesians 4:29-32 cries out for us to be kind and compassionate to one another.
2. The Bible says that if you are a Christian, you must be a reconciler. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” “ Matthew 5:9. The ministry of RECONCILIATION must be at the forefront of every Church, every CHILD OF GOD. Romans 5:10, II Corinthians 5:19, Ephesians 2:16ff. Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace where there had previously been hostility and alienation. It includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony, including racism and injustice. To focus on being a SON OF THE SOUTH may or may not embrace the ministry of reconciliation. To be a CHILD OF GOD leaves no ambiguity, for it is an imperative given to every believer.
3. Biblically and Theologically there are only two races: redeemed and unredeemed, those who are now the PEOPLE OF GOD and those who remain in darkness (I Peter 2:9ff). The community of faith is spoken of as “a chosen race,” a “holy nation,” bonded together in “one Body, one Spirit, One faith, one Baptism, one Hope, and one GOD AND FATHER OF US ALL.” Ephesians 4:1-6. Would the Klansman seated in front of me acknowledge that IN CHRIST “you are all children of God…there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for YOU ALL ONE IN CHRIST”? (Galatians 3:26—29)
4. We must learn (and it is an arduous struggle of learning) to see and respect people as God does (I Samuel 16:7, the Lord does not look at the things a man looks at…He looks at the heart.) I actually heard a Baptist deacon fervently pontificate “they have no souls, for they are animals!” To see people as God sees them, “made in the image of God,” also means listening to people to hear what they are saying, feeling, and needing! Prejudice is the result of a failure to listen respectfully to people.
5. We must strive as a CHILD OF GOD to demonstrate that we are truly Children of God, and Jesus made it absolutely clear that “by this will you be known as a Child of God…that you LOVE ONE ANOTHER.” John 13:34-35. This may sound like an insipid bumper sticker, but it goes to the heart of what it truly means to be a member of the One Body, the COMMUNITY OF FAITH, an IN CHRIST believer. Galatians 5:6; 5:13; 5:22, etc, etc, etc.
6. A study of Eschatology reveals that one day there will be “a great multitude that no one could count, from EVERY NATION, TRIBE, PEOPLE, AND LANGUAGE, standing before the throne, and in front of the LAMB….and they will cry with a loud voice SALVATION BELONGS TO OUR GOD WHO SITS ON THE THRONE.” Revelation 7:9-10.
Meanwhile, to the peddlers of darkness who pollute and poison with bigotry and hatred, to the misguided white supremacist who smear the good name of Charlottesville, to the Klansman fellow citizen seated in my study who may burn a cross, but refuses to “carry the cross”, to all who are looking for peace to replace turmoil, for reconciliation to replace alienation, I challenge you to join the CHURCH OF THE LIVING CHRIST in declaring:
We’ve a story to tell to the nations,
That shall turn their hearts to the right,
A story of truth and mercy,
A story of peace and light.
For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright;
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
The kingdom of love and light.
We’ve a song to be sung to the nations,
That shall lift their hearts to the Lord,
A song that shall conquer evil
And shatter the spear and sword.
We’ve a message to give to the nations,
That the Lord who reigns up above
Has sent us His Son to save us,
And show us that God is love.
We’ve a Savior to show to the nations,
Who the path of sorrow has trod,
That all of the world’s great peoples
Might come to the truth of God.
May it be so, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?