In this article, mostly a history lesson, followed by a moral lesson, I’ll state my biases and the nature of the existing discussion on the topic, arguing both mainstream sides in the wrong. The standard Church of Christ collegiate (liberal-progressive) position on racism is to address and acknowledge the history and facts of the racism in the Churches of Christ, and then point to this as obvious evidence of a fallacious theological approach of the conservatives represented by the period of explicit racism in the Churches of Christ, which I give approximate but meaningful dates of influence of 1917 to 1979. The standard mid-20th century style CoC conservative response has been… silence. I’ve never heard one give any serious response or acknowledge the past problem. I see this conservative branch as intellectually dead where its main method of survival is not hearing intelligent opposing challenges.
Due to the silence of the conservatives, the liberal-progressive element grows effectively without opposition. I was there at the 1997 ACU Lectureship when the ACU president acknowledged the racism of the CoC past, particularly ACU’s part by denying black Christians enrollment in the school, and made apologies to the president of Southwest Christian College, a historically black college that existed mainly because black Christians could not enter ACU. But behind the sincere apology for racism was an implicit but very strong jab at the dogmatic conservatism represented by the deceased Foy E. Wallace Jr., who was also the most explicit racist.
I date a “reign of racism” (symbolic not literal) from 1917 to 1979 for two reasons. Those were the years of the deaths of two of the most influential people in the Churches of Christ, who also had the most opposite positions on race. David Lipscomb (1831-1917) was thoroughly anti-racist, arguing that dividing and segregating congregations by race was “blasphemous” and specifically attacked a Church of Christ in McKinney, TX in 1878 for refusing membership to a black Christian. Foy E. Wallace Jr. (1896-1979) was the next “most influential” member after Lipscomb and had a strictly opposite position, arguing, sadly enough, that white Christians should not even listen to black Church of Christ preachers, much less be in the same congregation. Wallace’s most infamously stated his position in his 1941 Bible Banner here. Wallace would even defend racism in the church because lack of racism “lowers the church in the eyes of the world.” So Wallace, living in a more “enlightened” time than Lipscomb was radically more barbaric in morals.
So the liberal-progressives acknowledge this, and without being so explicit, they conclude that to maintain such a barbaric moral standard as Wallace’s racism, he must have had a bad theological methodology. I agree completely with this critical position on Wallace, but because the liberal-progressives have had no oppositional dialog, they have not had their own conclusions about correcting Wallace’s theology challenged. As I will argue, they not only have lead into theological errors of their own, but they are ironically, and counter-intuitively, the true modern heirs of Foy E. Wallace Jr.
To understand this, one must understand the nature, purpose, and origin of racism, or at least the version that existed in context. Racism existed to justify a hegemonic relationship between those in political power, and a simple means to separate out some to exclude from power. While it obviously existed in race based slavery, the most modern version of racism had an explosive growth of influence due to the the movie “Birth of a Nation” in 1913. The plot of the movie takes place in the US after the “Civil War”. In it, blacks are the bad guys and one black tries to coerce a white woman to marry him, and she throws herself off a cliff to escape him. Blacks also threaten the Southern whites, but Northern whites save the Southern whites, and later on the KKK helps bring “justice”. The most important thing to notice is that this movie (one of the most influential movies in the history of the world, in part for really being the first real movie) is as a movie designed to persuade the audience to accept a North-South reconciliation where the North symbolically saves the South and, by making up a new enemy, they “forgive” past differences and unite against that new enemy. That is the real nature of nationalism, as David Lipscomb warned. It artificially creates enemies in order to build support for itself.
That can’t be overlooked. Until “Birth of a Nation”, the South was ideologically separate from the North and the North created and promoted this movie as a means to reintegrate them. It was produced with the full support of the US military who provided US cavalry to play the KKK. It also spurred the second formation of the KKK, which most people today didn’t realize was a Northern, Yankee based organization in this, its largest and most powerful iteration. The “Birth of a Nation” supporters and their KKK were pro-Lincoln to the core, and held Lincoln’s type of racism. Lincoln infamously had the first meeting of a president with American blacks, but the purpose was to convince them that they could not be part of America and had to return to Africa.
