Friday, November 07, 2008

Tom Skinner's Prophetic Message

The significance of Barack Obama's election as president is just now beginning to sink in for me. After watching a portion of his press conference this afternoon, it began to hit me that he really is going to be our president. Rightly so, much of the discussion around his election has included the historical backdrop that his victory rests upon.

I'm currently reading a book called Black and Free by a man named Tom Skinner. Most of you that are my age or younger may have never heard of him, but those older than myself (especially many African Americans) definitely know who he is. Rev. Skinner grew up in Harlem and left a life of gang-banging behind when he committed his life to Christ as a teenager. He won great respect as an evangelist and had an audience with many prominent individuals. Sadly, he died too soon at the age of 52 in 1994.

In addition to the many African American audiences that he preached to, Skinner also gained a voice in white evangelical circles. In fact, one of his messages, which took place at InterVarsity's Urbana conference in 1970, is legendary. In his message entiteld "The U.S. Racial Crisis and World Evangelism," Skinner traced America's vicious racist legacy and the resulting effects that it has today. Though his message is close to forty years old, its relevance is just as applicable as when he first preached it. You can read the full transcript of his sermon and even listen to the audio here. It's about an hour long, but I encourage you to take the time to listen to it.

Skinner did what few have done when it comes to the issue of racism in the United States. He called it what it was -- sin -- and forced comfortable and complacent individuals to deal with our history. Sadly, the white evangelical American church has been noticably silent when it comes to these matters. We think that what happened years ago should stay there and refuse to accept that our racist history affects us even today.

As a young college student studying the social sciences, I read a lot and had many conversations about American history, political science, religion, sociology and philosophy. I learned from many scholars and learned people about our country's history, but it was from mostly non-Christian sources. For better or for worse, Malcolm X, Public Enemy, James Cone, Spike Lee, Farai Chideya, John Hope Franklin and numerous others shaped my thinking when it comes to matters of race.

After coming to faith in Christ, those beliefs began to get filtered through a biblical grid. This meant that some of my perspectives changed since I learned they were ungodly, but interestingly enough I found that many of them remain today. As Skinner said,
"Understand that for those of us who live in the black community, it was not the evangelical who came and taught us our worth and dignity as black men. It was not the Bible-believing fundamentalist who stood up and told us that black was beautiful. It was not the evangelical who preached to us that we should stand on our two feet and be men, be proud that black was beautiful and that God could work his life out through our redeemed blackness. Rather, it took Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown and the Brothers to declare to us our dignity. God will not be without a witness.
But the problem that we have is that we tend to think that truth can come only from those people we recognize to be anointed by God. That is the reason that when Martin Luther King came along and began to buck the system and do some things to help liberate black people, immediately we evangelicals wanted to know, "Is he born again? Does he preach the gospel?" Because you see, we think that if we could just prove that Martin Luther King was not a Christian, if we could prove that he was not born again, if we could prove that he did not believe the Word of God, then we think we can dismiss what he said. We think we can dismiss the truth. My friends, you must accept the fact that all truth is God's truth, no matter who it comes from."
I understand full well that my perspective on race does not fit nicely into white evangelical circles. It makes other feel uncomfortable and forces them to deal with things they'd rather ignore. Heck, it forces me to deal with the dark places of my heart that I'd rather not address either. But I believe that God has allowed me to experience the things I have, to meet the people I've met, to read the books I've read and learn what I've learned in order to pass that onto others. Our country is facing a pivotal time in our history and I trust that God will move in all of us to a degree that we respond in a manner which pleases Him. Hopefully, I can do my part to help that become a reality.

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