What a Difference a Century Makes

Whatever your political allegiance–or non-allegiance, like me–the election of an African American to the Presidency of the United States is a historic event, and that is an understatement.

Whatever direction your vote went last Tuesday we can all rejoice that another ethnic and racial barrier has been breached.

A century ago, when Jim Crow laws were in full force, very few African Americans could even vote much less hold governmental office.  A half-century ago, when segregation still reigned, an African American President was unimaginable. A decade ago, the only African American in the United States Senate–Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois–was defeated in her re-election bid.

Change, indeed, has come to America!

Change has come to Churches of Christ as well.

In 1902 an author (initials G.P.O.) in the socially progressive (by comparison with other journals among Churches of Christ) Christian Leader (November 11, p. 3) opined that given their ignorance, emotional immaturity, and general idleness “the repression of the negro vote in the South may even prove a blessing in disguise by turning the negro’s attention towards self-improvement and the necessity of making a living by toil.” With historical hindsight–and recognizing that had I lived at the time I probably would have agreed–I can only say, Wow! Plus, this appears in the only journal among Churches of Christ that had a regular column by an African American preacher and educator, Samuel Robert Cassius.

Fifty years ago Churches of Christ were silent about segregation and if they were vocal, they were usually defending the status quo (see Bobby Valentine’s blog for an illustration of such in 1957). The silence of our major periodicals in the late 1950s and early 1960s during the birth of the Civil Rights Movement is deafening and chilling. One would only need to read through some of the articles from the 1950s and 1960s at Don Haymes’ anthology to get a feel for how deeply Churches of Christ were embedded in their southern culture. Listen to just one example: “The good, honest and sincere Negroes do not want integration as is attempted today. They know that they are happier and can serve God and their fellowman by remaining as God intended them to be and the purpose for which he created them.” Patronizing and self-serving; another (hindsight) Wow!

Last Tuesday, many within Churches of Christ voted for Obama, especially those who have come to see that voting for social justice is just as important as voting against abortion–both are pro-life orientations. Deuteronomy, for example, is just as concerned about just wages, fair treatment of aliens, and protection for the poor as it is protecting innocent life. Unjust wages and abortion, I believe, are both murder (read James 5:1-6, for example).

In my estimation neither candidate in this election was without flaw on the question of life. But I will leave that issue to the conscience of each reader and voter.

The deed is done. Whatever the political and policy ramifications, the racial witness here is a welcome one. It is a step in the right direction as far as race relations are concerned in this country.

Whether Obama will implement good policies is a different question and one upon which I will not comment. For now, I think we can enjoy the particular change that the election of an African American represents just as I would have also enjoyed the change that the election of a woman to the Vice Presidency would have represented as well. Either way would have been progress.

As for the future….in God we trust; I neither trust Obama/Biden nor McCain/Palin.

15 Responses to “What a Difference a Century Makes”

  1.   Bobby Valentine Says:

    Excellent post. In Yahweh we do trust.

  2.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Yes it seems hard to imagine what has changed in the 100 years.

  3.   Steve Kenney Says:

    My 18 year old voted for the first time. She was very excited to vote for Obama. She was crushed to get on the internet and find vile comments against Obama written by older members of the church where we used to attend. Whatever your political orientation, realize that unfounded broadsides against a cultural leader (he is more than just a political leader) will insult those who admire that leader.

    If we were missionaries in England would he hang the queen in effigy? Would we spray paint Christian graffiti on totem poles in Klingit villages? The point is that we have a mission which we do not want to compromise by our boorishness.

    Make no mistake: our youth have not been impressed with the rhetoric which has come out of many Christians in this political race. They are intelligent enough to recognize political difference. Not every vote for McCain was an “anti-Obama” vote. But many of the comments (especially forwarded emails) are based in ignorance, fear, and suspicion. The constituency we stand to lose is our youth.

    My daughter’s quote: “I used to really respect him, but how can he talk about ANYONE like that?”

    Don’t dismiss that comment. Take it seriously to heart. “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.” (Titus 3:1,2 NIV)

  4.   markus Says:

    check out
    for some good thoughts as well.
    greetings an peace from overseas,

  5.   hoopster Says:

    You probably already saw this, but I’ll post anyway.


    Click only the sermon next to the MLK picture. I was really impressed with that the first time I saw it. And I was going to post the Titus verse too, but he beat me to it. 😉 I remembered that verse when an agnostic friend on facebook posted it as a reminder to his Christian friends who hate Obama so much.

  6.   rich constant Says:

    What a wonderful night, listening to President elect Obama’s speech. a wonderful speech, full of meaning full of purpose, the intrinsic values that make us all feel that we are one. And the slogan “yes we can”, yes we can’t move forward Yes we can do this together yes we can all be Americans, driven to make the world a better place.
    The realization of a dream came true that night, a lowly Negro a black man, an African American, became the leader of the most influential country of the world.
    Yes it is a wonderful thing, the impact will change not only the way that people from other countries look at us, but will force deal with our government in a completely and totally different manner.
    They will not be looking at just the president of the United States.
    They will be looking at a black man that used to be a slave, a whipping boy for the rich, a person spat upon, a person rideing at the back of the bus, a person who learned, the words separate but equal.

    John Mark I was supposed to graduate from high school in 1966, I remember those times fairly well also I was pretty much removed from prejudice.
    I wound up reading a book that had quite an impact on me. I couldn’t hardly believe that it was true the book was called “Black like me.”

