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The Untapped Potential of the Beloved Community

(Author’s Note:  This essay is a follow-up to, The Snake in the Garden, Crushing the Head of White Supremacy. As a white Southerner who grew up under Jim Crow and participated in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s as a teacher and for many years as a church staff pastor, I record here information that is new to me. I do so with shame and regret for my ignorance of truths that were right in front of me. As my fellow Helena, AR author, David Billings says, we are all “recovering racists.” Although I take full responsibility for this ignorance, I can only claim that my eyes had been blinded by venom from the Snake in the Garden.)

The White Supremacy Campaign
Until the last few weeks when I began studying the often-hidden history, I thought things like the Klan and the cruel Jim Crow laws were simply examples of random stupidity. Now my white eyes have been opened.  This blessed nation has been besieged by an evil campaign. White supremacy was a carefully crafted multi-layered scheme dreamed up and implemented by racist Southern leaders wishing to retain their pride and reestablish their political power.  This evil campaign depended upon two huge lies and a wicked conclusion based on them.

  1. White people are by nature superior.
  2. People with darker skin are by nature inferior. So,
  3. African Americans must be organized and managed by whites.

This is the venom of the snake in the garden. My imagery of the snake in the garden refers to the biblical account of Creation.  The Bible says that God created the world as a garden of delights and placed two innocent people there to enjoy it.  Somehow, there was also a snake in the Garden of Eden; the snake was actually Satan in disguise.  The serpent lied about who God really was, casting doubt on His character and therefore on His Word.  First Eve, and then Adam, believed the lies and broke their fellowship with God.  Exposed to the lies of the snake, they found forgiveness in the bloody skins of some unnamed sacrificial animal.  Unless dealt with, sin always kills.  Though reconnected to their Creator, they were banished from the Garden and subjected to the pain and toil of life as we still experience it today.

Genesis 3:16-24 NIV
To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.

Using this analogy, I proposed that the founding of the United States of America was like a garden, a place of opportunity for those who participated in its freedoms.   The language of the founding documents promised equal justice for all people.  However, an unspoken subtext to these documents served to limit these freedoms to those whose skin was white.  This was unspoken because it was the conventional wisdom of the day in the circles of European influence. This was the foundation of colonialism: the progress of civilization was the province of white people. They sailed the world’s seas, invented the machines of the economy, wrote the laws, established the rules, and charted the future.  People of color were merely a resource; they were not partners in the values of European civilization.

Manifest Destiny
As the United States moved westward to fulfill the idea of “Manifest Destiny,” it was believed it was the very will of God for white people to populate and control the nation from coast to coast.  The unspoken but well-understood assumption was brought out of the shadows with the conflicts which emerged in this westward expansion.  The South had built its economy on the “obvious” superiority of whites and the “inferiority” of Africans who had been kidnapped and brought to this country as beasts of labor.  These twin lies served to divide the United States long before each side took up arms. When war came, 600,000 people paid the supreme price for these lies.  While the Civil war re-united the states politically, hearts were a different matter. White supremacy was not just a southern belief; with few exceptions, this was the ruling sentiment of the times. While the black man and his family were now represented in the constitution, few white people believed they could be equal partners.

Reconstruction and Its Aftermath
After the failure of Reconstruction, (1865-1882) systems were invented to keep the two lies in force and to facilitate the control of blacks.  The myth of “The Lost Cause” was devised to assure the white population that, though they may have lost the war, they were the good guys and the Yankees were mercenary invaders. These invented devices worked together as what amounted to legal but still oppressive systems of repression.  Jim Crow laws and a system of peonage served as economic substitutes for slavery, keeping white people in power and black people in social bondage.

What is meant by Jim Crow laws?
These were laws of behavior forced upon African Americans.  To reinforce their “inferiority” and the corresponding “superiority” of white people, these American citizens were expected to deport themselves in demeaning ways around white people.  These behaviors were enforced by the threat of violence and, all too often, by actual violence.  A little internet research will show you these shameful expectations.

