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In my last installment, I dealt with the question,
“Is racism dead or alive?”
The answer should be obvious, but for many, sadly, it’s not. We saw that racism has been with us since the fall of man. So if racism still exists, how can we as evangelicals be a part of the solution? Before we answer that, we need to look to the past to see how American evangelicals dealt with racism in our history. Yet how far back should we go? We could travel back to the days of slavery, yet the Civil Rights Movement (1950’s-1960’s) is closest to our own time frame, and therefore most relatable to us, so we begin here…
How did white evangelicals deal with racism in this time period? Were they part of the solution or the problem?
How did American white evangelicals deal with Civil Rights—a movement that sought to ensure African-Americans had the same rights as other ethnicities as guaranteed by the Constitution? By observing three primary groups (whom I name in order to better qualify them), we get a more accurate picture as to what their response was:
- The Contenders. This group loved their black brothers and suffered side-by-side with them. They contended well for the Christian faith, not just in doctrine, but in action as well (Jude 3). Sadly they were the smallest group.
- The Vitriolic Racists. This group despised integration, hating the possibility of miscegenation (race mixing), and some say “evangelical” in name only.
- The Silent Majority. As the name proposes, this group is the one that most represented evangelicals. They were apathetic. They neither fought for civil rights, nor did they burn crosses like the KKK. They were silent; yet many times voting against integration, refusing to love their brothers.
It is this group of which Martin Luther King frustratingly wrote, ““We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” Yet history reveals that these evangelicals were surprisingly not silent about evangelism. Unlike many evangelicals today, they fervently embraced witnessing to the lost. Their bold witness was observed in their public evangelistic crusades with Billy Graham as well as their personal evangelism in their cities and towns.
Yet, why did their desire to evangelize not transfer to helping minorities have the same freedoms they themselves enjoyed? Answer: they truncated the gospel. “Truncate” means “to shorten (something) by cutting off the top or the end.” The concept becomes concrete when one thinks of cutting the tip of a beautiful magnolia leaf, leaving behind an awkward-looking vegetative stump. With this in mind the question now is, “How did they truncate the gospel?” By failing to love. When one cares for a person’s soul, yet does not go further and care about a person’s physical needs, it is a truncation of the gospel. The gospel must always have hands and feet (Jam. 2:26)! Mistakenly, they failed to live out the Great Commandment whilst hiding behind the Great Commission. In the next installment I will line out concrete ways whereby evangelicals can “make the best use of our time” (Eph. 5:16) as we seek to live out the gospel in word and deed to the world. As you celebrate the Christmas season, remember your Savior who came into the world to show love to others vastly different than Him.
For God so loved the world…