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Volume takes insightful, objective look at black churches

“The Fight is on in Texas” is more than a well-researched account of African-American Churches of Christ in the Lone Star State. Abilene Christian University professor Edward J. Robinson tells of courageous men of faith who risked their lives to spread the gospel while exerting a significant influence on both black and white congregations.
The title of the book is misleading. Robinson offers a snapshot of the development of African-American congregations nationwide within the Stone-Campbell movement. His focus is on men who migrated to Texas and in the process exported an encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture, gifted oratory and old-fashioned courage to create a fervent legacy embraced by blacks and supported by white brethren.
Robinson tells the stories of evangelists including John T. Ramsey, Marshall Keeble, R.N. Hogan and J.S. Winston. He also discusses unsung heroes who planted works far beyond borders of Texas to bring thousands of lost souls to Christ.
Robinson’s treatment of Jack Evans, president of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas, could be the most read part of the book.
Evans combines passion for Christian education with a righteous rage that welcomes debate and confrontation regardless of whether he confronts leaders in the Church of Christ, the Nation of Islam or the Southern Baptist Convention. Calling Evans a modern day “Young Moses,” Robinson claims the fiery Texan probably has as many critics as admirers.
While Robinson is careful not to challenge Evans directly, he makes the point in the book that a new generation of ministers continues to emerge from Southwestern with new attitudes and goals.
Robinson lays the foundation as to why these Texas men of faith preached a hard-charging gospel that some have called legalistic. Not even Martin Luther King Jr. was spared the verbal wrath of Evans.
Robinson steers clear of explaining why many congregations of the Church of Christ remain either all black or all white. I have heard some say it is a matter of where the churches are located. Others say institutions like Harding University in Arkansas, Lipscomb University in Tennessee and Abilene Christian in Texas have not done enough to attract, retain and groom ministers of color.
Robinson also claims segregated attitudes that persist in some congregations often are simply an extension of their communities. Although Robinson writes extensively about the church during the time of segregation, he gives shallow treatment to the status of the church today in terms of diversity.
While Robinson is proud of his Texas heritage, he is bold enough to offer an honest critique of his spiritual elders.
The author offers many examples of how many people, black and white, admired Marshall Keeble, but in later chapters he points out how Evans has drawn fire from people inside and outside of the church because of his confrontational style.
In an interview last year, Evans talked about the genesis of his confrontational style, saying that the gospel is confrontational. The common thread between Evans and the men who came before him like Marshall Keeble is that they were unapologetic about the gospel and their commitment to preaching it.
Robinson mentions the role that white brethren played in the growth of African-American churches. Men like Jimmy Lowell befriended African-American ministers including R.N. Hogan. Despite the financial support the white brethren extended to their African-American cohorts, Robinson gently points out those ministers still suffered because of the color of their skin. Some had to sleep in the basement of white brethren’s homes.
Some white brethren couldn’t accept interracial marriage. But Robinson also points out that white leaders including David Lipscomb fought against segregation.
In many ways Robinson builds a bridge of understanding between blacks and whites in Churches of Christ.
One cannot underestimate the difficulty of this research because Robinson had to win the trust of individuals who did not know him in order to hear their stories — both white and black. As a journalist I know there often is a culture of distrust for those who come with pen and paper — or a laptop and camera.
Robinson tells the story of a generation of ministers that has made a lasting contribution in the Stone-Campbell movement and offers an insightful and yet objective look at the past. In many ways the book is a reflection of the life of a man who has tried to balance his roots with the realities of today.
Indeed “The Fight is On,” concludes that while many ministers today have not taken up the baton of their predecessors, the legacy of men like Ramsey, Keeble, Winston and Evans will never be forgotten.

HAMIL R. HARRIS, a reporter for the Washington Post , is a deacon at the University Park church in Hyattsville, Md.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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