Wednesday, March 15, 2017

School Daze (The Abilene Christian Version)


Sewell Auditorium, on the campus of ACU.
Back in November of last year, I stumbled across this news report that unfortunately mirrors a disturbing occurrence en vogue on college campuses nationwide and indirectly stirs up past (and in some cases, present) racial bugaboos in the Church of Christ.

Abilene Christian University was forced to deal with an incident involving some of their White students and blackface that regrettably made its way onto social media. Instead of rehashing the whole story, you can read it here for yourselves.

I will however highlight the response of ACU President, Phil Schubert:
"This has offended me and I am deeply sorry for how it has offended others, and left an inaccurate representation of who we are and what we believe as a Christian university. We must and can do better as we work together to build an inclusive, diverse campus community in which each person is respected and loved."
Now I fully understand how church circles run, and I know that there could be ripple-effect ramifications when one attempts to be critical of long-standing, professedly-sacred Christian institutions and those individuals affiliated with them.  So I will choose my words strategically to insure that I do not unintentionally offend anyone while at the same time not be concerned about predilections that attempt to supersede the truth about the matter.

So here I go...

It's a sad state of affairs when Christians are influenced by choice pages out of society's handbook of cultural mores without ripping them out. It would be easy to criticize those on the political right (read: Evangelicals) for not having a godly backbone when it comes to racial matters involving African-Americans. But when it hits the Lord's church, there is a somewhat chilling effect that reminds us that nothing and nowhere on this earth is sacred. 

The Restoration Movement, which introduced the Kingdom of God to the North American continent, has a checkered past when it comes to race.  Most members of the Church of Christ may have heard the name of David Lipscomb (a White brother - co-founder of Nashville Bible School, renamed Lipscomb University after his death).  Very few except in certain African-American church circles have heard of G.P. Bowser, a Black brother and founder of Southwestern Christian College. Bowser had established Christian schools for Blacks before becoming the principal of Southern Practical Institute in 1920. SPI was a Christian school in Nashville established for Blacks by a White brother. It sounds altogether very magnanimous except for the stipulation that the students, all of whom were Black, were not allowed to enter into a Christian school for Blacks through the front door because the school superintendent, who was White, insisted on it. Bowser bravely refused to go through the back door, a move that eventually sealed the school's doom. Bowser eventually opened another school, Bowser Christian Institute in Arkansas, 18 years later. 

Brewer Bell Tower at Lipscomb University
Why is this so important? Nashville Bible School/Lipscomb University, established in 1891, barred Black students from admission until the mid-1960's. SPI was founded by Whites 21 years after NBS to create a so-called Plessy v. Ferguson Christian education for Blacks. ACU, meanwhile, opened its doors in 1906 and also barred Black students for decades until Dr. Billy Curl and Larry Bonner broke the color barrier in 1963. Sounds eerily similar to the state of collegiate affairs in the deep South during the Civil Rights movement. Curl's and Bonner's experiences in the halls of Whites-only Christian higher education parallel those of James Meredith, Vivian Malone, and James A. Hood. But THIS is supposed to be the church...right?

Absolutely. But this is not news. It's only news to the following groups of people:
- Those who are unaware of the deep racial divide within Churches of Christ that still exists;
- Those who consciously or unconsciously perpetuate and widen the chasm;
- Those who choose to be ignorant to the point of relying on lightweight-Pollyanna slogans (One Church!) or proof-texting from the pulpit to the pew, hoping somehow to anesthetize or pacify the silent or vocal groundswell of Black members still looking for one Kingdom under God.  Or should I say "the one true church"...

Note to Spike: PLEASE don't get any ideas from this blog for a remake...
Which brings me to the blackface incident of 2016.

I don't know anything about these former (and maybe current) ACUers, their religious backgrounds (because we all know that these schools do not only enroll Church of Christ undergrads), or their societal views. What I do know is that they felt comfortable enough at this Christian school to Snapchat their transmogrified view of a "strong Black woman" from their dorm room for all to see. I do know that they had some exposure to this archaic yet offensive racial stereotype to accurately caricaturize it for the masses. I do know that this is learned behavior, irrespective of whether they were influenced by it before or after being accepted to ACU. And I do know that this is not the first time that a university with Restoration roots has had racism rear its ugly head to make campus life and academic excellence more psychologically daunting, spiritually trying, and socially insufferable for the African-American student body...not to mention make race relations in the Church of Christ more strained. It most certainly is not ACU's first, or second, or third go-'round.

James Meredith was breaking the color barrier at Ole Miss at the very same time Dr. Curl and Bonner were breaking it at ACU.

Vivian Malone did her thing a year later at the University of Alabama...
What would be fair and noteworthy to mention is the wave of efforts by these Christian universities to reunite their spirits with the Holy Spirit, reconcile their world with the Word, and strive to repair the breaches with their Black brethren caused by systemic and systematic racism on Christian campuses of higher learning. Men such as Schubert and L. Randolph Lowry III (president of Lipscomb) should and must be applauded for their desire to right the ostensible wrongs of an era gone by and act swiftly than other institutions in stamping out any reappearance of racism. Nevertheless racism still exists. In these schools. And in the church of my Lord.

Say what you want about the strides by Blacks in America made through legal decisions, protests, civil disobedience, academia, affluence, and notoriety. Those strides are what the enemy, Satan, is trying to steal, kill, and destroy through lawless hands. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Racism is unfortunately embedded in the DNA of this country. Put it on the list of pastimes with baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Ironically, each one of these - if you drill down at least a couple of decades...or maybe not that far - has the unmistakable undercurrent of racism, the granddaddy pastime of them all...since it had a good 200-year head start over three of them. (Evidently racism and apple pie are American contemporaries.)

And it most assuredly existed a decade and a half before the Springfield Presbytery was formed and Declaration and Address was penned. And it will take high-level genetic engineering of divine, supernatural proportions to "kill it dead". All the while, the enemy still wreaks havoc, the Eternally Self-Existent One still watches from on high, and the church still wants harmony despite our tendency to find ourselves singing antiphonally dissonant with the society at-large. Except the church seems satisfied with society giving the call, not the response.

Somehow I wish that ACU would have Ethnic Notions and Black Like Me automatically downloaded onto the students' iPads during fall registration for required viewing. While they're at it, they can gift the students a copy of Undying Dedication in Kindle for leisure reading.