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Churches of Christ discuss Race Relations at Fall Lectures

By Kathy Barr



“God forbid that churches of Christ and schools operated by Christians shall be the last stronghold of refuge for socially sick people who have Nazi illusions of the Master Race.” Carl Spains, 1960 speech {{more}} at Abilene Christian College’s annual lectureship With these words, Carl Spains challenged the all-white school to set an example and allow African-Americans to join the student body. His speech was one of three events in the history of churches of Christ that had a profound influence on race relations. Next year, African-Americans were admitted to the college . According to Wes Crawford, a speaker at ACU’s first fall lectureship, many whites in the middle of the 20th century saw race relations as a social issue, not one that the church should be concerned about. They felt it was a controversy the church should avoid becoming involved in. Unfortunately, it appears that many still hold that view today in churches of Christ. Unlike several denominations, churches of Christ have actually grown more distant from one another in terms of racial relations since the beginning of the civil rights movement. As a result of this segregation in churches, African-Americans have, for the most part, started their own schools and congregations. In the early 1940’s, there were ten Bible colleges, but none of them would admit African-Americans. One prominent school that opened its doors to prepare black men to work as preachers was the Nashville Christian Institute . Marshall Keeble was president at NCI for many years, and was successful in collecting thousands of dollars from people in white congregations to support the school. He wrote articles for Gospel Advocate to raise money and took NCI students to various congregations so they could show how much they were learning at the institute. Things took a turn for the worst in the mid-1960’s. NCI’s board went from being composed of all African-Americans to having six whites and four African-Americans. By 1967, enrollment was down, its buildings were deteriorating, so NCI closed its doors. Unfortunately, this led to a nasty legal fight that lasted for years because the school was sold and its assets were given to David Lipscomb College, a school comprised mainly of white students. Many African-Americans felt the only reason David Lipscomb integrated was so they could receive federal funding. The Burton-Keeble Scholarship Fund was established at Lipscomb for African-American students, and some took this as an insult, because they felt that Keeble was too involved in the paternalistic white system. Mr. Crawford also pointed out that, in addition to Christian colleges, Christian publications have impacted race relations in churches of Christ. The Christian Chronicle printed several articles in the 1960’s and those who responded to the articles said they were in favor of racial integration in churches. Crawford speculated that perhaps these readers had heard Spain’s speech at ACC and were persuaded that integration was a Godly move. Besides the lectureship at which Spains spoke, other conferences addressed the issue of racial relations. In 1967 and 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia and Nashville, Tennessee, conferences were held and speakers encouraged communication between the races. In 1999, ACU hosted a lectureship for ministers, the “One in Christ Conference” and thirty leaders, both African-American and white, attended. In addition, Royce Money, president of ACU, attended Southwestern Christian College, a black college, in 1999 and apologized for the fact that ACU had been segregated for such a long time. Fortunately, it appears that progress is being made locally in racial relations. There is currently a group called “United in Faith” in Abilene that has been meeting and trying to encourage the formation of multi-racial churches. Jerry Taylor, a member of the group, said that group participants get together to eat, share their hearts with one another and pray together. They are looking for ways to spread this spirit of love in Abilene. More understanding between the two groups is one goal that Taylor wants to see. “Whites need to understand black anger, and blacks need to understand white fear,” he said. Taylor also wants whites to understand how deeply hurt many African-Americans feel. “The wound is still open,” he said. “A whole community has been exploited. If not for the Lord, I would have self-destructed by now. The pain is so deep in my soul that there are no words to describe it.” Jeanene Reese, also a group member, said both races need to be patient with one another and bear each other’s burdens. “Black rage and white apathy is everyone’s problem, because we are brothers and sisters in Christ,” she said. Later in the discussion, she shared advice on how we can improve racial relations. “Envision heaven with many races and begin to live it now,” she said. Editors Note: Jerry Taylor is associate minister at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas. Highland’s 2500 plus membership is predominately white.

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