This article originally appeared in the July 5, 1963 issue of The Covenant Companion. We are republishing it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.
Having spent a long week end discussing “some of the problems with which Christians must be concerned in these days of crisis and opportunity,” Covenant ministers in annual meeting two weeks ago in Chicago adopted a letter addressed to the laity dealing with the race problem.
“The turmoil at present rocking our nation because of the tensions between the races has stirred us to search our souls and pray that God will use us to help bring reconciliation and healing to our land,” the letter began.
“We recognize that the current disturbances in America have developed in part because of the spread of the Christian faith. ‘. . . in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. . . there is neither slave nor free . . . you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:26, 28). We cannot tell men that they are made in the image of God and that it is His will that they be free from all bondage without expecting them then to seek this freedom.”
The letter, which is to be read in all churches, continued:
We recognize also that among the colored people of our country there are many who have embraced Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. These share the same sonship to the Most High which we have in and with Christ. But too often they have looked in vain for a true manifestation of this unity. Too often the fellowship Christians profess has been belied by their actions. Should not our colored brothers and sisters find as much respect for their rights in the church as they do in the courts, public schools, and the civil services?
“It may have been possible in time past to be indifferent to their cry for justice, but this is no longer the case. A great tidal wave of hate and violence may well inundate our whole nation unless as a body of Christians we accept this golden opportunity to bear witness to the fact that ‘when one member suffers we all suffer together’ (1 Corinthians 12:26).
“In this year when our denomination has chosen ‘The Covenant Layman—His Witness’ for its emphasis, we appeal to every lay person in our fellowship to realize that this problem of how to incarnate the teachings of Jesus Christ in relation to a vexing social situation is not the task of the preacher alone. Believing as we do in the priesthood of all believers, it seems imperative that we recognize that Christians of every color ought study, pray, and work toward the end that God’s will be done on earth.
‘While the full solution of the tension between the races cannot be expected from unredeemed men and women who are not attentive to the wishes of our Father, surely those who have been born again and who renounce their own selfish will for the will of God should be in the vanguard of those who help break down the sinful barriers which separate us.
“We are grateful to God for occasions in which the ministers and churches have been used to reduce tension and reconcile brother to brother, but we also confess that we have failed to submit fully to the will of God in this matter and we ask you to join us in repentance for that failure. We also ask your prayers for courage, imagination, and resources enabling the Evangelical Covenant Church to retain and support established parishes in changing communities.
“We feel, however, that the present crisis might well drive us to a more diligent examination of the Holy Scriptures which we deem the only perfect rule for faith and conduct. What do these Scriptures say? ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8). ‘Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets’ (Matthew 7:12). ‘By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another’ (John 13:35). ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me . . . as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:35,40). ‘Take your share of suffering for the sake of the gospel’ (2 Timothy 1:8).
“It is obvious from these verses that God calls his children to justice, to love and to suffering. These are the ways in which the Christian life manifests itself. Are they evident in our church?
“Perhaps the major cause of our hesitation in doing God’s will in this matter has been the professed fear of intermarriage. It is important to remember, however, that whereas the Scriptures repeatedly condemn the lack of justice, love, and mercy among us, they are silent on the question of intermarriage. Shall we then speak with conviction where the Bible is silent and have nothing to say where it speaks with a single unmistakable voice?
“Both segregation and integration bring problems which seem at present insurmountable. In this Gethsemane of the church, shall we say simply, ‘let this cup pass,’ without adding, ‘nevertheless not my will but thine be done’? Or shall we cast all our care upon Him and take council with our faith instead of our fears? We must either accept the consequences of doing what we feel God wants us to do or turn our backs upon that will and choose our own dangerous course.
“We pastors shall have to answer to God some day for the way we handle His Word and treat our brothers and sisters in Christ whose color is different than ours. You will too. We invite you with a burdened heart to pray and study and act in such a manner that our heavenly Father will be pleased with His children.”
The long week-end discussion out of which the pastoral letter came was the ministers’ workshop sponsored jointly by the Covenant Ministerium and North Park Seminary.
Click here to read other articles about the March on Washington.