Friday, July 11, 2008

Racism, the Gospel and Presidential Politics

I grew up in racially volatile times. Racial integration came to my elementary school in 1967. It was a confusing time for blacks and whites alike. My high school had race riots for six consecutive years before my senior year (1975) broke the cycle. Both my mind and body were scarred during those times.

In one particularly painful (and bloody) episode, while being admitted to the Emergency Room at the Baptist Hospital in Beaumont, Texas, the Lord gave me a glimpse into the perverse racism in my heart and exposed my superficial understanding of sin and grace.

That experience built upon an earlier one that came when, as a middle-schooler, I chose to read and write a report on John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me. Griffin helped me understand that I did not know what I did not know about racism.

I resolved then, as a young teenager, that I would forever stand against racial bigotry. I stood up for black friends who were threatened by white friends. I wept and burned with anger when my white pastor refused to baptize my black friend, Josey. At the principal's request, I gave a speech over the Public Adress system of South Park High School, pleading for racial harmony. I gave another one, after asking our coaches to leave, to my racially divided football teammates.

So, I thought I was racially sensitive and enlightened and free from bigotry, until that Christmas night in th ER. But the bitterness, hatred and rage that poured out of me against not just the black men who had beaten me but against a whole race of people shattered my self-righteous delusions about living above the fray of racial tensions that characterized so much of my context.

Since then, I have learned something about the doctrine of remaining sin and have come to understand that there are some things that I simply cannot understand about the insidious sin of racism. That is why I read Eric Redmond's post today with such interest and appreciation. It is entitled, "How Can Any Christian African American Vote for Obama? Throwing the Race Card on an All Black Table."

Eric, who served us very well in his Founders Breakfast address last month, thoughtfully analyzes this issue from an insider's perspective. You may not agree with the arguments that he highlights--indeed, he doesn't ask you to--but you can gain helpful insights into many of the racial issues that are woven into the fabric of American society. He gives several thoughtful reasons why sincere African American Christians will indeed vote for Obama. It is a very helpful read, especially for white folks.

I commend it to everyone who believes that Jesus Christ "is our peace who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:14-16). The same Gospel that reconciles sinners to God also reconciles sinners to each other and is able to build blacks and whites and every other race and ethnicity into the one body of Jesus Christ.

As that happens, God's wisdom and glory are put on display in His church.

28 comments:

J.D. Rector said...

Tom:
Thank you dear brother for a provocative, yet important point. I too, grew up in an age of desegregation since I am a native of Alabama. Unfortunately, George Wallace put us in the lime-light with his stand in the door way at the University of Alabama and his other infamous desegregation speeches.

Also, I cringe at the memories of when I was an older child of a pastor in my home church who would not welcome black people back in the 60's. They were told explicitly they were not welcome.

Now, some 40 years later, I am grateful for the true Gospel of Jesus Christ that not only brings salvation to sinful man, BUT also breaks down racial barriers!

I am blessed to serve at a church where many black people attend and are members. One of my dearest and closest friends is a black man who is a medical doctor, Dr. Al Willis. He is a committed Christian. He is an oncologist and I went to him over 19 years ago over a supicious tissue mass. Gratefully, it was not cancer. He kept me as a regular patient for the reason he wanted to treat someone who did not have cancer. Eventually, our relationship became more than just doctor to patient. We became best friends. I taught his daughters piano lessons. I would drop by his office weekly to discuss politics, theology, church concerns, and yes... our walk with the Lord and his role as a husband and father. He taught me many valuable lessons on race relations. I owe a great debt to him for teaching me things that black people experience that I as a white person, have never had to experience. We BOTH know and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope for the human heart. HE alone can change our lives for HIS glory!

As we enter the height of the presidental race, we need to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is NOT a republican. Nor, is he a democrat, or independent. We need to understand that our black brothers and sisters have a perspective that many of us have no concept of where they have come from.

Thanks again!
Sincerely...
J.D.Rector

Stan McCullars said...

