Racism in Churches of Christ Pt. 2

In “Racism in Churches of Christ Pt 1“, I reproduced in full an article entitled “Negro Meetings for White People” written in 1941 by Foy E. Wallace Jr. in the Bible Banner. If you haven’t read it yet, prepare yourself. It’s difficult to read. The impetus for the article was that Wallace had heard reports of white women going up to black preachers and “holding their hand in both of theirs” after their enthusiastic preaching. He thought that a woman who holds a black man’s hand has “lowered herself” and “forgets her dignity.” Wallace provides an example of what he believed appropriate social ethic. He told about an incident where N.B. Hardeman was preaching a meeting in Texas and refused to shake the hand of the “negroes”. Wallace says, “I think he was right.” He ends the article with this, “And if any of the white brethren get worked up over what I have said, and want to accuse me of being jealous of the negro preachers, I will just tell them now that I don’t even want to hold a meeting for any bunch of brethren who think that any negro is a better preacher than I am! So we can just call that argument off before it starts-and the meeting, too.”

This eerily reminds me of the confrontation recorded by Paul in Galatians 2. Peter had formerly been eating with the Gentiles, but when certain Jews came to town, Peter “separated himself” from the Gentiles. Peter of all people should have known that God was no respecter of persons. If God shows no partiality (Gal. 2:6), then why should His children? Paul thought that this attitude of separating oneself from others based on partiality was “not in step with the truth of the gospel.” (Gal. 2:14). Paul knew that the gospel of Jesus Christ breaks down race, gender, and ethnic distinctions (Gal. 3:28). In Christ, all people are made one. It seems that Wallace, Hardeman, and others were erecting the very barriers that Christ came to tear down. If Peter the Apostle could fall to the sin of prejudice, it is no wonder that many preachers and members of Churches of Christ have fallen to the same.

Wallace was incensed that white people were fawning over the preaching style of the “negroes”. He said that if he had stood up and preached in the style and manner of the black preachers, that “it would sound so uncommon that the brethren would stop it.” He provided the example of Marshall Keeble. Keeble would often preach “hard” and the white brethren seemed to fawn over his preaching style. When Wallace preached “hard” against denominationalism, the brethren squirmed in their seats. Despite his blatant and disgusting racism, Wallace actually spoke positively about Keeble in the article but warned, “but if I ever hear of them [Marshall Keeble and Luke Miller] doing anything akin to such as this I will take back every good thing I have ever said of them.”

You will be amazed at the response Keeble had to Wallace’s article.

Marshall Keeble wrote a letter to Wallace after reading the article:

Dear Sir and Brother in Christ:

For over thirty years I have tried to conduct my work just as your article in the Bible Banner of March suggested. Taking advice from such friends as you have been for years has been a blessing to my work. So I take the privilege to thank you that instructive and encouraging article. I hope I can conduct myself in my last days so that you and none of my friends will have to take back nothing they have said complimentary about my work or regret it. Please continue to encourage me in my work and pray for me.

Fraternally yours,

M. Keeble

Wallace published Keeble’s response letter with approval, “This letter is characteristic of the humility of M. Keeble. It is the reason why he is the greatest colored preacher that has ever lived.”

In the United States of America during the 20th century, African Americans responded to white paternalism in two ways. The first was an attitude of accommodation to white paternalism and the other protest. Keeble represents the former while other leaders in the black church like G.P. Bowser and R.N. Hogan the latter.

It is estimated that Keeble baptized more than 40,000 people (many of whom were white) during his sixty years of ministry. He also started around 300 congregations. In order to survive in a world dominated by white-imposed segregation and discrimination, Keeble accommodated to the existing white power structure in order to effect change. It is amazing what he was able to accomplish by this strategy.

Because Keeble worked within the existing white power structure, he received a positive reaction from many white leaders (including Wallace). For example, J.P. Sanders, the dean of Pepperdine, commented once that many white folks forgot that Keeble was a “negro”. Sanders related a story where he was seated on a stage with Keeble in front of an African American audience. Sanders recalled thinking to himself, “Brother Keeble and I are the only two white people here.”

Wes Crawford is the author of Shattering the Illusion: How African American Churches of Christ Moved from Segregation to Independence (I am indebted to this book for the content of this post and I would encourage you to read it). Crawford says about Keeble, “Keeble’s strategy helped him raise thousands of dollars for Nashville Christian Institute [an all African American school, GB], establish hundreds of African American congregations across America, and earn a place of notoriety in Churches of Christ… Keeble enjoyed the favor of white leaders because he refrained from publicly challenging their racism. In Keeble, they saw a powerful and successful preacher who stayed in his white-relegated place.” (pgs. 77, 83)

My prayer is that the church of today will lead the way in eradicating these attitudes which are contrary to the doctrine of Christ.



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