Sadly, Birth of a Nation was enormously successful in getting the bulk of Southern whites to be “pro-American” again, pro Lincoln for the first time, become even much more racist, and to accept the “United States” as if legitimate again. Before that, you would not catch Southerners patriotically praising the symbols of American nationalism and feeling like a part of it. When you see people flying or supporting both the Confederate battle flag and the US flag, or a Southern supporter of Lincoln, that uniting of opposites and enemies who killed over half a million people as if they were friendly again, those people are the remnant of direct unchanged heirs of the influence of Birth of a Nation. What is more interesting, and to soon be addressed, is the changed, evolved heirs of Birth of a Nation.
Separately, there was another pro-Lincoln movement that would embody centralized nationalism to be the most openly idolatrous direction in American history. This movement was started by Baptist cousins Edward and Frances Bellamy. One wrote the massively popular Christian Socialist utopian novel called Looking Backward in 1888. Anyone who took college American history should recognize it. The other cousin wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, immortalized the flag’s use for an idolatrous oath to a piece of cloth. This was done in order to convince schools to buy flags from their organization and make school children chant the ritual oath, of which every phrase represented an oath to Lincolnite centralism. Their movement was variously called Nationalism, (which was also the name of their periodical) Christian Socialism, military socialism, industrial socialism, and yes National Socialism. Did you wonder where the German straight arm Nazi salute to the German flag came from? It came from the Bellamy’s straight arm salute to the US flag that the American National Socialism movement started first. That didn’t change to the “hand over heart” till 1942 when Congress made a superficial attempt to be different from German National Socialism. This is also why it was common to see the “swastika” in the US from 1910 to 1935, because the Germans adopted it from the Americans, including the ideology of Lincolnite centralism and the name National Socialism itself.
As you can guess, the National Socialism movement and the Birth of a Nation movement were two expressions of the same idea and effectively merged, which is how the KKK started using the swastika before the Germans did. The German Nazi movement also tried to copy their patriotic American fore-bearers’ “Birth of a Nation” with their own similar movie in 1940 to use racism as a device to foster nationalism called “Jud Suss”.
So now you know some of the background of 20th century American racism. Racism existed for the purpose of promoting American nationalism. It was the scaffold, and as most Southerners are now pro-US government, it was a thoroughly successful propaganda technique. Nationalism was the ulterior purpose of racism, and so a greater evil than racism too. Once racism was successful in ideologically subjugating Southern whites, like any scaffold it was no longer needed. After WWII, the American Elite saw the need to persuade blacks into American nationalism and so it dispensed with racism. Some Southerners persistent in conserving the 1913 Birth of a Nation influence, hence called conservatives due to retaining the older type of nationalism, ironically enough since racial segregation was the ideology of “progressive” Woodrow Wilson. And those who abandoned racism starting around 1950 are called liberal or progressive because they follow the trends of change in the root of nationalism. Those who were historically never racist to begin with should neither be termed conservative nor liberal. That also means they never supported Lincoln, the Union, nor the Confederacy either.
Now return to how this affected the Churches of Christ. David Lipscomb opposed not just all elements of racism, but the core foundation from which racism was just one particular expression of the greater evil of national socialism, warmongering, and militarism because he opposed the root idolatry, namely, nationalism. His influence could only keep the American patriotism/idolatry of Birth of a Nation, the KKK, and the Bellamy’s away for so long because immediately after he died in 1917, the Gospel Advocate editor was threatened with jail and all property confiscated because of the Gospel Advocate’s anti-war, anti-draft, and anti-nationalism articles. Facing this enormous persecution, Editor McQuiddy gave in to the US government’s demands to stop all such writing. Without a strong voice warning the Churches of Christ against the idolatrous pull of nationalism, it was only a matter of time before someone would gain influence while openly promoting nationalism. That role fell to Foy E. Wallace Jr. While Lipscomb encouraged us to be not apart of the world, nor the “prince of this world’s” governments, Wallace would turn to the Protestant position of Calvin and Luther of explicit support, use, and participation with nationalism and its racism and militarism. It should be no surprise to educated members of the Churches of Christ that besides Foy Wallace Jr. being the prime proponent of charge from anti-racism to racism, he was also prime proponent of change from pacifism to militarism, because, as can be seen racism and militarism came wholly from the same root evil, just as “Birth of a Nation” was filmed with the full support of the West Point military academy.
