Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christians and Race, part 2: Christians Must Challenge Racist Attitudes

Christians should be Christ-followers.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? No earth-shaking sentiment there.

In theory, it's simple. In practice, it's the hardest thing you'll ever do - follow Christ, live according to His teachings, live in accordance with His example.

Or, as T. B. Maston liked to say, "walk as Jesus walked." (Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did, 1 John 2:6)

I was recently at lunch with a few friends, all Christians, all white males. At one point, the conversation turned to President Obama's recent State of the Union message to Congress and, in turn, to the state of our nation as those in the group perceived it.

You know, we white Christians in this country like to think that racism is ancient history. We believe we live in a more enlightened age than our parents and grandparents, and that we, in turn, have racial attitudes that are enlightened. Some even go so far as to say that everyone is playing on a level field these days, that laws are no longer needed to enforce equal opportunity. When our African-American and Hispanic friends, among others, assert that they are still discriminated against by our society and our legal system, and that racism is alive and well in America, their concerns are met with denial and even derision by some white Christians.

I'm not used to this stuff, friends. I don't normally hear such attitudes expressed by people I hang out with, and I like to tell myself that such attitudes are ancient history. But they're not. I have to admit I was stunned by his frank reply, "the blacks." And I didn't try to hide my astonishment or my disgust. I practically shouted at him, "where in the world are you getting this stuff?"

His answer? "Why, TV," he replied. He didn't even attempt to cloak his ignorance; he admitted it upfront. "Why, TV," as if he couldn't imagine getting his information anywhere else.

But our friend was just getting started. He later talked about "wetbacks" and the problems, he asserted, that they've caused in our state for decades; as with "the blacks" mentioned earlier, he said that the "wetbacks" were lazy parasites. When a couple of members of our group began talking about the reality that white people are becoming the minority in both Texas and America, our friend said, "yeah, it's frightening."

It's good to have friendly discussions among friends. But this man's statements were not, to my mind, a "friendly discussion." They were racism and bigotry; they were stereotyping, fear, condescension, and even hatred toward others for no other reason than that they are of a different skin color or from another culture.

One or two others in our group also challenged this man's attitudes, though they probably did so in a manner that reflected T. B. Maston better than I did. In part 1 of this post, T. B. Maston and Race Relations, taken from material written by my father, Jase Jones, we find that Maston's responses to expressions of racism and bigotry were "kind and noncondemnatory" toward the person expressing those attitudes and that "he refused to let anyone make him angry."  I wasn't quite so controlled in my response; I replied not just in disagreement but in attack mode. I simply couldn't help myself and probably sounded pretty strident as I responded to this man's comments.

On my way home, I momentarily felt a little guilty, simply because I don't like to hurt people's feelings, I don't like to attack others. But my guilt was only momentary, because I then began to think of my very dear African-American and Hispanic friends, and the aspersions this man had casually - and hatefully - cast onto them. I realized that I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I had let his assertions pass without attacking them with every ounce of my being in the most vigorous way possible.

When a group of white Christian men discuss those who are different - of another race, another culture, or even the opposite gender - we should speak and act as we would if we were joined by those about whom we are speaking, in a way that we would not be ashamed of our words and actions if we were joined by those who are different than us. But, truth be told, all of us Christians could stand some self-examination every so often; we all likely harbor one attitude or another for which we should ask forgiveness.

My only regret is that I wasn't better prepared to ask our friend some key questions that might have helped him to recognize the emptiness of his thinking and the unChristlikeness of his attitudes. That's the way Jesus did it - asked probing questions that caused painful but needed self-examination. I still have a ways to go in learning to be like Jesus.

Ninety years ago, T. B. Maston was speaking out, teaching, and writing to oppose unChristlike racial attitudes and behaviors. Unfortunately, as he himself asserted in the last sentence quoted in my previous post, that work isn't finished. People Jesus loves - the "least of these" - are still oppressed, derided, and marginalized by those who call themselves Christian. If we say we belong to Christ, then we must confront and challenge these oppressive, superior, hateful attitudes wherever we find them, even - or perhaps especially - when we find them in our Christian friends. It's a matter of walking as Jesus walked.

Christians and Race, part 1: T. B. Maston and Race Relations

(This post consists entirely of excerpts from the chapter, "Maston's Contributions to Race Relations," by Jase Jones, in An Approach to Christian Ethics: The Life, Contribution, and Thought of T. B. Maston, William M. Pinson, Jr., Compiler/Contributor, copyright 1979, Broadman Press.)

In 1938 . . . Maston offered a new course, Social Problems of the South, half of which dealt with the race problem. A full course on race, The Church and the Race Problem, began in 1944. In this course, distinguished black leaders addressed the class. The students were taken on a field trip through the Fort Worth black community. . . .

