Fifty years after historic meeting, race still divides Churches of Christ
In the summer of tumultuous 1968, more than 40 prominent…
ATLANTA, Ga. — A black man charged, “You want me to lift myself by my own bootstraps, but you are standing on my boots.”
A white man admitted, “I have had to defend the fact that a Negro has a soul.”
These were only part of the many awakening statements made in a bi-racial conference on improving race relations in churches of Christ, conducted in this heart-of-Dixie city.
The conference, held at the Hilton Hotel in nearby Hapeville, was organized by three ministers to “be instrumental in creating a dialogue between both races, leading to one brotherhood in Christ.”
Evangelists Jimmy Allen, Eugene Lawton and R.C. Wells planned the two-day meeting attended by 37 ministers, publishers, businessmen, elders and college officials from both the white and Negro races.
The forum, which began at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, consisted of several speakers plus periods of time allotted for audience discussion.
Lawton, chairman of the Tuesday morning session, stated that the conference was defined as a “gathering together” rather than a “binding on.”
In opening the forum, Lawton, a Newark, N.J., minister, made a plea for unity, calling for a “closer relationship between white and black churches.”
“A segregated church cannot survive in a multi-racial world.”
The first speaker of the day was A.J. Hairston, from Atlanta, who spoke on “Spiritual Equality in Christ.” Hairston gave three steps to spiritual equality. He said that there is a need to believe in one church, to regard racial segregation as sin and to realize that man is a whole being.
Speaking on “The Sin of Racial Discrimination,” Carl Spain, a faculty member at Abilene Christian College said, “We were taught wrong.” Racial discrimination “is evil.” Spain called for a “re-education of us all.”
Related: Two legacies, 50 years later
He continued, “Our basic sin is lying in the handling of the Bible. We have mishandled the word of God. God speaks and we do not hear.”
In giving examples of racial discrimination, it was Spain who recalled having to defend that a Negro has a sou. He concluded that the Bible does not separate men because of race, only because of religious abominations.
Lawton then spoke on the same subject, saying that the “problem of race in the United States is the greatest moral problem.”
“Why can we talk about mixed bathing, election of Catholic presidents, gambling, whiskey and not speak out on the number one problem, racial discrimination?” he asked.
Lawton read a definition of racial discrimination from a dictionary as being “a denial of the rights of a man.” He added, “I’ll tell you what it really is.” He then made a contrast between two sides of a town involving streets, houses, Christian colleges, worship services and hotel facilities.
The Negro minister warned that the church of Christ is “Sitting on a powder keg and the countdown is nearly to zero.”
Lawton, speaking several times during the meeting, made a plea for unity. “1 Thess. 4 says that we are all to be caught up together; if we’re to be caught up together, we must first get together.
“White Christians need black Christians and black Christians need white Christians.”
Speaking of changes in the races and in the church of Christ, Lawton added, “Uncle Toms are laughing when they are not tickled and are scratching when they do not itch.”
However, he stated, “The Negro church is learning. The Negro church is learning that [the Negro] must be a man and stand on his own feet, no longer accepting buildings white brethren are vacating.”
Related: No more ‘us and them’
In speaking of the results of racial discrimination, Lawton stated that many young people are leaving the church because of problems of racial discrimination in the church.
David Jones, minister for the all-Negro Shraeder (sic) Lane Church of Christ in Nashville, Tenn., lashed out at Christian colleges.
“Our schools were the last to integrate,” he said.
“I charge church of Christ publications with exploitation,” stated R.C. Wells, one of the planners of the meeting, speaking on “Improving Race Relations through Journalism.”
Wells added that the white press is not concerned with the black church. “The black brother is interested in being read as well as reading.”
Pepperdine College’s Jennings Davis Jr., speaking along with Jones on the improvement of race relations in the Christian college, said, “The black students must be heard. They must speak out. We must listen.
“The Christian colleges should be an example on integration.”
