Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

AfterGlow: Black and White (Aug 1992)

Filed under: — @ 1:52 pm and

by Phillip Morrison
August, 1992

The guest preacher had just been introduced and was beginning his sermon when the black man came into the all-white church service. When he started toward an empty seat, one of the ushers stepped up, whispered in the African-American visitor’s ear, produced a foldig chair, and seated him all alone in the lobby.

The visiting minister was angered by what he saw, puzzled as to why the visiting worshipper would abid such treatment, and upset with himself for not speaking out against such blatant segregation. But he rationalized that maybe he had misinterpreted what he saw; the man for reasons fo his own was willing to stay; and a guest speaker should not be rude to his hosts.

How do I know all this? I was that guest preacher, and I have lived for 10 years with the conviction that I should not have allowed the event to pass unchallenged.

America remains two societies – one black and one white – and that is nowhere more evident than in our churches. Much may have changed in the half century since Gunnar Myrdal’s monumental study of racism in America, but not much has been corrected. In most communities we have achieved little integration in our churches, and we will make little progress in the future if we just let our sinful nature run its course.

Most church folks probably wouldn’t know Richard Price or his novel Clockers, the story of black teen cocaine dealers and the white police who do battle with them. A former cocaine addict himself, Price spent many months with drug dealers and cops alike.

In its profile of Price, Time magazine described vividly the polarity between the white middle-class officers and black inner-city residents. Price was struck by hostility everywhere he looked, and sought to describe it for his readers: “I wanted to say, ‘Look, this is happening in front of your nose, and you didn’t see it. You pass these people every day, and you don’t know anything about their lives.”

Time concluded: “Price took the trouble to find out and returned from his voyage of discovery with an overpowering portrait of a grim and neglected world.”

Racism is obviously not our only social injustice, but it may be the longest lingerng and the most visible. The time for us to take our own voyage of discovery and commit ourselves to change is long overdue.

More than a century ago, David Lipscomb wrote in the Gospel Advocate of February 1878: “We believe it is sinful to have two congregations in the same community for persons of separate and distinct races. That 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 Jesus Christ.”

We haven’t changed all that much in the 114 years since Lipscomb wrote those words. Neither the inactivity of neglect nor the hyperactivity of ambitious social engineering is working. Maybe we don’t know how to change the world – or even the church – but we can change ourselves. We can learn to see all people as brothers and sisters made in the image of God. If we will sow that seed of good will, he will provide the harvest.Wineskins Magazine

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