His first published writing on race (pamphlet) bore the title Racial Relations, and was published by Woman's Missionary Union in 1927. Integration, a pamphlet published by the Christian Life Commission (SBC), was first prepared in 1956 at the request of the Advisory Council of Southern Baptists for Work with Negroes to be read at its annual meeting. Another booklet, Interracial Marriage, was published by the Christian Life Commission in 1963. The Brotherhood Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention published The Christian and Race Relations (pamphlet) in the same year.

In 1932, Maston wrote a Training Union monthly program series on the social teachings of the Bible. Race and class was the subject of one month's program. Another Training Union program on race appeared in November, 1941. Maston wrote the Graded Lessons Sunday School for Sixteen Year Pupils in the thirties, with one quarter's lessons on social problems. Another Sunday School lesson in 1943 was entitled "Christianity Crosses Racial Lines." . . .

Of Maston's many books, the following dealt solely with the subject of race: Of One (1946), The Bible and Race (1959), and Segregation and Desegregation (1959). Race was dealt with in parts of six other Maston books. Maston considers Segregation and Desegregation to be his major scholarly work on race. He thinks that The Bible and Race has been his most influential book on race. Woman's Missionary Union chose it as a study book in 1962, and Broadman Press published over 50,000 copies.

The speech which Maston made before the Southern Baptist Convention in Kansas City in 1956 drew more reaction and was probably more influential than any other that he made on the race issue. Carried by the Associated Press, it was widely reported in secular and religious publications. Coming as it did not long after the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, it is of historical significance. . . .

When Dallas, Texas, was ordered to desegregate its school system, the Baptist pastors of Dallas asked Maston to speak to them on the subject, "A Pastor in a Community Facing Desegregation." His speech was reported in word and picture by the secular press, and it caused a reaction next in size to the Kansas City speech.

Maston spoke quite often before interracial meetings of pastors and laymen in a number of states. . . . Frank Leavell, Southern Baptist student work leader, called upon him to speak many times, usually on the race issue. Carson-Newman College in Tennessee invited him to speak on race at its faculty conference. Maston spoke several times at conferences of Southern Baptist workers with Negroes. After he had spoken about love at one of these, a young black worker asked a question that Maston says he has never been able to get away from. "Isn't there a real danger that one may make love a substitute for justice, a mere sentimentality?" Maston answered, "Not genuine Christian love. It is inclusive of justice." . . .

Maston participated in a variety of denominational and community organizations. He was one of the principal founders, along with J. Howard Williams, A. C. Miller, and W. R. White, of the Christian Life Commission of Texas. The race issue has been a major concern of the commission since its founding. . . .

Southwestern Seminary opened its regular classes to blacks in 1951. Maston had urged it for many years. . . .

The Advisory Council of Southern Baptists for Work with Negroes was another organization in which Maston served. He was its first chairman and was reelected chairman several times. The council performed a valuable service for leaders of the Baptist boards and agencies represented on the council by keeping them abreast of the issues, concepts, and developments in the race struggle. Other groups to which Maston belonged were the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the local Urban League (serving on the Executive Committee), and the Southern Regional Council.

The Mastons are members of Gambrell Street Baptist Church, Fort Worth, where Maston is a deacon. A black man once called Maston when the Gambrell Street pastor was out of town and said, "We're looking for a church home, and my pastor suggested I call you." Maston invited him to visit the church that Wednesday night. He met him on the sidewalk and escorted him into the church, where the visitor was warmly welcomed. A fellow deacon later said, "Here's the fellow (Maston) more responsible than anybody else for the church's open-door membership policy." This statement reminds one of a remark made by Theodore F. Adams after Maston's speech in Kansas City: "The progress that we have made among Southern Baptists on this matter of race is due to men like you and O. T. Binkley."

Maston developed strong personal relationships in the black community. He describes the "real kinship of spirit" which exists between himself and J. M. Ellison, longtime chancellor of Virginia Union University and editor of The Religious Herald, and tells of visiting in the Ellison home. Ellison calls Maston his "very real friend." He tells of being a guest at the Maston table, of being an overnight guest in the home, and of sharing "the full meaning of their fellowship and thinking as we had devotional moments together."

The black students of Southwestern Seminary were Maston's friends. One of these, Clarence Lucas, now pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, said, "At a time when I wasn't even allowed to live in dormitories, Maston would come and talk with me. He offered some direction, then let me as a proud human being struggle with it myself . . . I personally prefer this to any paternalism."

Maston has extensive files of correspondence which came as a result of his writing and speaking. . . . He never failed to reply when the person identified himself as a Southern Baptist. A perusal of the files reveals that his answers were polite, factual, kind, and noncondemnatory, even to the most vicious letters. To a young colleague troubled by the ugly letters, Maston said, "If we are right, the Lord and time are on our side."

To those aspiring to be active in the racial struggle, Maston said, "Don't go into this if you have to be accepted by everybody." Colleagues said that two keys to his effectiveness were that he knew when to act and when to wait and that he refused to let anyone make him angry. . . .

Maston says of the future, "Of course, I don't think the race issue is settled by any means. There are plenty of things that still need to be done."