My home church hired a younger preacher. This happened when I was very young. The older man that my parents described as “grouchy” was replaced by one of their generation. I understood he was from Australia. In fact, he had moved here from Australia. Before he lived there he was a barber in Georgia. At some point, he decided to attend the two year intensive training of the local School of Preaching. He was personable, dynamic, and racist. The latter I did not understand until later.
Australia For A Racist
I thought it was kind of cool for our minister to have owned a ranch in Australia. His youngest daughter had dual citizenship. But why did he go to Australia in the first place?
My grandfather explained it to me when I was a teenager. School desegregation was the issue. People like my minister was afraid of the races “mixing.” Having two young daughters, he opted for one of the “white paradises.” Australia was one. The other was South Africa.
The Racist Preacher
The fundamental Baptist commitment to the Bible he held failed him in Australia. He saw the light of God’s truth and became a member of the American-based Church of Christ. The zeal of the convert led to his decision to become a “Gospel Preacher.” He returned to the States. He switched his religious allegiance. But the conversion was all mind and no heart. He remained a racist.
Looking back, it was apparent that racism was involved in my religious upbringing. My anti-racism, instilled in me by my father and uncle, is more secular in its origin. The minister obsessed over sexual topics and the purity of the unsuspecting teenage girl. He often illustrated his point by talking about the sort of low-down, poor-mouthing, no account, boy who would seduce them. You may ask what is specifically racist about the statement. When we take into account the purposes of the person speaking, the point is hard to miss. The language of “concern” is usually a method of manipulating emotions.
Satisfying the Leaders
This preacher we had for fifteen years satisfied the leaders up to a point. He feared education though. When a better educated Associate Minister began attracting younger baby boomers, the preacher worked hard to undermine his colleague. The associate told me many years after leaving the church when he overheard a conversation where the Senior Minister yelled that he “had to go.” He decided to move on his own.
The interview process for his replacement insured that someone even less qualified than himself was hired. Unfortunately for him, the former military NCO was better trained in manipulation. The Senior had to go. But before doing so, he sowed the seeds of destruction for the congregation. It divided. And neither of the two resulting congregations recovered. However, the splinter group composed of his loyalists, considered the church’s best days were when he was around. His shadow haunted all of their ministers.
Overcoming Racist Nonsense
My own journey involves my overcoming this racist bovine scatology. I was taught racial division was part of being Christian. Sunday school literature included this stuff. One booklet’s main character/teachers were a cowboy and a ventriloquist dummy. The cowboy asked the dummy. “Are you for integration or segregation?” The dummy replied, “Neither. I am for slavery.” Yes, that is what eighth graders were given as Bible lessons in 1980.
We did things with other white congregations of the Church of Christ. But the predominately black congregation across town remained uncontacted by us. It is a shame. There were some lights of hope. But not many. They did not have influence.
Turning To Education
I overcame my racist religious teaching with a good dose of academic influence. I learned the idea of race was not biologically based. It was an ideology that justified the exploitation of other people. I learned that my being a white male did not ensure my being the smartest or highest achiever in my class. It did help me land my first job where I was working with the public. Our bookstore never hired a person of color. I was told that I was being influenced by people at the University that told me I “came from a monkey.” I replied, “No. These people are telling me not to call other people monkeys.”
It took a decade of unlearning to get past the racism ingrained in my religious thought. I am glad that some things in my development helped me recognize it. I encounter so many others who do not see it in themselves because they assume it is a Christian position.