Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Greensboro, the Gospel, and the International Civil Rights Center

As those of you who live in the Greensboro area know, the International Civil Rights Center was to finally open this weekend, after a long time of planning, and following no small measure of controversy. My knowledge of what has been going on the past couple of years with regard to the Center has been limited. And I have made no attempts to follow the controversy, though, working with the public as I do, I can hardly avoid hearing a little bit about it. The opening of the Center was to be celebrated by a number of events, which were to be attended by a handful of African-American celebrities. I expect, however, that since Greensboro has been hit with a fairly heavy snow storm this weekend, not all the events have gone on as scheduled. It's rather strange for us to get this much snow, and disappointing for the event organizers, I don't doubt.

Greensboro was a fairly important player in the civil rights movement in the sixties. Those not familiar with the history can read about it here:

Growing up here as I did, I learned about the civil rights movement through history class in grade school. And living here most of my life since, I've also learned that not everyone was happy about it then, and many still aren't. It seems pretty clear that Greensboro is still an area of great racial tension. I follow Greensboro politics little (as I actually don't live in the city, but just outside), but enough to notice how this tension has manifested itself in the past few elections, as well as in the meetings of the city council.

The most familiar event, and most celebrated, of the civil rights movement, was the famous sit-ins at the Woolworth lunch counter in 1960. What is lesser known - entirely unknown to me, until a few years ago - is the street demonstrations of 1963. In some sense, it was actually the events of '63 that made it possible for African-Americans to begin to participate in all the aspects of society that White citizens had access to. Here is a good intro to those events:

I first learned of the demonstrations of 1963 through a class on Southern History after the Civil War that I took at UNCG a few years back. We were required to do an oral presentation on one of a handful of topics relating to the civil rights movement in Greensboro, and I chose the events of '63 at random. This led to my finding my way into a largely neglected (but very nice, I might note) part of the UNCG library where microfilm of Greensboro's newspapers - formerly the Greensboro News (sold in the morning) and the Greensboro Record (sold in the afternoon) - were kept stored.

What was especially interesting for me as I searched through several days of newspaper was coming across something I didn't expect. I ran upon a response to the demonstrations, published around the beginning of June '63 in one of the Greensboro papers (I failed to make a note of which one, sadly), and written by a handful of local Christian men, who were more than likely all ministers. (I say more than likely because I am only familiar with two of the names - H. G. Mackay and Roy Putnam, both of whom were ministers in the area: Forest Avenue Tabernacle - now Shannon Hills Bible Chapel - and Trinity Church, respectively. Though I would assume that the other men were ministers as well, I can't say for sure.)

Their response took the form of a doctrinal statement, and is worth the reading, especially for those who are from or live in Greensboro. You will find it posted below. While I might differ with a minor point here or there, I would agree with it, and that almost wholeheartedly. It articulates something that desperately needs to be considered again in Greensboro today and which, I suspect, rarely is by those who regularly seek to take the reigns of power in Greensboro. You can fight for your rights and for the rights of others all you want. But if the Gospel is left out, your warring will be disastrous, for yourself as well as for others. The civil rights movement has usually been accompanied by a pseudo-Christian belief and church life that affirms a "Social Gospel", which is no Gospel at all. I'm in favor of honoring one's heritage, and the liberation that God has given the African-American community is something to praise Him for. But if the worship of Christ and the preaching of the True Gospel are to be replaced by the worship of one's own racial cause, then that is idolatry, something God doesn't take lightly. And ultimately, the Gospel entails the tearing down of racial divisions, not the establishing of them. Hopefully, the International Civil Rights Center won't just be another Tower of Babel. Considering Greensboro's recent history, I can't say I'm particularly encouraged that that will be the case.


A Statement of Evangelical Concern

We, the undersigned, as individual believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, desire, in view of the racial tensions now distressing our city and nation, to set forth the following statement of evangelical concern:

1. Our only recourse in this or any problem is to the God of the Bible and the Lord of History. Because He is the One with Whom we have to do, we "cease from man" and every human solution. We also bow to the truth that "God is no respecter of persons." He plays no racial favorites, but all men are accountable to Him, their Creator and Judge, on the basis of their common humanity. (Ps. 60:11, Jer. 3:23, Acts 10:34, Rom. 14:14.)

2. The humanity which men share, however, has been deeply dyed by sin with the result that they are estranged both from God and from each other. No longer do they view their fellows, as God does, without partiality. Rather do their sinful natures express themselves by an inborn pride which glories, among other things, in racial distinctions. (Rom. 3:23, Is. 59:2, Luke 18:11, John 4:9.)

3. We must acknowledge that the current unrest had its origin in the sin of our forefathers, North and South, who for their own selfish ends brought an unwilling people to these shores. Furthermore, we admit that we too bear a measure of blame, for we have been reluctant to face the spiritual implications of the gulf existing between the races.

4. Because we know our own hearts and because we believe God's Word, we can see no permanent solution arising out of man's efforts to right wrongs and conciliate grievances. Human attempts to bring the races together in Northern cities have only compounded the problem. There racial pride has been driven underground - by legislation, executive order and judicial decision - only to reappear in subtler forms and uglier guises. (Job 14:4, Matt. 12:43-45, John 15:5, II Cor. 3:5)

5. We submit that the only Scriptural hope for any lasting reconciliation between men is to be found, not in one race demanding justice from another race, but in individuals of both races humbling themselves as sinners and claiming the grace of God in Christ. In that act they will experience what Christ described as a Second Birth, with the changing of heart attitudes and the redirecting of personal motives. We do not claim that the new Birth will automatically resolve all tensions but that it alone opens up the possibility of a true solution. (John 3:3, II Cor. 5:17, Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11)

6. In support of this claim we point to the decisive results of the Great Evangelical Awakening which came to England two centuries ago. When that nation was poised on the precipice of a bloody social revolution, hundreds of thousands in all classes experienced the New Birth. As a direct consequence the whole atmosphere of English life was improved and the needed reforms peacefully introduced. Nor was it a coincidence that the Emancipation of the slaves, first in the British Empire and then in the United States, owed its inspiration to William Wilberforce, a product of the Awakening.

7. It is our deep conviction that the living God is speaking to Greensboro through its present troubles. He it is Who, more that any racial group, is shaking the foundations and calling the citizens of this city to repentence and saving faith in His eternal Son. Increasingly the message of a Savior slain and risen has been “despised and rejected” by both Negroes and Whites in favor of manmade programs of social betterment. Now, with these failing, God would summon us back to the redeeming Cross around which men of both races can stand together on level ground. (Acts 20:21: I Cor. 1:23,24; Eph. 2:13, 14.)

A. L. Parker
Roy C. Putnam
Frederick W. Evans, Jr.
H. G. Mackay
James A. Raines
R. Harold Mangham
Russ A. Heyne
Edwin L. Smithwick.


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11:59 AM  

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