The Christian and Race Relations
Like most problems facing the Christian, racial prejudice and discrimination is an old one, and will hardly be resolved in the world as long as there are evil men. But the involvement of the Christian in the problem of race relations is not optional. The Christian's primary responsibility is to love God and his neighbor (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:39; Jas. 2:8). We cannot neglect or overlook our relationships to man because of "respect of persons."
The issue of race relations in the U.S.A. rises primarily from the patterns of racial discrimination which the dominant Caucasian majority has imposed on various minority groups. At almost every point in our history minority groups of one type or another have felt the weight of discrimination: Jews, American Indians, Orientals, European immigrants, Puerto Ricans, etc. have all suffered from the descendants of earlier immigrant groups.
The scope of this article is too small to include all instances of racial, ethnic, economic, religious, or social discrimination. Presently the issue of race relations centers around the relationships of Negroes and Caucasians because the Negroes are a much larger group than other minorities. Also because they begin their life in this world as slaves for the whites. The discrimination of Jim Crow laws made it impossibly difficult to improve their lot following emancipation, and because their color made it impossible to blend into society as other immigrant groups have made the problem of black-white relationships very severe.
Because the white race has been dominant and has kept Negroes first enslaved and then segregated, the problem of race relations rests upon whites in a way that it does not rest upon Negroes.
Race in the Church
Whatever society or individuals do, we as Christians need to face the issue of race relations as it is in the church. Whatever rhetoric or printed arguments are put forth, until a black man is welcome in our assemblies as a brother and human of equal privileges and responsibility then we have a very definite problem before the Lord.
God makes no distinctions between men socially, economically, racially, or nationally. "There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: But Christ is all and in all" (Col. 3:11). When men are united in Christ the categories the world uses to divide men become secondary. But, to some brethren, and brethren of some influence, one can accept a man as human and in need of salvation, but still count him as common, or of less worth and value as a breed of man. Yater Tant in an article supportive of a series of articles on racial problems in America wrote, "(The negro) simply can not compete with the whites. It is cruel and vicious to try and make him do so" (Tant, Gospel Guardian, Vol. 23, p.8). Bryan Vinson stated it this way, "With Campbell and Lincoln I believe in the relative superiority and inferiority, respectively, of the white and black races . . . the amalgamation, blending and miscegenation of the two will mark the utter ruin of this nation. It will be an irretrievable ruin, with moral, economic, social, intellectual, and yes, national and international consequences ensuing in wholly irrepairable harm" (Vinson, Gospel Guardian, Vol. 23, p. 19, 20). His arguments are identical to their white supremacy ideology "Why have I written as I have done? Primarily, in response to a provocation wrought by the charge that I am a White Supremist. This is one thing with which I have been charged, to which I plead guilty" (Vinson, Ibid). One of the natural fruits of making a man common, or less than ourselves, is the contempt it raises in our hearts towards them. Racial persecution begins when we reduce human beings of dignity and worth to "Chinks," "Nigras," "Smokes," "Slants," or whatever other term we can reduce their humanity to.
Incidentally, Brother Vinson denies the term "prejudiced" by declaring, "This belief is not the product of prejudice, but one created and sustained by the evidence existing competent to support such a conclusion" (Vinson, Ibid.) I doubt that Vinson came tohis conclusions as a result of evidence. He, like most extremists, already held the black in contempt as his "genetic and social inferiors" and now seeks each documentation as he can find to support his previously held bigotry.
The Royal Law
"If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scriptures, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect of persons, ye commit sin, and are convicted of the law as transgressors" (Jas. 2:9,10). When the world sees that men who formerly were not "social equals" and would not share the same hearth are now, since the coming of Christ into their hearts, ready to dwell in unity with them, the world is able to see the Gospel in action. We cannot esteem one as an equal of ourself if we hold his race in contempt. "Respect of persons" means just that. God has not placed any racial qualification upon his "royal law" so we may not either.
