By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist
Accounts of the night tell a harrowing story. Thousands of rioters gathered in the streets. Some fired guns into homes. The mob turned over a car, then began throwing rocks, bricks and Molotov cocktails. Law enforcement officers struggled to control the protesters, eventually firing tear gas into the crowd.
We saw such rioting in the days following George Floyd’s death in May. But the events described here did not happen in 2020.
The rioters that night — May 21, 1961 — were white residents of Montgomery. The targets of their anger: the Freedom Riders and their challenge of segregated interstate public transportation.
Nearly three decades have passed since the Freedom Riders made their stand, but issues of violence against African Americans and racial inequity in communities, commerce and the American justice system continue to be part of the national conversation.
If you’re like me, you may feel ill-equipped to engage in difficult conversations about race and the Church. My first step was to seek out authors who have written about the Church’s complex history on race, those who have firsthand experience and insight into not only the problems of the past but solutions for the future. Here are some I’ve found helpful.
Oneness Embraced: Reconciliation, the Kingdom, and How We Are Stronger Together
Respected as a pastor and Bible teacher, Tony Evans draws large, often predominantly white crowds to his “Kingdom Man” events. But as a black man who came of age during the Civil Rights Movement, Evans understands the frustrations of the current generation of African Americans. In “Oneness Embraced,” Evans calls on the Church, white and black Christians alike, to “execute a Kingdom-based theology on both righteousness and justice” (Ps. 89:14). Calling America’s racial divide a “disease” whose only cure is a “prescription from the Creator,” Evans contends that “if the church can ever get this issue of oneness right, then we can help America to finally become the ‘one nation under God’ that we declare ourselves to be.”
When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus
NewSouth Classics, 2014
A former pastor in Montgomery, Cross examines the cultural beginnings of the “Southern way of life,” an attitude threatened by the Civil Rights Movement’s focus on racial equality. His retelling of the Freedom Riders’ arrival in Montgomery prefaces an in-depth look at how easily the gospel message can get warped when family, community and economic commitments become believers’ primary focus.
One Blood: Parting Words to the Church on Race
John M. Perkins
In his 90 years of life, Perkins — a minister, civil rights activist and author — has witnessed the history of America and the church. “One Blood” looks at biblical reconciliation, which he defines as the removal of tension between parties and the restoration of loving relationship, past and future. The future is critical, he emphasizes. “We have only to look at the signs of the times to realize that the Church may not have long to get this right. We may not have much time left to offer the world a glimpse of this unity that will point the eyes of the watching world to the power of our great God. … Time is running out, for all of us,” Perkins writes.
Same Kind of Different as Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman Who Bound Them Together
Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Thomas Nelson, 2006
Told through the eyes of Ron Hall, a wealthy Texan whose wife, Debbie, is dying of cancer, and Denver Moore, a homeless black man Debbie wants to help, “Same Kind of Different as Me” is a moving story of how serving the marginalized in Christ’s name can lead to greater understanding and greater love. The authors also wrote a sequel, “What Difference Do It Make?: Stories of Hope and Healing,” and Hall wrote a third book after Moore’s death, “Workin’ Our Way Home: The Incredible True Story of a Homeless Ex-Con and a Grieving Millionaire Thrown Together to Save Each Other.”
United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity
Trillia J. Newbell
Sharing experiences from her own life and encouraging readers to get past the fear of talking about race, Newbell — director of community outreach for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission — explores a Revelation 7:9 vision for Christ’s church on Earth. “Racial reconciliation, harmony and diversity aren’t out of the reach of God,” she writes. The starting point is finding identity in Christ and truly recognizing that “every person, all ethnicities, are made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).”
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Random House, 2014
Stevenson, founder of Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, has dedicated his life to aiding individuals unjustly sentenced to death or life in prison. In “Just Mercy” Stevenson tells the story of a black Alabama man sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit and other stories that illustrate equity concerns in the American justice system. In a 2019 interview with The Christian Post, Stevenson talked about how Scripture, particularly Micah 6:8, has guided his work. “It’s easy to look away, but if we want mercy, we have to be willing to give mercy and you don’t give it to just people who you think deserve it. You have to give it to the undeserving,” he said.
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