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.