Category: Racial reconciliation

Mississippi church issues apology for racism

Two Mississippi pastors, Eric Hankins (left) and Andrew Robinson, have fostered healing between their churches in Oxford, a city that faced racial tumult during the civil rights era. Hankins is pastor of First Baptist Church; Robinson is pastor of Second Baptist Church. Photo by Kevin Bain.

By Alan Bean

It is easy to be critical of this Baptist Press story.  It reflects a rather superficial understanding of racism, and is written from a distinctly white perspective (there is little interest, for instance, in learning how Black Baptists experienced the racist past of Oxford, Mississippi).

On the other hand, the apology issued by First Baptist Church is commendable and remarkably rare.  Although the congregation voted to exclude non-white worshipers in 1968, pastor Hankins correctly observes that most Oxford congregations wouldn’t have felt the need to put the matter to a vote.  This is a small step in the direction of racial reconciliation, but it is a beginning, and for that we should all be thankful.

Mississippi church seeks racial reconciliation

OXFORD, Miss. (BP) — When First Baptist Church in Oxford, Miss., passed a resolution apologizing for its 1968 decision to exclude African Americans from worship services, it opened the door for racial reconciliation in its city.

“I had never seen a church or any organization move that seriously toward repentance and then apologize without any excuse,” said Andrew Robinson, pastor of Oxford’s historically black Second Baptist Church, a National Baptist congregation that accepted the apology and granted forgiveness. (more…)

The Lion and the Hyena

By Alan Bean

I received this graphic from a Facebook friend.  I clicked on “like”.  My friend probably wondered why.  I’m not sure.  Something about the image appeals to me.  The “conservative” is literally lionized, an invisible force for good.  The “liberal” is a scavenger, an impostor, a hyena attempting, in this case unsuccessfully, to feast on the carcass when he didn’t make the kill.

I have often felt like the hyena in the picture, a hapless liberal do-gooder confronting  the conservative juggernaut.  Nonetheless, I feel compelled to mouth off several sentences too many.

Some conservatives would reverse the image.  They see themselves as a lion surrounded by a pack of liberal hyenas.

These savanna fantasies obscure more than they illuminate.  “Liberal” and “conservative”, two grand words with a goodly heritage, are now debased currency.  When liberalism is associated with superficiality, debauchery, and profligate sentimentality, who wants to be a liberal?  When conservatism becomes a code word for racial bigotry, intolerance and privilege, who wants to be a conservative? (more…)

American slavery persisted until the Second World War

By Alan Bean

You need to read Douglas A. Blackmon’s article on 20th Century slavery in the American South.  The evidence, contained in thousands of letters preserved by the National Archive and the NAACP, is irrefutable.  But Blackmon says that’s just the beginning.

Dwarfing everything at those repositories are the still largely unexamined collections of local records in courthouses across the South. In dank basements, abandoned buildings, and local archives, seemingly endless numbers of files contain hundreds of thousands of handwritten entries documenting in monotonous granularity the details of an immense, metastasizing horror that stretched well into the twentieth century.

We will never know how many African Americans were forced into lifetimes of unpaid servitude under appalling conditions, but Blackmon, who has researched and written a book on the subject, says the numbers are staggering. (more…)

Texas Baptist publication connects Christian faith and racial justice

The Rev. Michael Bell

Ken Camp with The Baptist Standard has an excellent discussion of the relationship between race and faith featuring faith leaders in the Dallas Fort Worth area and beyond.  My blogging on the subject is part of the mix, and some strong words from Fort Worth pastor Michael Bell figure in the discussion.  It is good to see the intersection of racial justice and Christian faith receive a thorough airing in the Baptist press.  Pictures from the civil rights movement of the 1960s demonstrate how far we have come; the typical response of white America to the Travon Martin story shows us how far we have to go. Alan Bean

Race & Faith

   
By Ken Camp, Managing Editor
Published: April 27, 2012
A neighborhood watchman in Florida shoots and kills a hoodie-wearing African-American teenager. Two white suspects in Tulsa, Okla., confess to the Easter weekend shooting of five people in a predominantly black neighborhood.

Trayvon Martin Million Hoodie March in New York City was one of many such protest marches conducted in reaction to the shooting of the teen by a neighborhood watchman in Florida. (Photo/Frank Daum)

Periodically, racial tensions that have simmered beneath the surface bubble up, some Christian leaders note, illustrating just how far-removed modern America is from the “beloved community” envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr.

