Note: This article was originally posted on October 27, 2005.
A Stream-of-Consciousness Review of A. Charles Ware’s Prejudice and the People of God
According to at least one disgruntled vandal, I reside in the “MOST CORRUPT AND PREJUDICE CITY IN THE USA.” If this marquee at an abandoned theater tells the truth, Rockford seems to be an unlikely spot for a racially and culturally diverse congregation.
Whether it’s hung out on theater marquees or hiding just under our own upturned noses, the reality is no less real. With very few exceptions, churches today are segregated, and, contrary to what we biblical separatists would wish to believe, the lines of division are not always doctrinal, but racial and cultural. Corporate fellowship with “other” races and cultures is an exception rather than the rule. When we do accumulate a few minorities in our congregations or institutions, they’re treated almost as celebrities–poster children–walking proof that “no, we’re not!” Aren’t we?
I do not know much about A. Charles Ware, which is slightly appalling, since I grew up in his neck of Indiana. That I’d barely heard of him prior to reading his book makes me wonder just how “outside” of “our” circles he is–and what I’ve learned of him since makes me wonder just why.
Dr. Ware is senior pastor of Crossroads Bible Church and president of Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis, Indiana. He founded Bethel Bible Christian School and co-founded a racial reconciliation organization called Voice of Biblical Reconciliation. He was graduated with B.R.E., M.Div., and D.D. degrees from Baptist Bible College (Clarks Summit, PA), Capital Bible Seminary (Lanham, MD), and Baptist Bible Seminary (Clarks Summit, PA). He has worked with Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis; he was a speaker for a nouthetic counseling ministry conference, and he is a board member of ABWE missions.
Dr. Ware is also black. He has written a book titled Prejudice and the People of God. I have two policies when it comes to books: 1. I never bash a book I haven’t read. Ok, well, almost never. Rarely. I imagine the unread books I’ve bashed are books you have bashed a priori, too. (The old “you don’t have to try drugs to know they’re bad” theory.)
2. I always judge a book by its cover. In the visual marketing sense, I certainly plead guilty to prejudice. For this book, there is another cover out there, but I prefer this one.
After reading Prejudice and the People of God last weekend, I think that the primary thing I don’t appreciate about Dr. Ware is his directing his church’s Katrina relief to the Salvation Army rather than to Global Grace.
The man loves the Bible. His perspective on the sin of racism is informed primarily by his saturation in the Word and honed by his preeminent allegiance to the God of the Word. It is because he esteems the fundamentals of the faith so highly that he promotes racial reconciliation among believers so persistently. He does not use the platform of this book merely as a soapbox for his social agenda. He showcases the Gospel and springboards from it to gives us a glimpse of how the people of God could and should love if the Gospel is to be lived out and if God is to be glorified in His Church (“glorified” in word, but also in deed and truth).
Dr. Ware’s book is balanced. For the first half of Prejudice and the People of God, I deliberately avoided finding out whether Dr. Ware is black or white, and it was not hard to stay in the dark. Preferences or a leaning favoritism were not blatant in his writing, and there was little if any evident reference to his own skin color until nearly the end of the book. He is truly a gentleman and a scholar.
Furthermore, Dr. Ware’s book is biblical. It is obvious that Ware believes God’s Word “trumps” all allegiances to ethnic heritage, all of our conjecturing and experiences. While acknowledging that these are parts of us that do not and ought not need to be dismissed, he makes it clear that the preeminent “rallying point” for all Christians ought to be the selfless, loving example of Christ Himself.
When confronting issues that inundate our diverse lives as thoroughly as sinful racial or cultural prejudice, it is imperative to define terms. Ware says himself that “one of the great challenges to finding an acceptable prescription for racism is the lack of a clear definition of the disease.” I was glad he tackled definitions early on, laying the needful groundwork for the rest of the book.
The book does not blindly advocate the typical party line of multiculturalism, a well-meant theory with drastic ramifications. Multiculturalism (a la Sesame Street, for example?) is a phenomenon which ultimately robs rather than revels in distinctions. Its tragic flaw is the omission of the Creator God. As Ware writes, it amounts to “a new world society with no distinctions at all, a rainbow world in which I cannot say that my beliefs and standards of morality have any superiority over anyone else’s views.”