Paul expressed this truth by saying that Christians form a body, "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Rom. 12:5). If all God's children form one body, the body of Christ (Eph. 5:23), then we cannot say that we can live in self-enforced segregation from other Christians.
Our churches, however, have not always been faithfull to these truths of the New Testament in their practice. Though we have been commanded, "Be not conformed to this world" (Rom. 12:2) we have allowed our practice to be influenced more by the patterns of this world than by the truth of the Gospel. I know personally of churches that appointed deacons for the specific duty of standing at the entrance of the church to welcome negroes who might come to worship and direct them to the "Black church" downtown. Furthermore this practice of discrimination by active and passive means has been instrumental in supporting discrimination in the society about us. In many places we have become inverse "lights of the world." We have sunk into the gloom and darkness of the night and shed darkness abroad into the hearts of men so that they should be blinded to the truth of the gospel.
Christians are to be conformed to a higher standard which Christ has given. "Love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (Jno. 13:34,35). If men see in our practice the expression of love no one can question, then (it is only then) they will know that we are disciples of the Son of God. How despised the Lord and his people are today though-because of what the world sees in our treatment of our brethren (2 Pet. 2:1,2).
The Issue in Life
Outside of our assemblies, however, Christians still confront the issue of race relations. Socially, Jews would have nothing to do with Gentiles (an "inferior" race). Jews were taught from childhood that Gentiles were inferior and common, and to be avoided socially at all costs. Woe unto the Jew who ate or (God forbid) married one. By divine revelation Peter was told, "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:15). What was the Holy Spirit's application? Spiritually, to be sure, it meant that Peter was not to withold the gospel and his fellowship by discrimination. But it was also a part of the divine record and the death knell to racial apartheid. "You know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation, but Gad hath showed me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28). The Jewish objection was social. "Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised and didst eat with them" (Acts 11:3).
Our society has many ways of treating men as common. The simple matter of refusing to use a title of simple respect, Mister, Missus, or Miss when addressing Negroes is one way. Use of the diminutive titles like "Boy," "Kid," "Mammy," "Hey, you" all are passive methods of making people common. We have forgotten Peter's lesson, "Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34) -- and have assumed that Negroes could not deserve that much respect.
Another manifestation of this attitude has been a reluctance or refusal to eat with Negroes. This was a manifestation of Peter's attitude, as well. Paul, who allowed no compromise on such an essential part of the Gospel reported, "But when Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with Gentiles, but when they came he drew back and separated himself fearing the circumcision party" (Gal. 2:11, 12, RSV).
Eating together is an expression of human sharing and equality. A refusal to eat with another person is a way of calling him common and denying his worth as a man of "one blood" made in God's image. The Lord did not consider it a matter of custom, or tradition, or personal preference which Peter had the moral right to decide as he pleased. His actions were a denial of "the truth of the Gospel" (Gal. 2:14, RSV).
That any Christian should consider others inferior and refuse social intercourse with them is especially strange in view of the fact that Christ, despite his dignity and status, did not -- refuse to eat with even the lowliest of sinners (Mk. 2:16). If He was willing to eat with sinners like us, how could we imagine ourselves too good to eat with any man?
Brother Vinson, as representative of those of his view, replied to Brother Leslie Diestelkamp's efforts to overcome his fatal error by writing, "My whole article was designed to disassociate the race question and its problems from the sphere of religion for I regard every effort to sustain the present course of history by an appeal to (the Bible) to be a prostitution of the word of God. It is rather strange to me that a movement born of a foreign political influences, aided and abetted by an intelligensia of atheistic leanings, should be in correspondence with the word of 'God! Too, if racial integration be contended for on the supposed equality of the races and the scriptures teach the latter, then why doesn't Brother Diestelkamp and others like minded do something about de facto segregation in the North? It seems those of that section think that integration is imperatively right for the South, but not so for them" (Vinson, ibid., p.156).