  • A Black male could not offer his hand (to shake hands) with a White male because it implied being socially equal. Obviously, a Black male could not offer his hand or any other part of his body to a White woman, because he risked being accused of rape.
  • Blacks and Whites were not supposed to eat together. If they did eat together, Whites were to be served first, and some sort of partition was to be placed between them.
  • Under no circumstance was a Black male to offer to light the cigarette of a White female — that gesture implied intimacy.
  • Blacks were not allowed to show public affection toward one another in public, especially kissing, because it offended Whites.
  • Jim Crow etiquette prescribed that Blacks were introduced to Whites, never Whites to Blacks. For example: “Mr. Peters (the White person), this is Charlie (the Black person), that I spoke to you about.”
  • Whites did not use courtesy titles of respect when referring to Blacks, for example, Mr., Mrs., Miss., Sir, or Ma’am. Instead, Blacks were called by their first names. Blacks had to use courtesy titles when referring to Whites, and were not allowed to call them by their first names.
  • If a Black person rode in a car driven by a White person, the Black person sat in the back seat, or the back of a truck.
  • White motorists had the right-of-way at all intersections.

Moreover, Blacks were to remember the following rules when conversing with Whites:

  1. Never assert or even intimate that a White person is lying.
  2. Never impute dishonorable intentions to a White person.
  3. Never suggest that a White person is from an inferior class.
  4. Never lay claim to, or overly demonstrate, superior knowledge or intelligence.
  5. Never curse a White person.
  6. Never laugh derisively at a White person.
  7. Never comment upon the appearance of a White female.

(https://www.africanamerica.org/topic/jim-crow-etiquette)

When I was growing up in Helena, Arkansas in the 1950s and 1960s I witnessed this code of behavior first hand. I remember also, that a black person could not look a white person in the eyes when talking to him/her.  He had to lower his head and look at the ground.  These things were not taught at my church or in my home, but it was the law of the land, enforced by violence beyond the reach of law enforcement.  This was the cruel heart of white supremacy.  Due to the horrors of the Elaine Massacre of 1919, my home county of Phillips, leads the nation in the number of lynchings in American history.  (I recommend these two histories: “Blood in their Eyes,” by Grif Stockley https://tinyurl.com/y26o2f6d and “On the Laps of the Gods” by Robert Whitaker, https://tinyurl.com/yy38y2ot)

What would I have done?
I remember standing beneath the Confederate monument in our hometown Confederate cemetery staring into the face of the soldier on top looking down at me.  It was as if he hurled a question at me, fully 100 years after the Battle of Helena.  “What would you have done?” I knew in my heart that most likely I would have fought for the Confederacy, thinking I was fighting for my “country,” Arkansas. The monument spoke of “The Lost Cause” without defining it.  I went to the county library to find out what the phrase meant, praying all the while that it was not slavery.  My prayers had no effect–slavery was “the lost cause.” Still, in my southern-born naiveté, I considered the prejudice all around me to be merely unfortunate stupidity. As a teen, I rejected these lies and thought my equal treatment of black folk was the extent of my mission.

What must I do?
My recent research has opened my eyes and answered the questions that lingered in my mind.

  • Why did my school texts and the World Book Encyclopedia refer to the Civil War as “the War Between the States?” The publishers edited their books to foster white supremacy.
  • Why were all the Confederate Monuments erected at the end of the 19th Century and early in the 20th Century? Groups like the Daughters of the Confederacy erected these monuments to reinterpret history to their advantage.
  • Why was it so difficult for African Americans to escape their assigned social place? Lynching and other horrors acted as effective controls on African Americans.
  • Why was it so easy for my friends and me to buy into the two lies? We were busy growing up and were easily deceived.

Now I understand that this was not random stupidity; it was a carefully constructed campaign of fear, intimidation, and stolen, illegitimate power.

Now, armed with this information, I am angry.  I was deceived by those who conspired to lie to me and by the books in my classroom.  This anger is justified.  I have been rooked and used by those who deliberately lied in order to remain in power and to continue the evil repression of my fellow Americans. What can be done?  Will anger change things or will it simply fuel more anger.  Has there ever been a time when something besides anger was engaged to break this evil yoke on our country?

For Spiritual Warfare One Must Use Spiritual Weapons.