I appreciate that Ware does not major on the minors, nor minor on majors. I appreciate, too, the helpful history (chapter 4) of the origins and evolution of “the Black Church.” For those of us who grew up watching Sesame Street and who truly believe we are not racists, his assessments of what happened to bring the Church to this point are certainly informative and refreshingly objective. For instance, he acknowledges that “Afrocentrism replaced that distorted Eurocentric Christianity with an equally distorted Afrocentric view.” He is unafraid to name names of folks who have made mistakes that damage Christ’s testimony of love in His Church. On the other hand, he refuses to heroize men and women commonly known and revered for their civil rights activism. He addresses injustices committed in retaliation for racial and cultural prejudice, but he does not rationalize or condone poor character and criminal activity.
One of Dr. Ware’s recurring themes is that pride is part and parcel to the sin of prejudice. Repeatedly, he reminds readers that “love is nurtured when Christian fellowship is characterized by humility (Phil. 2:1-8)” (p. 40). It is difficult to grasp and deal with pride when it comes to prejudice, because it is natural to apply our own slants to the issues. The human tendency is to filter the big scope picture through glasses colored by our personal presuppositions and emotional experiences. It is human to be self-consumed, and pride inundates and skews our perspective of reality.
As Ware reminds us, “We are called across racial and ethnic boundaries.” Reconciled fellowship with believers of varied races and cultures is not a minor expectation in Scripture. It is not a matter of indifference that we do not pursue or enjoy consistent fellowship with fellow-believers of other races and cultures. Ware says, “Christians [cannot] legitimately abide a cultural polarization that refuses to die.” In chapter two, Ware presents and defends a sound case for racial reconciliation as a major New Testament theme. For separatist Bible-believers, the import of his words is undeniable. If we have allowed visible and invisible hindrances to divide Christ’s Body, not upon doctrinal points but upon points of personal comfort and familiarity which contradict the Bible flat out, we find ourselves in grave error.
I have very few qualms with Prejudice and the People of God. It is brief (151 pages), yet thoroughly treats its subject. I find some wording choices difficult to justify. They may be unnecessarily jargony right off the bat for readers who may be far less familiar with terms Ware has probably been accustomed to for years. Heavy words–like “depredations,” “a cultural polarization,” “incarnation model,” and “racial reconciliation” itself–are introduced early on in the book, yet without much explanation to orientate any readers who might be unfamiliar with them. This may be a deliberate stylistic choice, since Ware develops many, if not all, of the concepts later in his book.
Since I hold two degrees (and a birth certificate) from Bob Jones University, I must admit personal dismay at his repeated barbs against (I suppose) the administration of my alma mater (since I assume he does not pretend to know the heartsets and actions of the thousands of alumni, faculty and staff, and current students who associate themselves with BJU). I have mentioned that Dr. Ware maintains as much objectivity as possible in this book. We all bring our baggage to the table, and no one writes out of a vacuum. But Ware does not, for the most part, buy into generalizations and stereotypes (in fact, he discourages this vehemently). While acknowledging my own bias (“informed” prejudice after 8 years of campus life), I would contend that Dr. Ware breaks his own policy here. He does so particularly in his accusation that “after losing the antidiscrimination case” in the 1980s, BJU “simply refused government aid so they could continue to deny admission to saints who had a passion for taking the Word of God around the world” (p. 69). If my research is correct, BJU began to accept married black students in 1971 (singles in 1975), only a few years after other South Carolina colleges opened their own admission policies. The contention in the 1980s was not “so” that BJU could ensure the right to be just as prejudiced as they wanted to be. It was “so” they could ensure the right of any Christian institution to not be railroaded by federal government pressure into modifying a viewpoint and practice that they were not yet biblically persuaded they ought to change.
Whether or not that distinction of motive was consistently or widely presented, whether or not discouraging interracial marriage is biblically supportable as a religious distinctive, or whether or not confused or contradictory positions have been taken or articulated–those are points, perhaps, for legitimate debate. That sinful prejudices and hurtful statements from or associated with “the bastion of biblical orthodoxy” have occurred, to the detriment of Christ’s testimony within and without His Church, I would not argue. Like the Church of Christ at large, however, BJU comprises fallible saints who recognize and attempt to deal with their shortcomings as they become aware of them and convicted by the Holy Spirit. But to assume an evil motive, or to assume it to be held by everyone in an institution, is unfair and reflects its own lack of exposure to the whole reality.
