The following is an excerpt from the 8th chapter of James’ book, Intercession – The Power And Passion To Shape History. For more on this subject, please see this scholarly, yet user-friendly book and the accompanying recordings that go with it.
Racism: A Deadly Disease
Racism is probably the most virulent malignancy infecting American society today, with black-white antagonism being its most potent form. From 1619, when the first 20 African slaves were sold in Jamestown, Virginia, until the end of the Civil War nearly 250 years later, the ugly specter of slavery cast a grim shadow over our land. Although President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, the Union victory in 1865, and passage of the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865 secured the physical freedom of the slaves, the “Jim Crow” laws passed and enforced by the white majority effectively kept black Americans bound politically, socially, and economically for another century. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s brought an end to the dominance of “Jim Crow,” but more than 40 years later many of the dreams and goals of African-Americans for complete equality remain dreadfully unfulfilled.
The sin and injustice of white-black racism in general, and slavery in particular, has had devastating effects on both sides. For many blacks it has created a legacy of bitterness, anger, hopelessness, and despair. This is seen most clearly in the cycles of poverty, crime, and broken homes in the inner cities of our major urban areas. Writing from the African-American perspective, pastor and author Michael Goings states:
“We battle an ethnic inferiority complex developed over several hundred years of dehumanizing slavery, subsequent racism, segregation, and discrimination. As a result, most African-Americans face a formidable battle to find equality in their own minds – a fight many lose before they ever reach the marketplace or job site.”
On the other hand, many whites struggle with feelings of guilt, self-inflicted or otherwise. Sometimes it is guilt by association: “I’m guilty because I’m white,” which often leads to attitudes of defensiveness, resentment, and self-protection. In their extreme form, these attitudes are reflected in the vehemence of white supremacist groups and in the rise of white-against-black hate crimes.”
The evil seed of racism bears bitter fruit. As Michael Goings writes, “Racism is the mother of bigotry, discrimination, ‘Jim Crowism’ (discrimination against African Americans by ‘legal’ means or sanctions), Nazism, the ‘white supremacy’ movement, anti-Semitism, apartheid, and the Black Muslim movement. All of these belief systems and ideologies spring from an attitude of superiority over others who are different. . . This same evil and deep-rooted belief is still ingrained in the minds of many whites in America and South Africa, respectively perpetuating discrimination and apartheid in these nations.”
Racism is based on ignorance. Ignorance breeds fear, which gives birth to hatred. All of these – ignorance, fear, and hatred – are contrary to the will and the Spirit of God. I believe that God hates racism in any form. Racism is rooted in degeneracy, pride, superior attitudes, ignorance, and fear. Racism includes “attitudes, beliefs, and false concepts of ethnic superiority,” and has three faces to takes on:
- Hereditary racism.
Racist attitudes passed down from parent to child, from one generation to the next, often in the guise of religious instruction.
- Environmental racism.
Racist attitudes caused by the overpowering influence of one’s environment and association (such as hate groups and racist organizations).
- Reactionary/reverse racism.
Racist attitudes triggered in a suppressed minority by ill treatment and acts of racism inflicted by members of other dominant groups.
The divisiveness and destructiveness of racism in our land should cut to the heart of every sensitive and reasonable American, regardless of race.
Slavery: America’s National Shame
From 1619, when the first slaves stood on the block in Jamestown, Virginia, until 1807, when the United States banned the further importation of slaves, well over three million African men, women, and children were brought to these shores against their will and sold into lives of permanent servitude. Stolen from their homes and families, these captives were crammed aboard ships especially fitted out to transport as many slaves as possible.
Those slaves who lived and stood on the auction block faced a bleak future with little hope. Terrified and unable to speak the language of their captors, they had no rights, no redress under the law, and no one to stand for them. Even family ties meant nothing; countless times families were torn apart as children and even husbands and wives were sold to different owners, never to see each other again. All children born to slaves were automatically considered slaves as well. Unless they escaped, were able to buy their freedom, or were freed by their masters, slaves were in bondage for life. Because they were “property,” slaves could be willed to successive generations of owners.
Slave life was hard, particularly on the southern plantations. The majority of slaves were field hands who labored from sunrise to sunset six days a week and sometimes seven. Punishment for infractions was often harsh and terribly brutal. Runaway slaves who were recaptured usually faced at least a severe whipping. Sometimes they were maimed in a manner that would make it difficult for them to run away again.
Although in the beginning slavery existed in both northern and southern states, strong abolitionist sentiment arose particularly in the North. Even though states north of the Mason-Dixon line gradually abolished slavery, federal laws continued to support the institution until the Civil War. A Fugitive Slave law, passed in 1793, provided for the return of runaway slaves to their owners from any state into which they had fled, even if that state was a free state. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 admitted my native born state of Missouri to the Union as a slave state, Maine as a free state, and outlawed slavery in every state or territory (except Missouri) north of 36 30’ latitude.
