September 22, 2017

“White Sects and Black Men”

By Cecil Willis

Our good friend and able and amiable brother, David Edwin Harrell, Jr., has written a new book entitled White Sects and Black Men in the Recent South. Like everything else done by Brother Harrell, this book is carefully researched. It is published by the Vanderbilt University Press, and though it numbers but 161 pages, yet it sells for $6.50. However, university presses usually publish specialized books for which no wide circulation is expected.

This article is not intended to be a review it of the content of the book, though I will say enough about the thesis of the book that the reader can know something about its general content. Brother Harrell seeks to portray the position various denominations and the Church of Christ has taken on the race question. In addition to discussing the Lord's church, he discusses a wide variety of fringe-type denominations, including the following: Church of God of Prophecy, Congregational Holiness Church, Church of God of the Mountain Assembly, Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church, International Pentecostal Assemblies, Church of God of the Apostolic Faith. Assemblies of the Lord Jesus Christ, Bible Tabernacle of Southern Pines, Church of God (Jerusalem Acres), New Testament Holiness Church, Inc., Etc.

In discussing the Lord's church, Brother Harrell recognizes that there are different viewpoints presented by various ones in the church. For example, he says: "Within the

Churches of Christ the variety of journals springs from deep internal divisions in the church. The two most important periodicals of the conservative element in the sect are the Gospel Guardian, 1949 -- published in Lufkin, Texas; and Truth Magazine, 1955-, published in Orlando, Florida. (Note: Brother Harrell erred here. Truth Magazine did not begin until October, 1956-CW). Two moderate weekly papers are probably the most influential in the movement, the Gospel Advocate, 1855(Nashville, Tennessee) and the Firm Foundation, 1884, (Austin, Texas). The two most important expressions of liberalism in the church are the Christian Chronicle, 1942 (Abilene, Texas) and Mission, 1968 (Abilene, Texas)" (p. 135).

Brother Harrell seeks to group members of various denominations and the Lord's church sociologically. He refers to these denominations and the Church of Christ as "Minor sects." The major criticism I make of his work is the fact that he lumps the church of Jesus Christ as a "minor sect." He states that "these sects have been stereotyped as theologically conservative, socially reactionary, and racially bigoted." For abbreviation purposes, members of these churches are referred to as WASP (white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants). The classifications are not made geographically, but socio-economically.

Most of what Brother Harrell says by way of generalizations, he hedges adequately. As Edwin S. Gaustad, author of the Foreword said: "The difficulties and treacheries in generalizing about American religion have existed from the beginning." Gaustad even states that the logical quip, "All generalizations are invalid, including this one," might properly be applied.

I am not a sociologist, and hence am not qualified to pass judgment upon some of the sociological conclusions drawn by Brother Harrell. But I am a member of the Church of Christ, and I do object to the Lord's church being represented as just another "sect." In fairness to Brother Harrell, it should be stated that he also privately recognizes the uniqueness of the Body of Christ. He often has spoken and written of it as the only true church. But when he writes as a sociologist, he appropriates the language of the sociologist. I am sure he thinks there is good reason for doing so. He probably thinks that what he writes and says will be more widely received and read if he appropriates the accepted language and classifications of sociologists.

Again and again, Brother Harrell refers to the church as a "sect." He states, "This study treats the racial thought of all of the major southern sects." And then he includes the church in his study. Harrell also says, "The largest of the southern sects is the Churches of Christ, which in 1969 had an estimated membership of 2,300,000." Further Brother Harrell ads: "The sect has been best known for its doctrinal emphasis on the necessity of water baptism for salvation, the rejection of the use of instrumental music in worship services, and opposition to missionary societies." (p. 25). Many other instances could be recited of where he refers to the church as a "sect," or as an "established sect," or as a sect on its way to becoming a full-fledged denomination.

The enemies of truth have for years referred to the church as either a sect, or just another denomination. This categorization most faithful brethren have denied. In his effort to attain academic objectivity, Brother Harrell has appropriated the language, of those who view the church from outside its ranks. Even the Firm Foundation review of Harrell's book strongly objected to this classification of the church. The Firm Foundation reviewer said: "We suspect that the author ... let a mean streak show in his lumping of the churches of Christ with the Minor Southern Sects. The dust jacket introduction, by clever wording, attempts to lump the church with the snake-handlers and faith healers." (Nov. 16, 1971)

The apostle Paul said, "But this I confess unto thee, that after the Way which they call a sect, so serve I the God of our Fathers" (Acts 24:14). Note that Paul did not call the church a sect; he said that "they" (the enemies of Christ) call it a sect. I do not think Brother Harrell should have joined ranks with our enemies to call the Lord's blood- bought Body a sect.

Knowing Ed Harrell as I do, I do not think he will be overly upset about this criticism of his otherwise fine book. But knowing me as he does, neither should he be surprised that I should feel conscience bound to make the criticism.

If you wish to read Brother Harrell's book, you can purchase a copy of it from Truth Magazine Bookstore. Price: $6.50.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 16, p. 3-5
February 24, 1972

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