This central issue of the dignity and worth of every person before God should not be obscured by debates on side issues. We cannot become sidetracked by mutual denunciations of the North and the South. It has become evident that racial inequality is a problem for the whole nation.
Nor can we allow debates over the way various groups are dealing with civil rights issues take our attention away from this central concern. Whatever our opinions of black power or civil rights groups, legislation or its politics, states rights, bussing, etc. Christians must still refrain from calling any man common. Every individual, young or old, in good health or bad, black or white, rich or poor, educated or illiterate must be treated as a person worth more than all this world contains.
Nor should the central issue be obscured by speaking of property rights. The defenders of slavery tried to evade the moral issue of making slaves of their brothers by speaking of the slave owner's property rights. The rights of the slaves as human beings was of less importance than the slaveowners' property rights. At the present time many defenders of racial segregation have tried to evade the moral issue by talking about property rights. The purpose of property rights is to safeguard the dignity and freedom of man, not to deny them. What Jesus said of the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27) could be applied to property: Property is made for man and not man for property.
What Does Love Require
The ultimate issue in race relations is, how shall we express the love Christ has given to us and commanded us to give to others? Love requires more than tolerance. To be sure, tolerance is better than intolerance, but it is not sufficient. It would be a step forward if we would tolerate negroes in our assemblies, in our homes, as our neighbors, and associates. But we might go this far and still not fulfill God's requirements of love.
Love requires more than obedience to law. Respect of the law is required of Christians except when such law conflicts with God's will, but love requires more. Laws have been passed which prohibit racial discrimination in schools, public accommodations, jobs, restaurants, law enforcement, etc. Christians can contribute to solving the problem by obeying the law. But, love is more than obedience to law.
Love is more than paternalism. There is a tradition among saints to do things for negroes in the manner of someone superior helping someone inferior, in the manner of a father helping and assuming authority over a child, rather than as a neighbor or as a brother. Paternalism is doing things for another in such a way that he is kept dependent rather than encouraged to be independent. Brethren have boasted of their efforts for "black churches" as a demonstration of the high moral plane of their discrimination. They give the "nigra" their bacon drippings, and their used clothing, help whitewash their shanty church buildings, and preach a lesson once in awhile for "the blacks." Then they can declare with pride, "You can't say I don't love my black brethren! See how much I have done for them? Just because the Lord told me to love them, doesn't mean I have to live with them or marry them!" Some brethren are totally oblivious to the deepness of the prejudice they hold in their heart. I heard a good hearted brother announce once, "We sure do appreciate you black brethren coming to our singing. Nobody can sing as good as your people do." Paternalism overlooks the quality of godly love (Jno. 13:14,15; Phil. 2:3) God requires of us. Paternalism is better than cruelty and indifference, but it is not enough.
Love requires more than willingness for things to change sometime in the indefinite future. To say "later" if it is said sincerely, it is better than "never." But it is not enough. People who say "later" usually mean that they are willing for change to take place, but after they are dead. The time never seems ripe for facing up to painful decisions. The more serious matter is that when We are saying "later", we are often presuming that we have the perogative of deciding when other people can get their full rights as human beings. Whites do not have the privilege of deciding when they think negroes are ready enough or mature enough to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities they enjoy themselves. We do not have "later." We only have now.
Love will mean a positive effort to establish better relationships with those negroes we come into contact with. Love means we will make an effort to overcome the bad effects of many generations of handicaps and injustice which the negroes have suffered at the hands of White Supremists. Love will mean a willingness to forgive offences which may have been committed against us by members of other races. We must remember that this is one of the obligations laid upon all who seek God's mercy (Matt. 6:12).
We will express our love, not because some human legislature has decreed it, not because of the decision of some human court, not just because negroes are demanding better treatment, nor because it is now a socially acceptable thing, but because the "love of Christ constrains us" (2 Cor. 5:14).
Truth Magazine XXI: 34, pp. 536-539