I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech:

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

When "black" people vote for a candidate because the candidate is "black", that is not in harmony with Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech. In fact, it is racism. The color of (the candidates') skin should not come into consideration whether the voter be "white" or "black".

If a "white" person voted for McCain because he is the "white" candidate, that voter would rightly be labeled a racist. We can't have different criteria for identifying racism based on the race of the offending party.

Tom said...

J.D.

Thanks for your comments. I could never swallow the homogeneous unit principles of church growth because of my early experiences with racism. I agree with your political assessments, too. A while back I said in a sermon that I was quite convinced that God is neither Republican nor Democrat and equally convinced that the devil is both!

healtheland said...

stan mccullars:

Christians really need to stop promoting the views or work of Martin Luther King, Jr. The fellow rejected the deity, virgin birth, resurrection, and atoning death of Jesus Christ and consorted with all sorts of atheists and immoral people, yet he willingly misled a lot of people - most of them black - into thinking that he was Christian, and as a result foisted a ton of false doctrines into the Christian mainstream. Most people don't even know that King's spouting Ghandi's jain Buddhism for "nonviolence" is syncretism, or that political subversion tactics, having confrontational street protests (which often did descend into riots) and radical politics is the way of the guilty man who was wrongfully set free (Barabbas) NOT the innocent man - God who was wrongfully crucified (Jesus Christ).

And please know this: I am black, from the deep south, and have personally experienced racism and discrimination in my life. That does not justify my supporting an enemy to Christianity and a deceiver of so many like Martin Luther King, Jr. Nothing that this man accomplished was good.
http://healtheland.wordpress.com/2007/08/15/proof-from-his-own-writings-that-martin-luther-king-jr-was-not-a-christian/

Stan McCullars said...

healtheland,
My point was not to promot(e) the views or work of Martin Luther King, Jr. but rather to show the hypocrisy of a "black" man voting for another man because of race.

I can't speak to King's character, but I can say that the words I quoted were worthy of being repeated. Thanks for the reference to your website. I will look into that.

Quincy A. Jones said...

Brother Stan,

Though I agree with your thought in part (i.e., that we must primarily choose our candidate on the basis of his character), I'm not sure if I would call it "hypocrisy". The reason why I say that is...

Did you get a chance to read Redmond's post? If you haven't it may be good to try to read it objectively (without the bias of the "hypocrisy of voting becasue of color" perspective; or to say it positively, to read it putting yourself in the shoes of the African American experience in historic context - Redmond's section on "the Issue of Hope" may help)...

and understand why a black person may even consider voting for Obama because he is black.

Of course, regardless of the profundity of disagreement us conservatives may have with him, we must all agree that Obama has much more going for him than just being black...but for black folk...the fact that he is black intesifies the lure of him as a the candidate.

But, again, you'll have read Redmond's post (carefully, and maybe more than once) to get a good understanding of the why behind the motivations of black folk voting for Obama on the basis of identifying with him as a black man. (Honestly, I can identify personally with what Redmond wrote and being somewhat torn as an African American Christian.)

But, remember as you read - Redmond is not making any form of endorsement but his objective is stated this way:

The above thoughts do not make a judgment on whether Christian African Americans should or should not vote for Obama. The intention of this work is only to offer some reasons that explain why Christian African Americans might vote for Obama in the fall.

I think if you at least read this piece with objectivity and some level of empathy...you may change the statement of "hypocrisy". It may be a huge tension - but, all things considered, it surely isn't hypocritical.

Jude 2,

Q

Tom Bryant said...

Thanks for the link to a great article and a great post.

There are lots of dynamics at play that make this election the most interesting election in a long time!

debbiekaufman said...

Tom: This topic has been a burden to me even before I became a Christian.

I grew up in Kansas, but racism was in Kansas too, although not as much as in other areas. I watched the race riots on TV as a kid. Watched Martin Luther King Jr. speak, watched him assassinated. It stuck with me to this day, and still leaves me sad.

