A while back I began reading When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus, by Alan Cross. I ordered this book for several reasons:
*Alan’s wife has been a friend of mine since my college years (the early 90’s). We were both involved with Baptist Campus Ministries at the University of Alabama.
*I started reading Alan’s blog years ago when some interesting things were happening in the Southern Baptist Convention (long story). I don’t follow it as much as I used to, but I like his style of writing.
*Alan and I have similar backgrounds. We are about the same age and were raised in the Deep South during the 70’s/80’s.
*The racial tension I’ve seen since moving back to the States is striking. Things are certainly better than they were in the era of Jim Crow laws, but black people and white people are still deeply divided on some issues.
Alan Cross is a Southern Baptist pastor in Montgomery (AL), a city where some of the most significant (and violent) events of the Civil Rights Movement occurred during the 50’s and 60’s. Here’s one example: First Baptist Montgomery was once surrounded by an angry mob of 3,000 white people who objected to the members’ involvement in civil rights protests. They threatened to burn the church down, and may have done just that if the Governor had not (reluctantly) stepped in to protect the parishioners (this happened on the evening of May 21st, 1961).
Cross began to investigate the City of Montgomery’s history and the Civil Rights Movement as a whole. He was haunted by questions like this:
How did we (the majority of white southern evangelical Christians) get it so wrong? Why didn’t we stand with our black brothers and sisters? How could those who profess Christ be a part of the systematic racial injustices that were so deeply ingrained in the South? What can we learn from our mistakes? What would it (or does it) look like when we live out the Gospel and allow it to break down racial barriers?
I’ve asked myself some of the same questions and I really appreciated Alan’s insights.
One of his main observations is that Christianity was subverted by the culture: believers adopted the values of the society at large, even when those values directly contradicted the clear teachings of Scripture. Unfortunately this isn’t the first time such has happened, and Alan points out other historical examples of similar tragedies (the German church during Hitler’s reign, for example).
The heart of the matter, Cross argues, is our tendency to look out for our own self-interests instead of laying our lives down for others and for the sake of the Gospel. This still has implications for the American church, and Cross wonders if kingdom values are still being subverted. One example he mentions is “white flight”–the tendency of white families (Christians included) to move out of neighborhoods once black families start moving in. I’ve seen this phenomenon first-hand here in the Birmingham area.
I really appreciated the way Alan processed some difficult and uncomfortable questions in light of the Gospel. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is ready to wrestle with the issue of race from a biblical perspective.