Black History Month

My preferred learning style is reading. I read a lot. I read for fun. I read to learn. I read to be able to teach and lead. As the years have gone by, I have tended to spend a few years diving deeper into a subject.

I have blocked out chunks of 3 to 5 years, and occasionally longer, to get very familiar with a topic.

Several years ago I decided I wanted to learn much more about American presidents, so I started reading biographies of our presidents. I had a major concentration on our founding and framing presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and J.Q. Adams.

I had other favorite presidents including Lincoln, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, and Eisenhower. I have also read about many of the modern presidents.

From presidents ... to history ... to politics and culture ...

As I read the biographies of presidents, I was exposed to much more American history and I realized I needed to know our history much better than I did. So I included reading about American history.

And in particular, American church history.

Because in the founding/framing years and then up to the Civil War, the history of the church in America is intimately intertwined with all our history. You can't really understand early American history if you don't understand American church history.

In addition, I began to study political history much more--politics, social issues, cultural issues, and ethical and theological responses by the church to what was happening in our world.

The most dominant issues discussed in the early years of America...

There were three dominant issues that shaped our founding, framing, and then antebellum (pre-Civil War) history.

ONE: Revolution and freedom to be a new nation.

TWO: The development of our Constitution and shaping of our political system. Now that we are free, how can we remain free and be best governed.

THREE: The issue of slavery and racism.

Every president (including the founding presidents) dealt with race. Every one of the founding presidents was reluctant to deal with it, knowing how divisive it would be. Most of them feared a civil war decades before it actually happened.

There were thousands of sermons preached for and against slavery.

There were endless political debates and futile attempts to deal with the issue of slavery.

There was no single issue that occupied our nation's attention more than slavery, once our Constitution and new government were in place. Every westward expansion raised the question: Will a new state be pro- or anti-slavery?

The books I read are by professional historians and not authors with a political agenda. Many of them are evangelical historians with impeccable credentials. 

While the number of books dealing with race have greatly multiplied in recent years, many of the best books are by historians who were writing years before Black Lives Matter, Critical Race Theory, Antifa, and current events of tragic deaths of black citizens by excessive force occurred.

I also read many books by the leading evangelical Bible scholars, theologians, and ethicists who deal with issues of society and culture, with race being one of them.

In other words, I read books by trusted evangelical sources, who are above all committed to the truth of God, faithful historical scholarship, and then guidance for "what do we do with and about our history and our contemporary experience."

I also read books by secular authors who don't have a commitment to scripture, but to historical integrity.

Oh yes, and I do read books with a decided political agenda(s). I want to learn and hear from a diversity of sources.

We should never be afraid of truth. We should always be concerned with not knowing the truth.

I try to apply the Golden Rule whenever I can.

I don't want someone to dismiss what I believe.
Or avoid having a conversation with me about what I believe just because they don't like what I believe.
Or trying to cancel me because they don't like what I believe.

The Golden Rule reminds me to do unto others what I want done to me.

I think CHRISTIANS should be exemplary on this. We, of all people, should be leading conversations with people with whom we disagree. We should be having conversations of charity, dignity, respect, and a search for common ground.

We should be humble and honest in those conversations.

We should be open to admitting when we are wrong or when we don't have all the truth.

We should be generous and magnanimous if and as we are making headway in exposing wrong beliefs and advancing the ones we think are better.

And we should not be apologetic for well-researched, prayed through conclusions we come to as followers of Christ.

Black History Month. What a great opportunity to be a learner! So what are you going to read?

Here are a few books I highly recommend. Each one has been helpful, challenging, correcting, and inspiring.

Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Lutehr King, Jr. by Stephen Oates, 1982.
This one is an older one. A classic. Thick, but readable.

God and Race in American Politics: A Short History by Mark Noll, 2008.
Mark Noll is the premier leading evangelical church historian. His credentials are impressive and impeccable.

The Color of  Compromise: The Truth About the American Church's Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby, 2019.
Tisby is one of the emerging group of young historian-scholar-pastor-activists of our time. Expect to be challenged, confused, bothered, and enlightened. There is a lot of bad racial stuff the church has done. Because I have read a lot of American church history, there was very little that Tisby describes that I had not already known from other authors (mostly white by the way). But Tisby weaves a tapestry that can overwhelm anyone who is not somewhat familiar with this history.That's okay. Let the story hit you hard.

The only note I'll add is that Tisby's purpose is to describe complicity and failure, which is bad and must be known. There is also another side of courageous biblical belief and action by  other parts of the Christian church to end slavery, racism, Jim Crow, civil rights abuse, and more. Tisby doesn't tell that story as much (again, not the purpose of this book), but there is light as well as darkness.

One part of the story humbles us to repentance.
The other part of the story inspires us to faithfulness to the world God loves.

The ministry of reconciliation and peace-making is inherent in the gospel. We are called to this. As a friend of mine who works in mediation would tell us, mediators work hard to hear all sides from all parties. That is the work of Christian mediators right now that our culture needs.

I'll end with several final open-ended questions that I puzzle over.

Why is this still an issue?
Why have we not made much more progress on this?
Why is the evangelical church of Jesus not doing more to lead the way?
Where do we go from here?

Asking the hard questions along with you,
Pastor Brian Rice