This article originally appeared in the March 20, 1964 issue of The Covenant Companion. We are republishing it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Considering man’s long history of racial intolerance, is it possible that we can ever bridge the barrier of race?
Positively, we can say that gigantic efforts of historic significance are being made in our modern era. Negatively, we must observe that all too often these “bridges” are being built by men and forces outside the church of our heritage.
The first thing we have to do is confront the question honestly. Do we care about the barrier of race? If we do care, are we helping maintain the barrier, or are we doing our Christian best to bridge this barrier that separates us from our fellow men? It is a man-made barrier, you know. Whether or not we can ever bridge the barrier depends very much upon our attitudes.
It is often pointed out that the Christian missionary effort is one of the contributing factors in the world social revolution of our day. It is also an irony of history that we white, Protestant Americans are not easily adjusting to these rapid social changes which in part we have financed.
Let me illustrate. A Negress sits next to a white man. Ahead of them a mestizo (of Spanish-Indian mixture) bows his head in prayer as the pastor, a descendant of the blending of Indians and Negroes, recites the words of the Holy Supper. Somewhere in the congregation a teen-ager of Chinese and Ecuadorian parentage exchanges a smile with his companion, a missionary child. This is the Quito Covenant Church at worship.
Again, the poor Indian of the farmlands of Ecuador is considered to be the most miserable of creatures. When we opened our high school in Quito to qualified Indian children, some children from better families abandoned us. But the great majority stayed on and are really trying to give the Indians a chance.
The best demonstration of Christian love came when Sammy, the Auca boy from a stone-age tribe in the Amazonian jungles, came to our school. He had to learn Spanish in order to do the school work. A member of our north side church took him in as a boarder and allowed him to live with her own sons! This simply is not done outside evangelical circles.
We truly have an international, inter-racial Covenant church in Ecuador. But are we prepared for such a thing in the United States?
Our world has become very small. It is ecumenical in the larger sense of the word—one inhabited earth. What is done in a far-off land is suddenly before us on our television set. What we do is immediately spread on the front pages of countless newspapers in cities around the world.
When America has a race riot or a sit-in demonstration, this news is front-page material for the Communists, who repeatedly tell the local people that there is no God. These Communists admit that our stateside Jim Crow policies help them considerably in their efforts to win new nations to their side and away from the western democracies.
As Christians we say that in the gospel of Jesus Christ there is hope for humanity. We piously proclaim the merits of personal salvation and of how wrong the Communists are because they attempt to reform society without first reforming individuals. We have ignored the large responsibilities God has given us to be “salt” in society by speaking out and acting courageously. After so very many centuries of Christianity—more than three here in America—we seem to have failed to comprehend the wisdom of the gospel that teaches that all men are God’s creation and that God does not regard men by nation or color.
The judgment? History stands surveying this century in its closing decades and poises the pen of shame to write that we poor Christians have failed once again to rise above the carnal standards of our society and comprehend the wisdom of the gospel.
We missionaries preach the gospel overseas. Sometimes we feel that we need to come home and preach the gospel. Men everywhere need to remember that God is Father of all men through creation and wishes to be so by spiritual regeneration. There is no difference between Jew and Greek, Roman and Nordic, rich or poor. Christ makes of all men one new spiritual race.
It is not Christian to conform to the social practices of an unregenerate society of men. What is important is to fear God, be merciful, and enforce justice.
The New Testament man is the “inner man,” not the man of one color or another, nor the man of wealth or social position. God regards the heart attitude of a man. This is the biblical, spiritual interpretation of life.
The gospel teaches us that, without being forced to it by wars or famines or other outside factors, we should treat all men alike and fairly. Our alliances with nations should be motivated by love and not by political expediency. Our generosity and brotherliness and religious activity should have only one end: that men might praise God because of us. Do the American Negroes praise God because of us? What of nations in Africa and Asia and South America?
Sometimes in this confused and confusing 20th century we wish that we could turn off the V and go to bed. It used to be so comfortable to be a white Protestant in America. Now there are ugly things staring us in the face. And we cannot turn off the television!
As Christians we should not wish to “turn off” our troubles, even if they are great ones. By wishing to return to a past age in which our troubles were fewer and less complicated, we only condemn ourselves, for we proclaim that we prefer an imperfect past — which has willed us all these tremendous problems—to a future in which God can make all things new!
Can we ever bridge the barrier of race? Yes, we can.
In part the barrier has already been bridged. My belief is that the gospel offers the best way. But the gospel that offers the best way is not the selfish gospel of one people taking all the benefits. It is the Bible’s gospel of love for all men. Only by practicing this gospel can the gospel of Christ’s redeeming love be practically preached among all nations in our day.
In order to bridge the barrier of race we must develop an international attitude to go along with our international gospel. It is not given to Christ’s people to hedge themselves in by all sorts of social protections to assure a good, tranquil life. We judge ourselves when we say, “Lord, Lord,” and conform to the selfish practices of a calloused majority. In fact, we are the calloused majority when we so live.
Let us also stand up and be counted. Too long have we all hoped that the issue of barriers of race would not touch us. We have taken the coward’s attitude: friendliness while hoping that nothing would ever make us show it. We have been cowed by the vocal bigots among us.
Let us work side by side with other Americans for justice for all races. Let us become bridge-builders in our communities and churches by receiving the person of another race just as Jesus would receive him. Not until we help our fellow men to have equal job opportunities and social status as citizens of this country shall we have built the bridge that joins all men in one world, under God.
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than ourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
Charles J. Duey was a Covenant missionary to Ecuador who at the time was on furlough in the United States.
Click here to read other articles about the March on Washington.