I admit it’s one of my pet peeves; I get frustrated when we (members of Churches of Christ) act as if all the spiritual heroes out there are from other fellowships. I am not suggesting that there aren’t admirable people out there, but I think we have a blind spot to our own heroes. David Lipscomb is one such hero. You may already be aware of his great influence as a preacher and Bible scholar, but did you know he took a principled stand against racial hate in his day?
When a black Christian was denied membership in a congregation in McKinney, Texas, Lipscomb roundly condemned the action. “We believe,” he declared, “it sinful to have two congregations in the same community for persons of separate and distinct races …” Why did he believe this? “God saves the negro equally with the white man when he believes in Christ and puts him on by being buried with him in baptism … I would as soon think of the worst blasphemer in the land … as a man or woman who would stand between that individual and his obedience to God. He sets at defiance God’s law, assumes to be greater than God, and is guilty of a presumptuous sin … for which we can hardly believe pardon can be found.”
Intensifying his opposition to racial division, he declared, “We would much prefer membership with an humble and despised band of ignorant negroes, than with a congregation of the [most] aristocratic and refined whites in the land, cherishing such a spirit of defiance of God and his law, and all the principles of his holy religion.” (Gospel Advocate, February 1878, 120,121).
We learn three things from Lipscomb’s remarks. First, he felt so strongly about racial equality in God’s sight that he could not imagine a person being saved who thought differently on that point; second, he felt that congregations, too, should be racially united; third, racism reflected, in his opinion, the fallen values of the world, not those of the kingdom of God.
Lipscomb had occasion to express his ideas again in 1906 when his colleague E.A. Elam adopted a black girl. A member of the Bellwood Church of Christ in Nashville Tennessee named S.E. Harris expressed the view that many members felt “sore” over her presence at worship, and asked that the young girl worship with a “colored” fellowship (Gospel Advocate, 1907, 489).
Lipscomb’s condemnation was quick and incisive. “No one as a Christian … has the right to [exclude] another … because he is of a different family, race, social or political station,” he declared. Christians had a responsibility to treat others with respect and love because Christ had done the same. “As we treat them, we treat him … to object to any child of God participating in the services on account of his … color or race, is to object to Jesus Christ and to cast him from our association. It is a fearful thing to do.” At least in Lipscomb’s mind, the issue was clear. Will we “be led by the Spirit of Christ and the teachings of the Bible or by our prejudices against the negro?” (Gospel Advocate, July 1907, 425).
Peter said it well: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34,35).
In a day and a region where racial prejudice was the acceptable behavior even of the Christian, David Lipscomb stood for biblical conviction over popularity. We can take legitimate pride in his actions.