Chapter one of Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Segregated South begins, “Jim Crow was not merely about the physical separation of blacks and whites. Nor was segregation strictly about laws, despite historians’ tendency to fix upon such legal landmarks as Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In order to maintain dominance, whites needed more than the statues and signs that specified ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ only; they had to assert and reiterate black inferiority with every word and gesture, in every aspect of both public and private life” (1). So, how did this socially enforced physical separation take on religious or spiritual meaning? How did race and with it, eugenics, genocide, human enslavement and Jim Crow segregation become divine initiatives? How did Jim Crow become a member of Christ’s Church and what position does it hold today? Is Jim Crow a deacon, a trustee, the choir director, an usher or greeter, the pastor? Why is Jim Crow still welcomed into our churches?
I believe that it is because we have placed segregation in the mouth of God. In many circles, God speaks for race and is its prophet, its messenger. We, as American Christians, believe so much in race that we believe in it more than anything else. We believe in race more than we believe in ourselves. We are defenseless when it comes to race, saying that it is out of our hands. We simply have no choice in what social color they will be. We have not examined the nature of sin and our participation in this agreement with the world. We have not confessed our aiding and abetting, our willingness to go along with this social plan of discrimination and injustice.
We, as American Christians, have allowed the social pressures of this world and its ways to close our mouths. But, I want to pry them open this evening. That “11 a.m. is the most segregated hour in America” is a judgment against the Church and should cause us to bow our heads both in prayer but also in lament. This should cause us to wail and to cry out in the streets. There is simply no witness of God’s unconditional love, Christ’s unfailing forgiveness or the Holy Spirit’s nonprejudicial possession of believers as long as Jim Crow is allowed to stand in our pulpits or sit in our pews, in our choir lofts or to serve in Christ’s ministry.
Jim Crow is on our prayer list. We want to remain segregated. It’s in our program. We only want those who “look” like us and worship like us to come to our church. And Jim and Jane Crow is in our hearts. We believe that this is the way that God has called us to love. This is the only way that we know how to love. But, there is a greater love than this, found in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. It’s unconditional and that includes the social coloring of skin. And it must be said that “before the eighteenth century, physical differences among peoples were so rarely referred to as a matter of great importance that something of a case can be made for the proposition that race consciousness is largely a modern phenomenon” (Thomas Gossett, Race: The History of An Idea in America, p. 3). Also, George D. Kelsey, the author of Racism and the Christian Understanding of Man said, “Racism is a modern phenomenon. It is a product of modern world conditions. It is a system of meaning and value that could only have arisen out of the peculiar conjunction of modern ideas and values with the political, economic and technological realities of colonialism and slavery. Various forms of groupism appeared on the stage of history prior to the modern period, but none of them was racist” (19).
We have Jim Crow churches. We worship and serve in the name of Jim Crow. But, Jim Crow is not an apostle of the early Church or a saint. Jim Crow is not Christian or a disciple of Jesus Christ. This message of social color based segregation is not the will of God nor is it to be a part of the message of Christ’s Church. Just look at its fruit. We have tasted of a tree that has sickened our souls and that remains rotten to the core. Jim Crow is not good for our social, spiritual or mental health and well- being.
And what are we saying when after these “legal landmarks,” we now choose to worship as if the signs “whites” or “blacks” only still remain? We must live our lives in, by and for the Spirit. Segregating ourselves from other believers based on the social coloring of one’s skin is a sin. We have no right and no authority to condemn anyone based on such standards. Race is a god that credits the social coloring of our skin with social righteousness. This is not the good news of Jesus Christ. He did not die so that we might be “white” and have life everlasting.
I am so glad to know that I am not under the law of race and that I don’t have to walk according to the flesh. I stand on the words of Paul who says in his letter to the church in Rome, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8.3-4). Let us no longer walk according to race but let us walk in the Spirit. Reject Jim Crow’s membership. Close the doors of the church to segregation and open them again to the law of Christ’s love. Amen.