Speaking of the whole reality, the Bible-based indictments and Bible-based hope platformed in Ware’s book are more than relevant for the whole reality today. I could expound on the book’s virtues and I would love to quote extensively to allow the author’s words to speak for themselves. Please do buy and read Prejudice and the People of God. I have already mentioned my two fundamental impressions: The book is biblical, and the book is balanced. I am grateful for the evident work on the part of this man of God to speak to this issue with biblical authority, historical integrity, and gracious, genuine love and hope.
In this month and a half following Hurricane Katrina, there has been a great deal of media uproar over the apparent neglect of poverty-line residents in New Orleans, particularly those whom many describe as underprivileged African-Americans. Disaster repercussions have impoverished people of all colors and stations in life, but NPR and others are making effective use of the spotlight to point out still-existing racial issues, particularly between white and black communities, and particularly those that seem more or less wealthy.
Global Grace, my church’s missions-minded relief and hospitality ministry, has been seeking to find and help evacuees of various shades and stripes. It has been sad to watch as some Christian organizations (particularly those who would self-identify as “fundamentalist”) have either delayed help or withheld it altogether, based on determinations couched in unjust or uninformed presuppositions and denominational sectarianism.
It is hard to gauge how much of the post-Katrina uproar is accurate, or whether it’s the amplified rant of a disgruntled minority opinion. But the evidence does seem to mount against those of us who claim theoretically open arms and open hearts, yet who practically demonstrate inertia, or worse. My experience is limited, but the only “black” churches in any of the fundamentalist circles of which I’ve been a part have been mission outreach endeavors of varying levels of success. Here in Rockford, my bank rep, Fandell, goes to a Bible-centered community church that is multiethnic. And my friend at the Literacy Council, Murl, goes to a black Baptist church that seems to preach solid doctrine. I enjoy great fellowship with these folks, but it grieves me that they and their congregations are strangers to mine–that it seems they will merely be bumping into one another at the bank or the bus stop until we reach heaven and really begin to taste the reality of Romans 1:12.
Again, our midwestern city of Rockford may seem to be an unlikely spot for a racially and culturally diverse congregation. Yet Morning Star Baptist Church is not at all opposed to the idea. There are Latinos and Eastern Europeans that we do not know how to talk to. There are black folks who have heard and believed stereotypes and generalizations about us. And we could probably stand to sift fact from fiction in our own perceptions of them. Ware’s last chapter addresses “A Vision of Oneness: What a Reconciled Fellowship Looks Like.” Racial reconciliation is a tough thing to envision in our churches today, tougher for some of us than others. It is a cross-cultural grafting process, not an acultural melting pot. It requires authentic motivation (Christ’s exemplary selfless love), conscientious thought, spiritual enablement, and deliberate work.
It would be foolish to forget that visitors to your church may be completely unaccustomed to the order of worship you use, as you might be unaccustomed to theirs. For either party to expect or demand that the other’s methods and practices on adiaphora (extrabiblical matters of indifference) to have developed identically is unreasonable. And then there are those awkward and sometimes painful “first time for” hurdles to clear. When a black street preacher from New Orleans decided to relocate and join us here after Katrina, Pastor Bixby warned him fair and square that we have been meeting in rural Illinois and currently have mostly Caucasians in our congregation. While we would like to be a racially diverse congregation, we are not currently “situated” for it right now. That is, we are not geographically / logistically / popularly situated so, and we are deliberately trusting God’s own timing and God’s own agenda with that “situation” situation.
Pastor told our evacuee-preacher-friend that he may be in the minority for a while. So far, he fits right in.
Prejudice is one thing that ought not feel at home in our churches. Racism and authentic faith are mutually exclusive. Dr. Ware words it this way: “The color of Christianity is love.” (If I were to write that, it would be a bit sensational, but coming from him, I don’t mind it so much.) His point is clear: “Love for the brethren is a mark of authentic faith” (1 John 3:14-18; 4:7-11). True racial reconciliation, in that sense, becomes a distinctive of true Christianity.
Joy McCarnan is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher. She holds degrees in English/Creative Writing and Theology from Bob Jones University. She is Executive Editor for Kids 4 Truth, International, a job that she actually does internationally. Currently, Joy lives in southwestern France, where she is teaching English part-time to French high-school students. Her blog is karagraphy.com.