Church of Christ historians will tell you that by the late 1920s, that the KKK meetings could even be tolerated in Church of Christ buildings. There was apparently discussion of such in the Gospel Advocate of the 1920s, but I’m not in a location to read such archives to give examples or specifics. What must be understood is that Wallace was a racist precisely because he was a nationalist. If a person rejects the barbarism of racism today, that does not mean one is more enlightened than the barbaric Wallace, because nationalism no longer needs or promotes racism. If in fact a person promotes modern nationalism, with its systems of government without universal consent or idolatry under the modern euphemism of patriotism, supports the military and prays for “our” troops, one is really no more enlightened than Wallace.
So in short, both the mid-20th Century style conservatives, which I would represent as by the Brown Trail School of Preaching, and the modern liberal-progressives as represented by ACU are equally nationalistic. Both sides are therefore equally heirs of Foy E. Wallace Jr. only the progressives acknowledge the past in order to promote a “Doctrine of Grace”, which is the term Baptists use for promoting Calvinism when they don’t want to call it Calvinism. One intriguing perspective on that issue is by one Independent Baptist, of all things, who outlines the evils of Calvinism as he acknowledges it is a cancer in the Baptist churches. Just as Calvin opposed voluntary religion, he acted consistent with his theology in promoting executions for believers in voluntary baptism and voluntary society. Another influence on the Progressives is Luther’s “faith only” theology, without realizing just how murderous and evil Luther really was, such as in practice against our Anabaptist allies in Christ, and in his written desires, against the Jews. The Holocaust really was a culmination of Lutheranism and the faith only theology, mixed with Lincolnite American nationalism transplanted into Germany.
The Christian answer lies in turning back to the old paths before we were corrupted by giving in to persecution in 1917 so that we could enjoy the pleasures (middle class comfort) of sin (nationalism) for a season. David Lipscomb was far more right than hardly any of us can imagine. In fact, it was an economist (Prof. Ed Stringham) outside the Churches of Christ who rediscovered how David Lipscomb wrote about the nature of governments almost one hundred years before great economists would independently rediscover these truths, such as in this article. Professor Stringham would even include Lipscomb’s writings in his book, Anarchy and the Law.
During the lifetime of Lipscomb, a historian Franz Oppenheimer would write something that would further explain Lipscomb’s arguments, although not in English till 1922:
“There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others. . . . I propose in the following discussion to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means” for the satisfaction of need while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means”. . . . The State is an organization of the political means. No State, therefore, can come into being until the economic means has created a definite number of objects for the satisfaction of needs, which objects may be taken away or appropriated by warlike robbery.” (The State, pp. 24-27)
The liberal-progressives in the Church of Christ are promoting nationalism, as represented by Max Lucado’s leading a prayer giving religious support to the 2004 Republican National Convention, and they are political conservatives, just like Foy Wallace Jr. The one great work by the “Father of Conservatism”, Edmund Burke, is “Vindication of Natural Society” and was the strongest conservative essay ever to explain why governments should be limited. Namely, because they are unnatural and unnecessary. However, as Burke would gain political influence, he would deny that the work was serious and say it was only satire, though the work itself proved the opposite. It was nothing like Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. So conservatives have argued for limiting government for 250 years while simultaneously rejecting the justification for limiting it. For if a government is legitimate, then their is no given reason for it to be limited. They would switch between opposing and supporting state solutions to social problems without an ethical means or reason to draw a line. This hypocrisy is then the core of the conservative duality of promoting and opposing government. Liberals and progressives are those, on the other hand, who have abandoned the hypocrisy for full blown acceptance of the nation-state. They have accepted The Beast in full, the social organizational method founded by Nimrod in Genesis 10. All nation-states are heirs and progenitors of his system.
The very nature (theology) of belief in voluntary individual baptism is the rejection of such a system of social organization without universal individual consent. The Anabaptists proved it by their Godly lifestyle and separation from the state and the persecution and deaths upon them that resulted from the persons, theologies, and churches of Luther and Calvin who had no use for voluntary baptism, voluntary religion, or voluntary society. The Baptists, on the other hand, adopted Calvinism, and so their “voluntary baptism” was not a core value, but just another instance of contradiction and the hypocrisy innate in their conservatism. The term for a social organization consistent with voluntary baptism is intentional community, as practiced by the Anabaptists, and without so clear a term, promoted by David Lipscomb and Tolbert Fanning, or if you are willing to use a more radical term that represents not a society but meta-society, the social system required by the theology of voluntary baptism is libertarian anarchism. That is the provision of goods only by the “economic means” of creation and production but never the “political means” of theft, compulsory taxation, and such types of duress and extortion.