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Race and Churches of Christ

The race theme continues...There's an interesting opinion piece from The Christian Chronicle by Barclay Key titled "Opinion - When it comes to racial reconciliation, our churches have a long way to go." Some excerpts:

[During the civil rights movement of the sixties] Despite claims of theological purity and uniqueness, churches of Christ were remarkably similar to the surrounding culture in their approach to race relations...Many congregations taught "spiritual equality" on Sundays but practiced inequality the rest of the week. When racial identities were subordinated under the guise of Christian unity, blacks and whites interacted with surprising frequency in the segregated South, based on their self-perception as the "true church" vis-à-vis "the denominations." While other Protestant churches formed what amounted to racially exclusive denominations or administrative districts, churches of Christ did not because they understood themselves as the only authentic expression of Christianity. This perception partly explains why blacks and whites within churches of Christ, even during the Jim Crow era, interacted with some regularity. These interactions, however, were in no way an expression of racial equality or even unity, since churches practiced and even taught racial segregation. A few instances demonstrate a level of association that was uncharacteristic of that era. For example, black preacher Marshall Keeble sometimes baptized whites, even though riots resulted from "mixed swimming" in some parts of the country. The confluence of ecclesiology and race relations raises significant questions about common conceptions of sin and salvation in churches of Christ. Many Christians have chosen to think that keeping women out of pulpits and pianos out of church buildings are more important than how we treat people. Replicating these "marks of the New Testament church" has taken precedence over those issues often labeled "not a matter of salvation," including our treatment of, associations with and thoughts about people who are "different" from us. As a fellowship, we have taught that having women preach or using a piano in worship might jeopardize one's eternal salvation, while racism has been relegated to the realm of custom or personal opinion, as if racial reconciliation were optional. While some positive changes have occurred since this era, in a collective sense, churches of Christ have failed to recognize and repent of their past racial sins. Rather than actively and consistently pursue racial reconciliation over the past 40 years, churches of Christ have mostly acted as if legal reforms absolved Christians of any responsibility in facilitating interracial dialogue, understanding and community. In many places today, we have reached a standstill. Our leaders have not developed the necessary fortitude to preach racial inclusion and make it happen. We have chosen to ignore rather than to discuss and resolve the sources of distrust among blacks and whites within our fellowship. Instead of seeking and maintaining meaningful, cross-cultural relationships, we find it more convenient just to affirm "unity." We have discovered that excuses - "they don't want to worship like we do" - are easier than working to make Christian unity a lived reality. Pursuing racial reconciliation invites controversy. It requires sacrifices of will, control and power. Yet sacrifices are necessary if churches of Christ are to be credible. Young people are increasingly perplexed by the racism of their parents and grandparents. Concerns about interracial marriage, for example, that often characterize older Christians, both black and white, seem irrelevant to youths who have interacted with people of other races for all of their lives. Racist stereotypes gain little traction with students who learn in biology and anthropology classes that concepts of "race" have no scientific justification. Historically, churches of Christ have reflected, rather than molded, the racial mores of the surrounding culture. Now, if churches wish to be respected and valued in the 21st century, they must actively include "every nation" as the gospel has always demanded.

100 Years Later

100 years after the division between a cappella churches of Christ and instrumental Christian Churches, several events in 2006 are highlighting what those two groups have in common. From an article by Bobby Ross Jr. in The Christian Chronicle:

To mark the centennial, the Abilene Christian University Lectureship in Texas and the Tulsa International Soul-Winning Workshop in Oklahoma both plan tag-team keynote addresses featuring university presidents or ministers from both groups. In addition, about 40 ministers from a cappella churches of Christ will speak at the largest annual gathering of instrumental Christian Churches - the North American Christian Convention in Louisville, Ky. The ministers of the largest congregations in each fellowship - Rick Atchley of Richland Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, and Bob Russell of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville - will appear at all three events. "We're not soft-pedaling the differences. We think they're real and significant," said Mark Love, director of the ACU Lectureship, set for Feb. 19-22. "But they shouldn't stop us from loving each other and talking together and celebrating the things we do agree on." Both fellowships grew out of the Restoration Movement of the 1800s. Disagreements over instruments in worship, missionary societies and what it means when the Bible is silent on an issue caused a split shortly after the Civil War, according to historians. But until 1906, religious almanacs included both groups under one heading: "Christian Churches." That changed when the editors of the Gospel Advocate, unofficially representing the a cappella churches, and the Christian Standard, on behalf of the instrumental churches, asked for separate census figures. In the 1920s, a separate split occurred among the instrumental Christian Churches over issues such as open membership, the ecumenical movement, liberal theology and denominational hierarchy. The people in favor of those changes formed a third group: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has about 770,000 members in the U.S. Knowles, who has organized unity forums for more than 20 years, said the two groups share "the same spiritual DNA." "In the essentials, we are one. In non-essentials, we need to allow liberty," Knowles said. "In all things, we need to have more love." Both groups believe in the inspiration of Scriptures, elder-led congregations and world evangelism, church leaders say. But Jack Evans Sr., president of church of Christ-affiliated Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, said he sees the unity events as "just another ploy of Satan to help change the total identity of the New Testament church." "As it proceeds, I see a complete abandonment by some churches of Christ of the basic principles of the New Testament within the next few years," Evans said. On the other hand, some a cappella church leaders who view instrumental music as doctrinally wrong say they nonetheless consider instrumental church members "their brethren." Flavil Yeakley, director of the Harding Center for Church Growth in Searcy, Ark., said he would not teach that an instrumental church member coming to an a cappella church would need to be re-baptized. "However, I could not in good conscience be a part of a congregation that used instrumental music in the worship assembly," Yeakley said. "I believe that the instrumental brethren are "brethren-in-error" - but brethren-in-error are the only kind of brethren we have."


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