2008, and we still have a long way to go, especially in the church, which is the saddest realization of all. Thank you for bringing attention to it, and thank you for being personal about it.

Quincy A. Jones said...

Dr. Ascol,

Thanks so much for posting this article brother...it reminds me of why I appreciate you so much.

Psalm 133,

Quincy

Stan McCullars said...

Brother Quincy,

Thanks for your kind words. I read Redmond's post yesterday. I'm just not buying it that experience excuses any degree of racism and I believe voting for a candidate because of race is a form of racism.

If we say that a voter's personal experience can excuse this type of racism why not say it's OK for me to vote for McCain because he's the "white" candidate? I did, afterall, have a shotgun put in my face by a "black" man who said to me: "Looks like you're in the wrong store." Should that experience, and others like it, cause me to vote for the "white" man? I don't think so.

I sympathize with the history of some "blacks" in America. Slavery, Jim Crow laws, etc. were horrible and without excuse. However, it worries me that some, if not many, in the "black" community are looking to a politician (in this case Obama) as a type of saviour and are disregarding their primary principles.

Ultimately, however, Christ and him crucified is what you and I are about so I'll leave it at that.

Will said...

"Personally, I think that sanctity of life issues only deal with one of ten areas of sin in the Decalogue, so they are not to be elevated above all of the other prohibitions and commandments."

Tom

Thanks for having the courage to post this. Erics quote above says it all. I have in my life become friends with Christian African American Pastors, and it is on this very point our relationship in Christ was tested.

You see, African American Christians have been voting for years for candidates who did not embrace their christian world values, particularly in the area of homosexuality and abortion. For year, African Americans have voted "economic" and "justice"instead of voting for those who had similar social values to their own.

When it comes to abortion, though, I draw the line. The truth is the next President will apoint at least two supreme court judges and many lower judges. The fight for life is defeated with the election of obama. I cannot have that on my conscience, and I struggle to have relationships with people who say there are Christian but vote for those who will promote abortion on demand and infanticide. And obama supports both.

Will
Cedar Hill Tx

Tom said...

Stan:

Thanks for bringing your perspective to bear on this issue, and for doing it in such a plain-spoken way. I particularly appreciate the exchange between you and Quincy.

Tom said...

Tom:

Thanks for your encouragement. This will most certainly be an interesting election. It is a great time to remember Psalm 146:3, "Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help."

Tom said...

Debbie:

Thanks. I genuinely believe that if churches had done what we should have done, then our culture would be much further along in overcoming the racial divides that still exist in this country. One of my greatest joys is seeing families adopting interracially and parents raising the next generation to be free of some of the racial baggage that our generation carries.

Tom said...

Quincy:

Thanks for your comments and encouragement. What I said to Stan. I hope your studies are going well.

Tom said...

Will:

I will not vote for anyone who protects abortion on demand. It is a deal-breaker for me, regardless of what other competencies he might have or what the position is for which he is running. I don't think we can make this a loyalty to Christ issue, but I am not in doubt in my own mind on this.

Wyman Richardson said...

Tom,

Thanks for this moving post. I, too, have had a journey in coming to understand the racism of my own heart. Interestingly, outside of finally reading the New Testament honestly while in college, William Faulkner's writings were what did it for me.

I thought I might post here something that Faulkner said in his 1956, essay, “On Fear: Deep South in Labor: Mississippi.” In the essay, Faulkner is describing the many voices that are trying to speak to the issue of race in the South. He cites the voices of senators, circuit judges, ordinary citizens, etc.

His final line haunts me. Keep in mind, too, that Faulkner wasn't even a believer.

He wrote this:

“There are all the voices in fact, except one. That one voice which would adumbrate them all to silence, being the superior of all since it is the living articulation of the glory and the sovereignty of God and the hope and aspiration of man. The Church, which is the strongest unified force in our Southern life since all Southerners are not white and are not democrats, but all Southerners are religious…Where is that voice now...Where is that voice now, which should have propounded perhaps two but certainly one of these still-unanswered questions?

