Race and the Restoration

Written by Drew on April 17th, 2006

The book that started my library was given to me by Bobby Sharp in Fort Worth, Texas. I was a young teenager at the time and didn’t know whether I would preach, but the book has stayed with me; I use it to this day. It’s called Sermons by Hogan, published by Firm Foundation in 1940 and written by R.N. Hogan. Its chapters are transcripts from the effective, fundamental preaching of one of the most talented black preachers ever to serve in the churches of Christ.

Yet there are very few Christians who have even heard of brother Hogan. In fact, outside of Marshall Keeble, I doubt many Christians could name another black evangelist from bygone days. This is sad, for without men like R.N. Hogan and other black preachers of the early twentieth century, the churches of Christ would never have been truly restored to the biblical ideal.

When Campbell, Stone, and others began a movement to restore the New Testament church in the nineteenth century they did not finish the job. They were successful in leading believers “back to the Bible” on matters like baptism for the remission of sins, a cappella singing in worship, weekly communion, congregational autonomy, the plan of salvation, and the identity of the church. But they fell short when it came to race issues. True, they overcame many prejudices and traditions of their environment. For that we are grateful. But it would take another generation to bring the church closer to God’s original plan, a generation that fought hard and suffered long and one that is rarely recognized for the part it played in the Restoration Movement.

R.N. Hogan was at the forefront of the battle for social equality in the church. Being a student of the illustrious G.P. Bowser from the age of fourteen, Hogan did not adopt the accommodative preaching style of Marshall Keeble. Keeble through his humility and humor garnered a great deal of support from whites. Hogan and Bowser, however, preached with a hard edge and condemned the segregationist practices of the churches of Christ. For this they were ridiculed and harrassed by many influential Christian leaders.

The stories are shocking when heard from today’s vantage point. There is the time in 1920 when a wealthy Christian insurance man, A.B. Burton, purchased a building in Nashville to establish a school for blacks, with Bowser teaching the Bible. C.E.W. Dorris, who is best known for his commentary on Mark in the Gospel Advocate series, was appointed superintendent. The school failed, however, when Dorris insisted the black students enter by the back door and Bowser left. There is the editorial written by Foy E. Wallace in his publication The Bible Banner, calling Hogan’s insistence on social equality “abominable.” More could be said of this article and other examples of racism in our history, but they are too embarrassing to share. These are given to illustrate the struggles of Hogan and others as they sought to bring the Lord’s church closer to that which was built by Christ Himself on Pentecost (Mt. 16:18).

After editing the Christian Echo for fifty years, Bowser turned editorial responsibilities over to Hogan, his protege, who in turn began to use it in the 1950s as a spark for the civil rights movement in the churches of Christ. In June of 1959 Hogan wrote an article entitled, “The Sin of Being a Respecter of Persons,” which began with the following fiery words:

It is my personal observation that most of our Brethren who are in high places in the church of our Lord, are going to lose their souls because they are respecters of persons. That being a respecter of persons is a sin is without question, for the Bible plainly says that it is a sin.

Then followed a host of proof-texts to make his point, not the least of which was James 2:9-10: “But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”

Too many preachers in our past were products of their social environment instead of being products of divine law. Racist Christians who failed in the “one point” of race became accountable to the whole law. Only God knows if these individuals repented of their prejudice. Let us pray that this is so.

Meanwhile, the stories of men like Hogan and Bowser are summarily dismissed in most discussions of the Restoration Movement. But their contributions helped to restore God’s church on the social level. We need to learn more and write more about these men. They are as much a part of our heritage as Campbell and Stone.

 

4 Comments so far ↓

  1. andy says:

    Drew,
    This is an excellent article. Thanks for bringing this important matter and these historical facts to our attention. I am much more appreciative of the efforts of our faithful brethren to restore New Testament unity and harmony.

  2. Ashley says:

    I appreciate the work that went into this article, but I especially appreciate the sentiment. Thanks for bringing up the issue. I work with a congregation that worships in a racially diverse community. However, our congregation is not at all racially diverse. Recently, we have begun holding a brief worship service in a local park once a month to encourage those passing by to participate. So far, we have experienced great success with ten to fifteen visitors every month. I would love to hear what others are doing in their respective communities.

  3. disasterlady says:

    Thank you for sharing this from Br. Hogan. What a great man. It was a blessing to have known some of these pillars of faith!
    The warnings are still applicable today. After seeing the great need among the churches of Christ along the Gulf Coast and the seemingly unequal aid, I wonder if we have come very far?
    We have brothers and sisters still suffering from Katrina & Rita.
    We certainly are not where we should be.
    Thank you for bring this book to the light! We do need to honor such men and learn of their contributions to the Restoration Movement. Their Bible knowledge and passion for truth is needed by all of us.

  4. Stoned-Campbell Disciple says:

    Drew,

    I cannot say I stumbled onto your blog, a friend of mine emailed this address and asked me to read it.

    I think you have done a fine job of relating some of the tragic racism that has eaten the soul of the Churches of Christ in the past. There are, of course, many other much more heartbreaking stories and attitudes. Don Haymes has reflected on this issue for many years and collected some good material at the following website:

    http://www.mun.ca/rels/restmov/subs/race.html

    I would suggest that race is not the only area that Churches of Christ have reflected more of a southern white culture than a Kingdom of God perspective.

    We could further move beyond just saying these guys were racists and as WHY did they reflect such a perspective? What ideas, perspectives (cultural, theological, hermeneutical) that not only tolerated but fostered such a perspective. Why for example did whites in the Church of Christ routinely dismiss “social” equality (simple justice!) as a POLITICAL issue rather than a biblical issue?

    One final comment I have to make. It is easy to pass judgement on another generation. I am appauled by the attitude by men such as Wallace, Tant, and a host of others. But I also know that verse applies to you and me equally, If WE sin in ONE PART have we not also broken the ENTIRE law.

    For that reason I cling to the Cross of Jesus as my righteousness and not my perfect divine law keeping.

    By the way I have a book coming out that you might be interested in called “KINGDOM COME: EMBRACING THE SPIRITUAL LEGACY OF DAVID LIPSCOMB AND JAMES HARDING” (ACU Press/Leafwood 2006) that has some material related to race and justice in CofCs.

    Come by Stoned-Campbell Disciple at http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/

    Hesed and Shalom,
    Bobby Valentine

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