This is part three of a continuing series of messages Phil has written to share the values that his father held dear and that he also wants to pass on to his adult children who never got to know their Daddy Al because he died so young. The links to the whole series can be found at the end of the article.
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20 TNIV emphasis added).
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself (John 12:32 emphasis added).
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:9-10 emphasis added).
Dear Zachary and Megan,
Recently, someone asked why we changed the words to the song, "Jesus Loves the Little Children" when we sing it today at church. (In fact, this question has been asked me a number of times over the years!) They were quite concerned that the version we were now singing — "any color dark or light, they are precious in His sight" — wasn't the one they grew up singing — "red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight." They were afraid we were caving in to the political correctness police and had no idea how the song was heard by other people, especially people of different races.
Their question reminded me of how blind we are at times to our own use of words, especially racially hurtful words. I can still remember when we had a group of Japanese high school students visiting our church and we sang the song the old way and one of their sponsors very politely let us know that the song was very hurtful. Many years ago, the dad of some of your good friends talked to me about how the old fashioned way of singing the song was heard by Hispanics — it meant that they didn't count at all in the white church because they were not even mentioned in the song.
The reason I'm writing these letters, however, is not to talk about the political correctness of a song, but about the values your grandfather taught me that I hope you will live in your life. So in many ways, this letter is about the way we allow skin color to divide us.
In the early sixties, your grandfather, Daddy Al, made quite a stir in a small east Texas town where we lived. Racial tensions were high and each race "knew it's place" in the order of things. Prejudice was as thick as the mosquitoes. Churches were segregated and many folks were determined to keep it that way. The only problem was your Daddy Al lived by a principle that ruffled more than a few feathers. He taught us that skin color doesn't matter to God and so it shouldn't matter to us. He also lived that principle.
Daddy Al's own father, Homer (or G-daddy as we called him), was much beloved in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. He was one of the few white businessmen who didn't pull out when "white flight" set in and the racial balance of the neighborhoods changed. I remember G-daddy telling me of the time two men tried to rob him in that neighborhood and the neighbors all came out to protect him and beat up his attackers — G-daddy was the only "white man" in sight, but the folks in the neighborhood considered him their friend. So I guess your Daddy Al learned his passions about racial equality from his own dad. All I know is that your grandfather was passionate about this principle.
I remember one night that Daddy Al confronted church leaders who responded with prejudice when a bunch of folks from the sister "black congregation" in town came to a revival at "our white church." They came, of course, because your Daddy Al had invited them. That raised some serious stink in church and we didn't go back there for awhile. The early sixties were a very difficult time for these kinds of things in our country, and unfortunately, not a lot of churches led the way to make things better. But, your grandfather made it clear where he stood on the matter: racial prejudice was wrong and he wouldn't tolerate it.
One of the ways he made this clear was his practice of making friends of all kinds of people. Your Daddy Al had a beautiful, 1959 Ford Fairlane 500. It was black, had lots of chrome, and a really cool black, red, and white interior with power windows and locks. In the little town where we lived, everyone knew the car was Daddy Al's. It was a cool car! There was an African American guy at the filling station who worked on Daddy Al's car and he loved it. Your grandfather would let him drive the car around town sometimes when he had washed it or worked on it. He even let this young man propose to his girl friend while driving the car. It seemed like everyone in town knew about this and this was simply not acceptable behavior for "proper white folks." I learned about this the hard way.
You see, one day I wore an old U.S. Union Army belt buckle to school. It made a lot of the kids mad because they considered me a traitor to the confederate cause — now remember, this nearly 100 years after the Civil War, but the hatred and prejudice still ran very deep in the hearts of many people. They told me our family was a bunch of "n#%@ lovers" because of what Daddy Al had done. They surrounded me and pushed me down into a muddy ditch because I kept telling them they were wrong to think about people that way. I wouldn't back down and told them I would never be a confederate because they kept slaves. They just kept calling me and our family that awful name.
I know that I am not free of prejudice myself and neither was Daddy Al. I want to be, but I don't guess any of us can fully be free of it. So much of what we do is based on self-interest or fear. But I want to at least be aware of the ugliness of racism and rid myself of as much of it as I can. Jesus died to draw all people to him. In heaven, there will be people from every language, race, tribe, and nation praising God together. I am fully convinced that until we start living in our churches like we are going to live with God in heaven, some folks are either not going to make it or they will sure be uncomfortable if they do. Until that day, I hope you will commit to finding the pockets of prejudice in your own heart and work to eliminate them. I also pray that you will be willing to stand up to those who so easily would lead down a path of racial division and hatred. I pray that you will help your churches to be open to all people. And as you do, just know that you are following in the footsteps of Daddy Al who taught us that skin color shouldn't matter!
Love you both, forever,
Do you think things have changed that much since the 1960's in terms of racial prejudice in our churches?
What can we do to tear down the walls of racism that exist in our churches?
I'd love to get your insights on this on my blog: