Today in the USA is a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of us Baby Boomers remember the difficult days of the 1960s as Dr. King stirred the conscience of the nation. We remember when our public schools were segregated, then integrated. For many of us, our sense of righteousness, justice, and equity, was shaped in that period.
In recent weeks I have found myself thinking of these matters from several context. Two are historical contexts and two are contemporary.
First, from history, I have just finished reading the soon to be published manuscript of Dr. Vinson Synan and Dr. Dan Woods on the life of Benjamin H. Irwin, the founder of the Fire-Baptized Holiness Church. The FBHC is one of the two holiness branches that formed the International Pentecostal Holiness Church as we know it today. In its peak, Irwin’s FBHC reached from Canada to Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and across the southeast to South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee.
While there is much of Irwin’s life that is not commendable, he can be commended for opening his fledgling movement to full ministry and leadership positions for African Americans and women. In the early days after Plessy v Ferguson (1896) that legalized “separate but equal,” Irwin and many of our IPHC forefathers refused to accommodate to the injustice of that US Supreme Court decision. One of Irwin’s top Ruling Elders was the South Carolina African American leader Rev. William Fuller. It was not until 1908 that Fuller, recognizing the challenges of blacks meeting with whites in public gatherings, led the way in forming a separate denomination, which exists today. Thankfully, that separation did not separate friendships, especially between Fuller and Bishop J.H. King. And thankfully the IPHC maintains cordial fraternal relationship with the FBHC of the Americas.
The Pentecostal Holiness Church of North Carolina, the other branch of our present movement, also had key leaders with open hearts to minister with and among African Americans. In particular, G.B. Cashwell, who brought Azusa Street Pentecost to North Carolina, stands out for his ministry with African American congregations.
Not all of our history is as inspiring. Many of our forefathers were, like many of us, ensnared in their own cultural captivities. Sadly they, like many of us, were not even aware of their captivity.
But I am grateful that over the one hundred plus years since those days, as a movement we have sought to be more inclusive and sensitive especially to our African American brothers and sisters.
That brings me to the second historical reference. Since early December I have been reading The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist. In paperback it’s over 500 pages. A history professor at Cornell University, but originally from Durham, North Carolina, this book has had a profound impact on me.
Baptist traces the multiple weavings of Washington politics, economic interests from north and south and from Europe to the Caribbean, the political and economic waves that expanded slavery across the southern USA, and the devastating effect of slavery upon African American families. It is an informative. compelling, and deeply sad book. It has helped me better appreciate the long lasting effects of that “peculiar institution,” slavery, that continues to impact many African Americans today.
But it also shows how this part of our national legacy was morally, and economically, devastating to whites, and not just whites in the southern USA, and not just whites who owned slaves.
Now, to the two contemporary expressions. The first is a podcast with Dr. Leith Anderson, President of the National Association of Evangelicals with Bishop Claude Alexander, pastor of The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. You can hear that interview here .
The second contemporary expression is the IPHC Core Value focus for 2017, “We Prayerfully Value Christ’s Kingdom.” To enter into Christ’s Kingdom (or the Kingdom of God if you prefer), is to enter into a place where holy fire does its purifying work in every aspect of our lives. It means that unrecognized mindsets are exposed to the liberating truth of God’s Word. It means I commit myself to be changed, to be transformed, into what Christ wants His body to be in the world.
That reality gives me great hope for our nation, divided as it is. It is the occasion for the church to “Arise” and live in such a way that “the manifold wisdom of God might be made know by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).