As northern states eventually abolished slavery altogether, they also relaxed enforcement of the 1793 Fugitive Slave law. The Underground Railroad also did much to nullify the effects of the law. The Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a slave state and abolished slavery in the District of Columbia. It also strengthened the 1793 Fugitive Slave law by stating that since slaves were officially property and that ownership of property extended across state lines, slave owners were within their rights to cross state lines in order to retrieve their runaway slaves. One consequence of this law was that it became much easier to capture blacks, ex-slaves or not, and ship them south in chains. In this way many “free” blacks were charged with being runaways and taken into bondage. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld this trend in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, ruling that slaves were property, even if they were living in a free state, and that Congress had no authority to forbid slaveholding. The whole slavery issue was decided permanently just a few years later in the fiery cauldron of the Civil War, at the total cost of 562,130 dead and 418,206 wounded.
The Blindness that Existed
Many southern Americans saw slavery not only as acceptable and necessary for their society, but also as an institution established and sanctioned by God. During his inaugural address as provisional President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis said:
“[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God . . . it is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments, from Genesis to Revelation… it has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization, and in nations of the highest proficiency in the arts.”
These quotes are typical of what most southern Americans, including many, many Christians, believed. Yes, often our “cultural lenses” taint how we read God’s instruction manual. Slavery was thoroughly entrenched in Southern society and culture. Hereditary and environmental racist influences blinded them (I must now say us, as I am now a resident of a southern state) to the gross immorality and injustice of slavery as well as to the inconsistency of a pro-slavery stance with the true message of the gospel.
In the years since the end of the Civil War, many segments of the “white” Church in America have perpetuated racial stereotypes and encouraged racial separation, even in church. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said that the most segregated hour in America is 11:00 on Sunday morning. Although much progress has been made, after 40 years Dr. King’s statement is just as true in many ways as when he first made it.
Rough Road to Reconciliation
The road to reconciliation will not, is not, and never has been, an easy one. There is a lot of baggage to deal with on both sides. White American Christians have the legacy of a Church that in many ways and for many years, has been an obstacle standing in the way of blacks, both by supporting slavery and by hindering blacks full spiritual, social, and economic development.
But it’s a two-sided street. Reconciliation is difficult also because of the accumulated hurt and anger among blacks due to generations of bigotry and injustice (not to mention the reactionary guilt and defensiveness of many whites).
Breaking the Bonds of Racism
One key to racial reconciliation is understanding the false premise that lies behind racism: that “races” are genetically distinct and specific and that some “races” are inherently superior to others. This is a complete and total fiction with its roots in a time long before knowledge of modern biology, propped up by generations of people who needed to justify their enslavement and persecution of people who were superficially different from them.
For some reason, skin color has been the defining characteristic in cross-cultural relationships. No personal physical feature, except gender, has made such an impact on the fates of individuals and people groups, yet pigmentation is a relatively superficial thing.
If there is any issue that keeps the American Church from reaching its greatest potential, it is racism. Until we resolve this problem at a heart level, we will not see the fullness of God in our midst and our ministry. As Dawson says, “If racism is the thing more than any other that reveals the spiritual poverty of the American Church, let’s take up this issue as the first order of public confession.” I give a hearty “Amen!”
A New Day Is Dawning
Efforts are underway in many parts of the country. As in Nashville, Tennessee, in many metropolitan cities, the fastest growing and largest congregations are African-American. I believe this is the work of a just God, who knows the pain of years and is returning dignity and honor to these previously enslaved people. Yes, a new day is upon us.
We could tear other pages out of history and consider issues concerning the Chinese, Irish, Polish, Japanese, Hispanic and many other nationalities. But to heal America’s wounds, we must begin at one of our greatest historic sins and stains – the hideous shadow of slavery and its legacy of racial hostility and violence.
An Honest Confession
As a white European descendant Christian, I ask my African-American brothers and sisters to forgive us for denying to you the love of Christ we claimed for ourselves and shared among ourselves. Forgive us for our blindness, our prejudice, and our spiritual arrogance. We confess our contempt of your culture, your identity, and your personhood. Forgive us for so often denying your essential worth in the eyes of God and man. Forgive us, my friends! We need you!
We have sinned, God. Forgive us, Your Caucasian children, for our bigotry and injustice toward our brothers and sisters of African descent – people created in Your image and likeness and precious in Your sight. Cleanse us from our arrogance and for our pride of place, our pride of face, our pride of grace, and our pride of race. Cleanse our hearts of any trace of prejudice and renew a right spirit within us.
May new beginnings emerge out of the ashes of racism. Lord, lead us boldly into reconciliation and unity with all believers, so that we may, as Your Bride, be prepared for Your coming – pure and spotless, holy and innocent, and undivided in our love. I proclaim that the African American community will have a healing movement that will surpass the days of William Seymour and the Azuza Street Revival. May it ever be so!
Praying for the Lord to Heal our Land,
James W. Goll