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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.

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