I grew up attending one of the Black non-instrumental Churches of Christ in
Dallas, Texas. It belongs to a family of churches which developed during the
post-slavery period, when Blacks began forming their own congregations in
response to ongoing racial discrimination. Many of the white Christians had
previously been slaveowners and had fought against the abolition of slavery,
so when the slaves were freed after the Civil War, most Black Christians either
insisted on worshiping separately from whites or were forced to do so.
History reveals that virtually every major Protestant denomination in America
experienced a post-Civil War division between its Black and white members.
This situation was made worse by the fact that white Christians were among
the biggest proponents of segregation, and many were members of the Ku
Klux Klan who embraced white supremacist ideologies. Throughout the
decades-long fight for racial equality, Black Christians found that some of their
staunchest opponents were white Christians who used the Scriptures to
defend the notion that Blacks were inferior and that segregation was “God’s
plan.” One could argue that the evolution of the Black church as a distinct
phenomenon in American culture is largely the result of generations of racial
animosity between Black and white Christians.
Recent events have shown us that the church in America remains, to a large
extent, divided over issues of race. The Black Lives Matter movement is
generating a different set of responses between Black Christians who are
standing with the protesters and white Christians who either actively oppose
the movement or just wish it would all “go away.” Unless we believers are
willing to listen to each other with a spirit of love and humility, we run the risk
of perpetuating the racial divisions which have historically plagued the church.
I believe that unity is possible—that it is God’s desire for his people—but it will
take work. Besides listening to each other, we must learn our history and
understand how present circumstances have been shaped by it. We must
examine our own biases and prejudices. And we must invite the Spirit to guide
us to places where we can be agents of healing and reconciliation. Let each of
us be willing to do these things for the sake of unity within God’s kingdom.