“We can legislate fairness, but we cannot legislate love. That is up to us,” said Mark Croston, pastor of East End Baptist Church in Suffolk, Va., and president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia.

Christians must lead by example to improve race relations, he said.

“I believe that all truly Christian churches must be open to racial inclusion and human compassion. We sing, ‘Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. …” This is true, so we must, too,” said Croston, an African-American.

Croston points to the vision in the New Testament book of Revelation of people representing every nation, tribe and language worshipping Christ. If Christians are serious when they pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he said, they must “with intentionality work toward this reality.”

But the heavenly vision seems remote for many, and racial divisions remain a clear and present problem, some observers noted sadly.

Predictable pattern

When stories about racially inspired violence capture public attention, events follow a predictable pattern, said Alan Bean, executive director of Friends of Justice.

Inspired by preachers like Martin Luther King Jr., African-Americans in the early 1960s marched to secure civil rights. But some social observers note King’s dream of the “beloved community” still is far from reality, as evidenced by the recent rhetoric surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“When the status quo is threatened by systemic racial bias, the propaganda machine goes into overdrive. This normally involves the assertion that a liberal media is making excuses for thuggish behavior. If the folks on the receiving end of unjust treatment can be redefined as one of ‘those’ people, the horrific details no longer matter,” Bean, an American Baptist minister in Arlington, wrote in a recent column for Associated Baptist Press.

As the stories gain media attention, he continued, “America quickly divides into protestors claiming that the narrative du jour is a prime example of systemic racism, and debunkers insisting it is nothing of the kind.”

The church’s role

Historically, African-American churches have played a central role in providing a voice for people who have felt victimized and for exposing racism. In many cities, a particular church or a few churches continue to play a key role as ombudsman in the African-American community, said Michael Bell, pastor of Greater St. Stephen First Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

“It’s where people go for direction when they are seeking resolution of difficulties and solutions to their problems,” said Bell, a past-president of both the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Texas African-American Fellowship.

More specifically, African-Americans know which churches are able to do something substantive about their problems, he noted.

“They go to a church where the pastor has a reputation as being a prophetic voice,” Bell said. “My church expects me to speak up. I have never received a negative email, text or letter from a church member complaining that I was too involved in community issues outside the church.”

Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, is pursued by a mob outside Little Rock’s Central High School. (UPI Photo/Library of Congress)

However, in many—perhaps most—predominantly white churches, pastors do not feel that same degree of freedom, he added.

The African-American church has become even more relevant and gained increasing influence as racial tensions have heightened in recent years, Bell insists.

“Distrust and suspicions that had been under the surface have bubbled up. Racism has become more overt and evident in in the last few years,” he said, comparing racists to “roaches so bold they don’t run from the light anymore.”

A cloud of suspicion

Relations between white and blacks, even among Christians, suffer from a failure to address deep-seated issues such as the way African-Americans often are viewed with suspicion—a matter brought to the forefront recently when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., he observed.

“It’s like putting cold cream on cancer. Unattended, the malady will intensify, because it hasn’t been addressed. We try to move on without really dealing with it,” Bell said.

“We (African-Americans) have a historical memory informed by a hermeneutic of suspicion. Periodically that will come to the surface, and the obvious issues will be addressed. The symptoms will be addressed without dealing with the disease. We won’t go beneath the surface. …We fear it will take too much out of us.”

Some African-American ministers note the fear young men in their communities feel about being stopped by police for “DWB—driving while black.”

White citizens rally at the Arkansas state capitol, protesting the integration of Central High School in Little Rock. (U.S. News & World Report Photo/Library of Congress)

In a video on the American Baptist Home Mission Societies website, Executive Director Aidsand Wright-Riggins appeared in a hoodie to tell stories from his own experience about the cloud of suspicion under which African-American young men live.

Wright-Riggins recalled how he was stopped by police officers—once while knocking on the door of a white church member and once while approaching his own home. He also told how his son was pulled over twice driving between his parents’ home and his university dormitory.

“I appeal to all of us, as we look at the millions of persons around us, and particularly those of color—particularly black boys—that we don’t make an automatic assessment because they might be dressed differently or look different or somehow feel that they are out of place in our society,” he said, “that we relegate them to the margins or, even worse, that we assign them to the morgue.”