    Yes things have changed significantly and they will continue to change.

    What prompted me to write this was Steve Kenny’s post,

    What I didn’t know growing up, is what most people need growing up, the teaching of parents, that know how to define “humanism”, parents need to know how to define secularism, parents need to know what these words mean so that they can tell their kids…” yes these are all good and proper idealistic goals.

    John Mark it might be a time for a post on Immanuel Kant and secularism and the underpinnings of his philosophy. put God in a class of his own,(that might be called a subset), didn’t he, “so to speak just toss him right out of the real world”.

    This may be a time for a post on the underpinnings of humanism,
    where do moral imperatives come from, where do moral indicative’s find their bases.

    Quite honestly I get a kick out of talking to young people I just don’t know how much of a kick they get out of listening to me.

    John Mark I would really like a post on humanism and secularism what the root meaning of the words are where these philosophies found their bases, at what time in the ignorance of man.

    And the subtle ways that they influence our children for sure screwed me up for a while blessings rich from California

  7.   rich constant Says:


    Quite honestly it will always be us against them.
    No matter how blurred the lines seem they are quite distinct and obvious.

  8.   rich constant Says:

    I am thankful that it is no longer by the color of their skin…

  9.   Adam Metz Says:

    Regardless of your politics, what an exciting and proud moment for all of us to live through. Hopefully, this breakthrough for race relations will give us new and creative fodder to heal the theological rifts that have been created as a result of social flaws. As white churches in our country have been coming around to seeing the need for racial unity in Christ, we are coming face to face with the incredible cultural and theological gaps there are between black and white churches.

    May this generation of young people who will grow up not thinking twice as they watch an African American’s face orating the State of the Union address provide the passion and creativity for moving forward and allowing our churches to be healed!

  10.   Joe Says:

    It is a huge moment, and we should all be proud that the color of the candidates’ skin was not even a consideration this year, and we instead chose our president by looking so closely at the content of the candidates’ character.

    One quibble with your post, though. While the Torah does address both murder and wages, among many other issues, if you look at the levitical punishments for breaking the various laws, it would certainly seem that God does not view all of these issues equally. Being caught breaking some laws will get you killed, others wounded, others fined.

    This isn’t to say that some sin separates us from God, and other sin doesn’t. All of us sin and thereby fall short, no matter what our sin is. We all need Christ. But levitical law included harsher punishment for some sins than for others. (And our law does the same, since our American legal system grew largely out of the Bible.) That would certainly imply that God sees some sins as worse than others, and if He does, then we should as well.

    And while the James text mentions that the rich withhold wages and also that the rich murder the just, I don’t think that the best reading of the text allows that the latter statement is a restatement of the former. Instead, the text seems to list a number of things that the rich do when abusing their power, and those are two distinct examples (along with hoarding money and living in extreme luxury).

    I’m just saying, we should be careful not to interpret scripture through the lens of our own political beliefs. That path doesn’t go anywhere good.

    May Jehovah God bless President Obama, and our nation, and the world.

  11.   Seeking Disciple Says:

    The Restoration Movement was a champion for civil rights. Alexander Campbell was an abolisionist who despised slavery. Thankfully many other Restoration Christians followed his example and opposed slavery. While I don’t agree with many of the policies of Barack Obama, I think its a testimony to the greatness of the United States to elect an African-American to the most powerful office in our land.

  12.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    Actually, Campbell was a gradualist, not an abolitionist by the strict definition of the times. But I appreciate the point. Many others were not abolitionists or either gradualists, but that is a point we can leave to the side. The significance of the contemporary moment exceeds the past though we do not forget the past.

    As to the James text, I do believe James 5:6 refers to murdering the poor by hoarding wealth, not paying just wages, and living in luxury while the poor starve and die. I don’t think that text is out of context.

    While the individual punishment for oppressing or neglecting the poor is not at the same level as murder in the Torah, it is clear that the national price paid for such oppression was exile. Like Sodom and Gomorrah, they were punished for their own luxury and neglect of the poor with death (Ezekiel 18), and Deuteronomy 24:12-15 is pretty clear about the gravity of the sin involved (cf. Jeremiah 22:13-17).

    It seems clear to me that in Scripture abuse and neglect of the poor as well as the hoarding of wealth receives as much attention and is promised an equal severity as murder itself. This is why James can actually call it murder.

    I don’t think this is interpreting Scripture through the lens of my political belief. Rather, it seems to me a pervasive theme in Scripture whereas abortion (as a specific topic) is never expliticly mentioned…though I do believe abortion is murder as well.

  13.   rich constant Says:


    Amos 4

    4:1 Listen to this message, you “cows of Bashan” who live on Mount Samaria!

    You oppress the poor;

    you crush the needy.

    You say to your husbands,

    “Bring us more to drink!”

    4:2 The sovereign Lord confirms this oath by his own holy character:

    “Certainly the time is approaching6

    when you will be carried away in baskets,

    every last one of you9 in fishermen’s pots.

    4:3 Each of you will go straight through the gaps in the walls;

    you will be thrown out toward Harmon.”

    The Lord is speaking!



  14.   PJ Says:

    John Mark, thank you for these writings (that I have just now found on the internet.) They’re brilliant and inspiring. I would be very interested to know if you’re familiar with Peter J. Gomes’ work? His book, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” has been one of my favorites of the last 15 years.

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