1. The Constitution of the U.S. says: Before the law, there shall be no artificial inequality - race, creed or money - among citizens of the Unites States.
2. Morality says: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
3. Christianity says: I am the only distinction among men since whosoever believeth in Me, shall never die.

Where is this voice now, in our time of trouble and indecision? Is it trying by its silence to tell us that it has no validity and wants none outside the sanctuary behind its symbolical spire?”

Tom said...

Wyman:

Thanks for posting that Faulkner quote. What an indictment on the church. And what are the issues of our day on which we dare not loose our voice?

Will said...

Tom
Thanks for your response. While I take seriously the Lord's direction that we must not make judgements about anothers salvation, I struggle with the 'loyalty to Christ' question. Can someone who is truely Born Again support a candidate who is pro-death? Avidly and unashamedly pro-death?

From Washington Post
"....But Obama's record on abortion is extreme. He opposed the ban on partial-birth abortion -- a practice a fellow Democrat, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, once called "too close to infanticide." Obama strongly criticized the Supreme Court decision upholding the partial-birth ban. In the Illinois state Senate, he opposed a bill similar to the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which prevents the killing of infants mistakenly left alive by abortion. And now Obama has oddly claimed that he would not want his daughters to be "punished with a baby" because of a crisis pregnancy -- hardly a welcoming attitude toward new life."

Will
Cedar Hill Tx

ABClay said...

Brother Redmond wrote,
"Personally, I think that sanctity of life issues only deal with one of ten areas of sin in the Decalogue, so they are not to be elevated above all of the other prohibitions and commandments.

Is this the standard that we are to use when evaluating which candidate to vote for? Are we to weigh the candidate against all of the commandments and prohibitions in scripture? If this be true, I cannot vote for anyone, not even myself.

I don't feel comfortable making excuses for sinful behavior so that I may experience some temporal gain that only feeds my dependency on myself and others and not on Christ.

While I appreciate Tom's thought provoking post and the comments here of Brother Quincy, after reading the article by Redmonds (again) it seems like a piece that people (who claim Christ as their savior) regardless of their ethnicity can turn to and say, "here's how I justify my vote for a person who feeds my covetousness, who is okay with murdering babies, who is not a Christian, etc."

I try to justify my sinful, fleshly behavior each time I sin and am cut short every time by the word of God. Sin is sin, no matter what brush you try and cover it with but I believe a sin that affects the perceived innocent among us, who I believe are saved by the Grace of God, will meet with a much hotter fire than a sin that only effects the destruction of the offender's flesh.

May God continue to show mercy to america if it be His will.

Grace and Peace...

ABClay

GeneMBridges said...


When it comes to abortion, though, I draw the line. The truth is the next President will apoint at least two supreme court judges and many lower judges. The fight for life is defeated with the election of obama. I cannot have that on my conscience, and I struggle to have relationships with people who say there are Christian but vote for those who will promote abortion on demand and infanticide. And obama supports both.


The same Scriptures to which we appeal when we talk about the right to life also regularly index infanticide and other parallel acts to the idolatry of the nations.

The cure for idolatry isn't the election of politicians to do the will of the Church via legislation. The cure for idolatry is the Gospel.

Why do we have a problem with abortion? Look at the state of the churches in this nation. When I read, "court judges and many lower judges. The fight for life is defeated with the election of obama." I have to say that it looks like we're falling into the trap of using the state to do our will.

The Subapostolic Church fought their own "fight for the right to life" by rescuing babies abandoned on the rubbish tips, starting orphanariums, getting the widows to adopt and care for the children, etc. They didn't have a say in who the Emperor or the local magistrates were, but they fought with the tools they had at hand. Their fight didn't end, did it? No, and neither will ours. That's why I don't make issues like abortion or gay marriage "deal breakers." I've voted for persons who agreed with me on those issues before, and I've consequently voted, as it turns out, for some of the most corrupt men the political parties in my state have ever produced.

smithbaptist said...

