By Jerry Harris
Last year at the North American Christian Convention, David Johnson of Harvest Point Church in North Charleston, South Carolina, stopped by the Christian Standard Media booth to talk. When I mentioned that I had been reading about Marshall Keeble, David just lit up. He began to share things he’d learned about Keeble’s methods of establishing churches and raising up leaders for them. He mentioned names of some other folks and asked if I’d heard or read about them. It was my favorite part of the convention, and it energized me for writing the article about Keeble this month.
Marshall Keeble (1878–1968), an African-American preacher in the churches of Christ, invested in several young men, one of whom was Fred Gray. Gray studied for the ministry but shifted his focus to law and the battle over civil rights. He represented Dr. Martin Luther King, Claudette Colvin, and Rosa Parks, among others; he fought tirelessly in the courtroom and won battles to help end racial segregation. His accomplishments for the civil rights movement are astonishing. Gray was nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama by President Carter in 1980 (Gray later asked that his nomination be withdrawn), served as president of the National Bar Association in 1985, and in 2001 was the first African-American elected president of the Alabama State Bar. He was depicted by Cuba Gooding Jr. in the 2014 film Selma. In all of that, Gray, now 87, has stayed grounded in his relationship to Jesus Christ, his family, and the church of Christ, often preaching as an elder in his home church. He was instrumental in merging black and white churches of Christ into one church in Tuskegee, Alabama.
The mission of Christian Standard Media is “to leverage the power that comes from our unity,” and that begins in the household of faith. These important figures and their stories inspire all of us to greater things, but if we don’t know about them, how can we embrace them? When I learned about these two men, I became a better believer and a better leader. As publisher, I had the opportunity to read this issue’s articles in advance, and both Victor Knowles and Alan Stein’s essays are crucial to our ability to honor the Lord.
What could happen if these streams—the independent Christian church, the churches of Christ, and the African-American churches of Christ—flowed together into a single river? It would be deep enough for baptisms (like the Jordan), wide enough to hold the blessings God has prepared for all of his people, and powerful enough to capture untold more for a heavenly eternity in its overpowering flow.
Jerry Harris is publisher of Christian Standard Media and senior pastor of The Crossing, a multisite church located in three states across the Midwest.