A troubling divide

The Trayvon Martin case illustrates “a troubling divide in public perception,” Bean wrote in a recent blog on the Friends of Justice website.

“On one side of the fault line, people identify with George Zimmerman’s suspicion of young black males wearing hoodies. On the other side, folks identify with a victim of racial profiling and vigilante justice,” he wrote.

The 1963 March on Washington for civil rights featured blacks marching alongside Christians and Jews. But some social observers note the dream of the “beloved community” still is far from reality, as evidenced by the recent rhetoric surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting. (RNS FILE PHOTO)

In his opinion column written for Associated Baptist Press, Bean noted: “Real-life narratives are messy because life is messy. Victims of injustice get caught up in the mess. They don’t play their roles with the disciplined panache of a Rosa Parks. They talk back; they fight back; they come out swinging. And that’s when bad things happen. That’s when the tragedy quotient gets high enough to catch the media’s attention.”

“Why did George Zimmerman feel called to defend his neighborhood from intruders?” Bean continued. “Why did he see Trayvon Martin as out of place, an anomaly. Because he was wearing a hoodie? Because he was walking with a particular gait? Because he appeared overly interested in his surroundings?

“Eliminate Martin’s blackness from the equation, and it is impossible to imagine Zimmerman reacting as he did. Zimmerman defined criminality in racial terms. Who, or what, taught him to think this way? … Our national conversation will continue to revolve around messy narratives.”

How many Black parents must straighten up?

By Alan Bean

Richard Land President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Richard Land, speaks on NBC's 'Meet the Press' November 28, 2004 during a taping at the NBC studio in Washington, DC. Land talked about the religion, politics and moral values that were affecting the 2004 U.S. presidential election.
Richard Land

Richard Land, the voice of the Southern Baptist Convention, is in hot water over a recent rant against the Black pastors in connection with the Trayvon Martin story.  Land’s comments have angered Baptists like Arlington’s William Dwight McKissic as much for what they implied as for what was clearly stated.

The following quote from Gerald Schumacher appears in the comments section of Pastor McKissic’s website.  I have corrected the spelling, but otherwise this verbatim:

I am not a great fan of Richard Land, but If Mr. McKissic thinks what Richard Land said was racist then this is going to knock his socks off.

Richard Land spoke the truth originally although he has back peddled because of pressure. For that I do fault him. The truth is that if the black community would start training their children to live a productive moral godly lives instead of what a large percentage become and stop living in the past using the race cards this nation could heal a lot faster. Blacks make up about 13.6 percent of the population but about 40.2 percent of those in prison are black. The problem is with the black community not racism and it is way past time for the black pastors to start dealing with it in their congregation as well as communities instead of pointing fingers.

How many Black parents would have to quit their lowdown ways before Black pastors get the right to address racial injustice?  If, say, the teen birth rate dropped by 15 percentage points, would that do it?  Or are Black pastors relegated to the social sidelines until Black and White incarceration rates are the same?

This argument is of ancient origin.  Slaves shouldn’t be freed because most of them can’t read and write and lack experience handling money.  Jim Crow laws should remain in force because crime rates in the Ghetto are higher than the national average.

Now the mass incarceration of young Black males precludes Black Southern Baptists from questioning their White betters. 

This was the kind of logic that put Tulia, Texas on the map.  It didn’t really matter whether undercover agent Tom Coleman was telling the truth, if his targets had kids outside of marriage they forfeited their civil rights. 

Tragically, this Alice in Wonderland logic drives the criminal justice system.  It is also one of the big reasons why the Black incarceration numbers are so skewed and why so many of the men and women exonerated by DNA evidence are African-American. 

Anthony Graves

This morning I had coffee with Anthony Graves, a Texan who spent 18 years in prison, twelve on death row, for a crime he didn’t commit.  The indignities didn’t end when Graves stepped back into the free world.  The following is from a Houston Chronicle article published a year ago:

After he was freed in October, the Texas comptroller’s office refused the compensation provided by law for those who are unjustly convicted.

Then the Texas Attorney General’s Office began garnisheeing his wages for child support that a judge decided Graves owed even though he was on death row at the time. But when they blocked payment of the $250 fee he earned for a presentation to students at Prairie View A&M University, it was too much.