1. Thank you for posting Brother Tom

2. Can't white folks learn more than one sentence from Martin Luther King. At least learn that one entire speech.

3. NO candidate is proclaiming to be the "Christ and Him crucified" candidate, so what are some of you advocating - we should not vote this fall?

4. Let's quiz McCain on essential doctrines. Maybe he believes as much as our current "Christian" president who thinks Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

ABClay said...

Smithbaptist,

You wrote:
"Let's quiz McCain on essential doctrines. Maybe he believes as much as our current "Christian" president who thinks Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that we question any political candidate on the essentials. We are not voting for a pastor, we are voting for a president. And this president will likely have the awesome responsibility of appointing 2 supreme court justices who are arguably (though not constitutionally), the most powerful people in the nation in regards to what is legal and not legal in the United States and who serve until they retire (which could be decades).

I find it futile to try and force a biblical morality on a world that hates God, yet at the same time, I believe it is incumbent upon us that we vote our faith. To betray our faith and vote against what the Bible says is to sin against the God who graciously called us.

Now in the present climate, we scarcely are given an opportunity to vote for someone who upholds all that we believe, so we are faced with two choices. Either vote for no one, or vote for the lesser of two evils. (In which case we are still voting for evil which I find a bit hypocritical.)

Voting for the greater of two evils is not one of the choices that I believe we should ever make as a christian.

A freedom that we have in the U.S. that is often taken for granted is our ability to freely share the Gospel without fear of persecution (from the government). Do you feel that this right would be protected better under the presidency of Obama, or under McCain? Our message is one of exclusivity, Salvation by Faith through Grace through Christ Jesus alone. To whom do you believe this message is the most offensive? I can't answer this question affirmatively for either man.

I can readily agree with your poke at our current president's lack of understanding in regards to world religions and Christianity specifically. I have to ask: "can somebody who has such a misunderstanding about God and his redemptive plan be a Christian?"

Grace and Peace to you brother...

ABClay

smithbaptist said...

ABClay,

Thanks for your insight. May we seek to glorify our Lord as we exercise our citizen rights. Your point about "lesser of" and "greater of" two evils is helpful. The struggle is that the totality of scripture convicts both candidates. However, I do realize that we philosophically (rather than exegetically) prioritize abortion and marriage.

But I can never forget McCain slighting Christians as "intolerant bigots." But you make the salient point about the Supreme Court.

Stan McCullars said...

smithbaptist,
Can't white folks learn more than one sentence from Martin Luther King. At least learn that one entire speech.

I find your reference to race offensive.

The post is about "black" people supporting Obama. If you look at Redmond's post, (1)some of the reasoning for supporting Obama is because of his skin color. (2)Obama supports abortion and homosexual marriages, two issues that speak volumes about character. Given (1) and (2), perhaps you would care to point me to a quote that is more relevant to this discussion.

smithbaptist said...

Stan,

My point (which could offend) was that often when issues of race are discussed, many whites run to that Martin Luther King quote and raise the banner of "color blindness." This is usually irritating because it is very easy to raise the banner of color blindness when that color has always been in a dominant position by default.

Plus, many not all, use that quote to suggest that we shouldn't be confrontational about these matters but patient-dreamers like King.

Since America is a racially-sensitive place in many areas, as Christians we might find more helpful quotes in King's letter from the Birmingham jail.

Please note, however, that I agree with your point about a vote for someone "merely" because they are black or white.

Stan McCullars said...

smithbaptist,

"King's letter from the Birmingham jail."

One of the best pieces of literature (and more than that) in America's history.

I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere...Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

ScottyMack said...

I, too, read Eric Redmond's post and found it very thoughtful. It gave very compelling arguments for Christians to think about.

Your article, as well, provides special insight into the prejudices of old that still seem to seed resentment in the black community.

I will not be voting for Obama, however. It's not because of his color; it's not because of his church. It is his economic policies and his almost Marxist policies of economic redistribution that has me gravely concerned.

The Political Republican