By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippians generally have made great strides in searching consciences about issues of race, and reconciliation is a fact for arguably a majority of the people living in our state.
But once in a while the jarring reality that some white people have not moved far enough in their views about race and personal relationships across racial lines comes flying out of the corners of everyday life and smacks us like we still live in the early 1900s – or even until the 1970s.
Last month, a black engaged couple planned to wed in the First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs, where they are members and their friend is senior minister. A few in the congregation said a black couple marrying in the predominantly white congregation’s sanctuary was offensive and unacceptable. The white senior pastor folded, and the wedding was moved.
It could as easily have been some other “first” church with Presbyterian, Methodist or something else following in the name. Too many people in our state obviously have not had that literal “come to Jesus” experience where the ground is level at the foot of the cross and the guilty stains, as the old hymn calls them, have been washed away regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, social status, educational attainment, where you went to school or which “club” you’re in.
It is a measure of some Mississippians’ false sense of righteousness that anyone can twist discrimination and racism and try to make it sound Christian.
Forget the labels involved, but remember that many Mississippi churches have racially mixed memberships where the faces used to all be white – or black. The new United Methodist bishop assigned to Mississippi is black. The president of the Southern Baptist Convention is black.
Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo has elected is first black deacon.
Most of the other larger churches in Tupelo have black members, or Asians, or Pacific islanders, or Latinos, or who knows what other identity.
The changes toward racial equality, acceptance and joy in personal relationships have happened because people of faith became people of good will toward all, just as the birth narrative of Jesus Christ describes.
We Mississippians need to remember that it was only 50 years ago next month that people died because a lone black man, James Meredith, dared apply for and gain admission to the University of Mississippi, but the full force of the United States government was required to overcome the racist elected officials and thousands of ordinary white people who rioted in an attempt to prevent its happening.
Thank goodness that Ole Miss, for the most part, finally got over it, moved on and in place of blind opposition there is an internationally known institute of racial reconciliation as an official program of the university. Students eagerly participate. The institute reaches out to communities. It helps solve racial problems and issues.
In the faith context, the group called Mission Mississippi brings people of all racial identities together statewide for racial reconciliation in Christian faith.
Many communities have ongoing biracial committees seeking the same goals in slightly differing contexts.
It is unfortunately true that the 11 a.m. Sunday service remains the most segregated hour in American life, but even those walls are slowly crumbling and doors opening.
A brief quote from the incomparable evangelist Billy Graham’s question/answer website says all that’s needed:
“Why can’t my family just accept my interracial marriage?”
Billy Graham writes, “Racial prejudice is a sin – and one reason is because of the conflict it inevitably causes. … In God’s eyes, no racial or ethnic group is any better or worse than any other, and ‘he made every nation of men’ (Acts 17:26).”