If everyone is created equal in the eyes of God, why doesn’t it feel that way? The truth is, we do not look at our brothers and sisters the way God intended. We are corrupted by sin and too often care about the opinions of others more than God. We lean toward what’s popular instead of what’s right. Sadly, many Christians have stood on the wrong side of history. I found this to be true of one of the Restoration Movement’s founding fathers while reading The Stone-Campbell Movement by Leroy Garrett
A couple of decades after the Restoration Movement took off, Alexander Campbell was presiding over Bethany College, part of Virginia at the time. Around the year 1855, the college’s student body of 130 had only 30 students from the North, known as Free States. Although “sectional controversies” were to be avoided, students frequently found themselves debating slavery.
One Sunday evening at a local church, a Canadian ministerial student preached against slavery. The congregation responded to his sermon with “hisses and shuffling of feet.” Between 20 and 30 people caused a scene as they left. Campbell took offense to the ministerial student’s message; he said it was “unjustifiable and rude.” When I read this, I felt a deep pain for my brothers and sisters in Christ who were slaves. I was disgusted, disgruntled, and most of all, I was hurt.
However, the “whats” of stories only give us a glimpse of a deeper meaning. I like to think of “whats” as actors and actresses on stage saying their lines, hitting their marks, and entertaining the audience. The “whys” though, are the circumstances and motivations needed for an accurate and full understanding of the story. Campbell was boldly antislavery, but he thought there was a way to combat it while maintaining unity. Was he right? I believe he was a person of his time, but we all must struggle to prayerfully work with the Holy Spirit to see as God does, not as our culture sees.
Fast-forward to the present. Racial tension is one of many things that divides our country. Let me be clear: There is no place for racism in Christianity, and in these times, we must unambiguously explain why this is true.
1. We Cannot Assume to Understand All Details Merely by What We Know
While I admire Alexander Campbell, and I am grateful for what he did, in this particular area, I wish he had done more. I wish he had defended those with no voice. I wish Campbell had boldly proclaimed his antislavery beliefs instead of suppressing them in an effort to maintain a level of unity. But I know there is more to the story than the short passage I read. For example, I am aware of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and the abuse of that law. Perhaps Campbell thought he was protecting people whom others tried to use. He knew all men were created in the image of God. Ultimately, I wish things had been different.
2. We Must Remember What God Said about Race
What does the Bible say about race? While the word race isn’t used in the Bible—in fact the term was not used to describe physical differences until the late 18th century—we know that “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35, English Standard Version).
3. We Must Be Bold, Even When It’s Uncomfortable, and Show Grace Even If It Goes Against What We “Feel Like” Doing
When the opportunity presents itself, we must be comfortable with getting uncomfortable. I know few people who like confrontation, but with issues such as race, a graceful boldness is necessary. As Paul wrote,
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:14-15).
We are representatives of God. Let’s take the necessary steps to ensure we are mirroring who he really is and not who we think he should be. The best way to know God is by studying his Word and being obedient to what it says. That is my prayer as I try to navigate these overwhelming waves by listening to the God who walks on them. God loves us. All of us—no strings attached!