Graves’ attorney accused Texas AG Greg Abbott of being a vindictive monster.  Maybe so.  But Abbott had little reason to fear a public backlash.  Most influential Texans think a lot like Gerald Schumacher, the guy who thinks Dwight McKissic should go mute on racial justice until every Black parent has his or her act together. 

Fortunately, the Schumacher doctrine doesn’t always win out.  Anthony Graves finally received restitution money for his near-death experience, the Tulia drug bust was overturned, and, massive White support notwithstanding, Richard Land still has some ‘splainin’ to do.

Richard Land’s Trayvon problem deepens

By Alan Bean

Update: Richard Land has issued an apology for the remarks referenced in this post.

Southern Baptist leader Richard Land says he is the victim of a media mugging.  First the Nashville Tennessean characterized Land’s incendiary comments on his own radio show as a “rant”.  Now a Baylor-based blogger claims that the Baptist ethicist’s rant was plagiarized.

Many of the words that he uttered during his radio show were taken VERBATIM – yes, WORD-FOR-WORD – from a Washington Times column penned by conservative commentator Jeffrey Kuhner. Kuhner’s column titled “Obama foments racial division” was published on March 29.

Land has apologized for failing to give proper attribution, but continues to lash out at the liberal media.  This brief excerpt from an article in the Nashville Tennessean will tell you what the Southern Baptist spokesman is so upset about.

Some consider statements made Saturday by the convention’s top policy representative on his national radio show a setback. On Richard Land Live!,Land accused black religious leaders — whom he called “race hustlers” — and President Barack Obama of using the shooting death of an African-American teen in Florida for election-year gains.

“This will be vetted in court, not in a mob mentality that’s been juiced up by Al Sharpton, who is a provocateur and a racial ambulance chaser of the first order, and aided and abetted by Jesse Jackson,” Land said on the show.

And, on Obama’s statement that, if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old victim, Land said: “The president’s aides claim he was showing compassion for the victim’s family. In reality, he poured gasoline on the racialist fires.”

The Rev. Maxie Miller, a Florida Baptist Convention expert in African-American church planting, was incredulous when he heard about the comments.

“At no time have I been embarrassed of being a Southern Baptist or a black Southern Baptist,” Miller said. “But I’m embarrassed because of the words that man has stated.”

Richard Land claims he should be immune from charges of racial insensitivity because he had a large hand in drafting the SBC’s official apology for slavery and Jim Crow.  According to the Associated Baptist Press, the 1995 statement read in part: (more…)

White preachers silent on Trayvon Martin case

As I suggest in this Associated Baptist Press article, your average white pastor will have little to say about the killing of Trayvon Martin.  Pastors are expected to serve as prophets, priests and politicians, roles that don’t always mesh easily.  The national debate over racial justice is driven by messy narratives that raise uncomfortable questions about America.  Neither white pastors nor their congregations are negatively affected by the criminal justice system and, if they are, they keep it to themselves.  The possibility that people of color face risks that white folks can scarcely imagine is deeply disturbing.  White preachers who speak of such things are playing with fire.  So we turn our attention to other things.  There are always plenty of other things to talk about on Sunday morning.  Important things, holy things, inspiring things.  Why trouble the faithful with the tragedy of Trayvon Martin?

White churches on sidelines of Trayvon Martin outrage
Jeff Brumley
Associated Baptist Press

SANFORD, Fla. (ABP) — The killing of Trayvon Martin has sparked rallies in black communities nationwide and is now leading to questions about why white Christians aren’t more visibly involved.

Pastors of both races offer a number of theories about the anemic white interest, including an inability to identify with the social disparities faced by blacks to an aversion to associating with controversial African-American religious leaders.

Some white pastors “haven’t been asked” to attend public vigils for the teen shot Feb. 26, while others “are not taking the initiative,” said Alan Brumback, senior pastor at Central Baptist Church in Sanford, Fla.

And yet others “don’t want to be associated with Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson,” the white Southern Baptist preacher said.

But that hasn’t kept Brumback from getting involved. He was the only white pastor to take the stage with Sharpton and other black ministers at a recent Trayvon Martin rally in Sanford, where the killing occurred. He has also led his multiracial congregation in intercessory prayer for the boy’s family, the city and police. (more…)