3D Perspective: Demographics, Diversity, Destiny – Black History Month
February is Black History Month. When I think about the future of Texas and beyond, part of the tapestry of ethnic and racial groups includes African Americans, Black Americans, and the richness of this part of our demographic mosaic. However, it might be helpful to place anything I write here in context of the experience of African Americans in American history.
American slavery of African people was practiced as legally normative for 246 years from 1619 to 1865. Our nation entered the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 on the primary issue of slavery. Texas was part of the Confederacy during this struggle. The Southern Baptist Convention formed in 1845 because Baptists in the South disagreed with Baptists in the North about antislavery sentiment.
The next phase of the African American experience was segregation for the next 89 years from 1865 to 1954. The third phase of the African American experience to desegregate communities began in 1954 and continues. In other words, as a nation, we have less experience with racial equality and opportunity than the alternative in our history. Yet, of the 197 countries in the world today, 167 have no law that prohibits slavery.
The end of the Civil War in 1865 and the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 started us in the right direction for freedom of Black slaves. Yet we have been on a long journey from those years to provide freedom, equality, and justice for all. Much of the progress made has been through the Civil Rights movement in America of the 1960s and the leadership provided by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. King’s voice reached an apex with his, “I Have a Dream,” speech. Through peaceful protests, and his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” among many other efforts and many other leaders crystalized the voice of African Americans and the desire for fair, equal, and just treatment under the law. While we are not where we were in our nation’s history, we are still a long way from the aspirations of Dr. King’s vision becoming a reality.
It is striking to me that the Civil Rights Movement had its birth in the heart of a Christian minister, in the hearts and minds of Christian churches, such as the Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta, the First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Old Mount Zion Baptist Church of Albany, and the St. James AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church of Columbus. The struggle has rightly started in the place where God’s word is preached, taught, spoken, and sung.
Racism, a predisposition to prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism against a person based on their membership in a racial or ethnic group, is a sin. The answer to racism in America or anywhere is spiritual in nature. It is a matter of the heart. The only remedy I know is exposure to the truth of scripture on these matters. Exposure and obedience are critical because we do what we believe.
So, what do you believe about racism? Truth becomes knowledge, a change in attitude follows exposure to truth, and behaviors follow attitudes. What is the place of the local church in lifting a Kingdom-oriented vision for all people, especially people of color? How do our actions match our words for all disadvantaged people? How might we share leadership in our institutions, ministries, and organizations so that our actions match our words?
One recent development was the election of Pastor Willie McLaurin as Interim Executive Committee Leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, the first African American appointed to this leadership post. The world is watching. If not in the hearts of Christian pastors and ministers, Christian churches, and ministries, what hope do we have for a better, more just future? Where do we go from here?