Related: Black, white and Gray
Leaving his assigned topic, Davis inserted, “The face we have to deal with is how the black brother feels. You can destroy a man with one word — ‘nigger.’ ”
Jim Bill McInteer, a Nashville minister, also spoke on “Improving Race Relations through Journalism.”
Dr. Clifton L. Ganus Jr., president of Harding College, spoke to the group on the topic, “Jesus Speaks on Race Relations.” Ganus stated that, “Jesus was not a rioter, but he wanted to change hearts.
“Jesus did not look through colored glasses but saw every man in the light of God’s creation.”
Allen, Harding faculty member and one of the organizers of the conference, revealed, “I’d always thought Adam was a white man, until I was past 30. Then it dawned on me that he might have been a black man.”
Speaking on “Uniting the Brotherhood,” Allen confirmed that “our brotherhood is divided.” He gave several reasons why unity is possible.
Allen pointed out that he early church had unity; unity is a commandment of the Lord; Jesus prayed for unity; and unity is wanted badly by black and white.
Allen said that racial unity was not possible on the basis of politics, on the basis of a prominent figure, but rather was possible through “the Bible and the Bible alone.”
Stating that “the gospel has the power to destroy racism, (sic) Allen recalled working with a church in Arkansas where a group of singers from all-Negro Southwestern Christian College appeared. In Sunday morning worship services, “they sat at the front. An elder’s wife saw the whites and blacks sitting together and would not come in.”
Allen, who finished a campaign meeting in Denver, Colo., the Sunday before the conference, listed 16 ways to practice unity.
Related: ‘Worship is our protest’
Among these was a suggestion to be led by the Spirit. Allen said that “Brotherhood is a fruit of the Spirit.” Other suggestions included a plea to open the doors of Christian colleges and church-related journals to Negroes. He also suggested that Negro evangelists be used on the “Herald of Truth,” a church of Christ-sponsored radio program.
Allen also proposed that Negroes and whites “get together socially.”
Talking on segregation, Negro minister R.N. Hogan from Los Angeles, stated, “There is not such thing as a “colored church of Christ. This is division, and division is sinful.”
Humphrey Foutz, Baltimore, Md., pointed out that “Where the church is the strongest is usually where racism is the strongest.” It was Foutz who made the statement, “You want me to lift myself up by my boostraps, but you’re standing on my boots.”
Foutz charged that “a book published by a member of the church of Christ accusing Mr. [Martin Luther] King of being a communist could have contributed to his assassination.”
Landon Saunders from Corning, Ark., and G.P. Holt from Indianapolis, Ind., both spoke on “Improving of Race Relations in the Local Church.”
Saunders stated, “The cross of Calvary was to destroy all walls, yet we have erected walls, wals of black and white, rich and poor, culturally advantaged and culturally disadvantaged.
“We are not to decide what is right and wrong; it has already been decided and signed in blood. Our motivation must not come from the community; it must come from God. Our responsibility is to bring peace and joy as did King Jesus.”
Holt said that many elders and preaches “conscientiously believe segregation is right.” He called for a re-study of the Bible. “Hears must be changed through teaching God’s Word.”
Holt said, “Racism starts in the home, and the end to racism starts in the home.”
The conference was dismissed late Wednesday afternoon.
Friday, July 12, 1968 – Page 4, The Christian Chronicle
ATLANTA, Ga. — A group of black and white members of the churches of Christ meeting here June 25 and 26 drew up a list of recommendations designed to improve race relations in the churches of Christ.
The group made recommendations regarding local church institutions, the “Herald of Truth,” publishing companies and Christian bookstores, Christian-owned businesses and all Christians.
Several proposals were made regarding local church activities.
“Herald of Truth”
Three proposals were directed at the “Herald of Truth” radio and television programs sponsored by the churches of Christ.
Publishing companies and bookstores received the following recommendations.
Christian-owned businesses received the following admonitions.
Finally, the convention’s list of proposals turned to “all Christians.”
The conference was held at the Hilton Inn in Hapeville, Ga., near Atlanta.
Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.
Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.