Monday, June 15, 2009

Racism and the Power of the Gospel

As a denomination, Southern Baptists haven’t always been at their best in the area of race relations. Southern Baptists were born out of the slavery controversy in the years leading up to the Civil War, and many preachers used biblical texts to justify the continuation of the South’s “peculiar institution.” Even after freedom for African Americans was declared, the general population’s prejudice continued to display itself.

I read recently an article about the first African American graduate of West Point Academy. Henry Ossian Flipper, born in 1856 as a slave in Thomasville, GA, became the first African American to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy on June 15, 1877. Flipper was appointed a second lieutenant in the all-African American 10th Cavalry and was assigned to Fort Sill in what was then Indian Territory. The amazing thing about the article was its report that not one white cadet ever spoke to Flipper in his entire four-year period of study at West Point. That someone would treat a fellow soldier and fellow human being with such disdain and contempt boggles the imagination.

Racial prejudice and hatred can be deep-seated, but the power of the gospel is capable of radically transforming the human heart and bringing love and acceptance where these destructive emotions once reigned. Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus about Jesus being our peace and abolishing in His flesh the hatred between Jew and Gentile surely apply equally to the lingering expressions of racism and prejudice in our day as well (Eph. 2:14-16). Paul says that both groups have been reconciled in one body (the church) to God through the cross. No wonder Paul’s message was Jesus and Him crucified. May that be our theme as well.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Responding to change

Sociologists have studied the differences in the rates at which groups of people respond to new information and ideas and have devised classification schemes based to describe this behavior. One such scheme speaks of innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards—with the innovators being the quickest to accept change and the laggards being the last to respond. I thought about that when I ran across a reference to the fact that this past weekend marked the 74th anniversary of the first night game in Major League Baseball history. The Cincinnati Reds played the Philadelphia Phillies on May 24, 1935 under the lights at Crosley Field. Other teams rapidly followed suit and night games became the norm rather than the exception. The last holdout to this trend was the Chicago Cubs. They didn’t play their first night game at Wrigley Field until Aug. 9, 1988, 53 years after the first MLB night game.

Laggards tend to be so tradition-bound that when they finally accept a new behavior or idea, it may well have been rendered obsolete by the innovators who have pushed on to newer frontiers. While we serve a risen Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and while the truths of the Gospel are unchanging, our methodologies and programs must be flexible and adaptive to respond to the ever-changing world in which we live. Time-honored traditions enrich our heritage, but if we’re not careful they can become prisons that entrap us in the past. Let’s not lag behind to the point that we’re left out in the dark.