For 100 years the repression of African Americans remained in force until black Christians began to follow the teachings of this Jesus they had found in white America.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was more of a spiritual warfare than a political battle. My research into this movement has served to fill in embarrassing gaps in my understanding of this movement and its leader. Dr. Martin Luther King.  As I read of Congressman John Lewis and the beginnings of their sit-in protests against malignant, racial restrictions on public services, I saw the Sermon on the Mount in action.  Firehoses and ferocious dogs were powerless before young men and women who fought back with spiritual weapons.  The goodness of God and the power of non-violence changed this country.  The America I live in today is decidedly different from the one in which I came of age.  The job is far from done but we must see that the progress that made was a spiritual victory, not a political one. Congressman John Lewis and Dr. King knew this and lived it.  When the politicians took over and stripped the movement of its spiritual, Christian roots, it began to lose its power and its unique integrity.  We are still stuck right there.  As Paul asked the Galatians,

Galatians 3:3 NIV
Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Today, America is like a beached vessel, stranded on dangerous shifting sands.  The repeated waves of political upheaval threaten us more and more with every election cycle. The only way we can free this vessel from the sands of this shoal is to return to the spiritual power of that season when the Sermon on the Mount was the rule book and the strategy manual. In order to win a spiritual battle, one must use spiritual weapons.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…

If we are to pull down these evil strongholds, we must learn to use spiritual weapons.  I will conclude this essay with a list of these proven, powerful implements of spiritual warfare.

The Kingdom Agenda

Some months ago, I entered a deeper phase of my study of the massive problem facing America–racism.  I wrote a piece called “Nothing to Say.”(https://stevephifer.com/nothing-to-say/) I realized that as a Southern born-and-raised white man it was time for me to listen and not to speak, especially to my African American brothers and sisters.  Part of this listening meant reading books to inform me of things that I should have known all along but did not.

One of the books I read was by ground-breaking African American pastor Dr. Tony Evans.  He developed the concept of the Kingdom Agenda–living out the teaching and example of Jesus.  The resonated with me because my 10-year biblical study of worship, Worship that Pleases God  (https://stevephifer.com/worship-that-pleases-god-2/) convinced me that the purpose and function of worship is to establish the Kingdom of God among us.  The Kingdom of God includes the church but is bigger than the church.  It stretches to the limits of creation and is the true home of all people when they simply turn to God in faith filled prayer.

How is this possible?  The Book of Psalms gives us the answer.  Our sincere praise and worship establishes the Throne of God among us.

Psalm 22:3 NKJV
But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.

This passage also can be rendered, “You inhabit the praises of Israel.”  The word translated “inhabit” and “enthroned” actually means both.

OT:3427 HEBREW yashab (yaw-shab’); a primitive root; properly, to sit down (specifically as judge. in ambush, in quiet); by implication, to dwell, to remain; causatively, to settle, to marry: (Strong’s Concordance)

This is a most important revelation for in this promise is found hope for change for the better in all human issues.  When we worship God in spirit and truth, the Lord responds with both His presence and His sovereignty. Anything good is possible. This type of worship results in true change in human hearts.  Imagine my delight when I saw that Dr. Evans came to the same conclusion and he considers his book on the subject to be his magnum opus.  When our worship can be centered in the victorious Jesus (Christus Victor in theological terms)[1] we can change our world and we can defang the snake.

[1] Christus Victor is the element of the atoning work of Christ that emphasizes the triumph of Christ over the evil powers of the world, through which he rescues his people and establishes a new relationship between God and the world.  (https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/christus-victor/)

The Beloved Community
Dr. Martin Luther King brought to the church the concept of Beloved Community.  What does this term mean? Going online to research this term yields mixed results.  Some definitions lean toward leftist politics and thus hold little potential benefit for more conservative, Bible-believing church folk.  However, when we search out explanations sourced more directly in Dr. King’s work, we find more useful information.  For example, this:

The Beloved Community is a vision that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. popularized during   the Civil Rights Movement. King’s Beloved Community is a society based on justice, equality, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
www.cleavelandart.org/events/virtual-events/MLK-Day-2021

And this:

…the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved  Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends.… It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.  www.wearethebelovedcommunity.org/bcquotes.html

The most exciting thing about all that I am learning is this: I can see a solution to the damage done by the snake.  We must remember that his head is wonderfully bruised!  In my first essay, “The Snake in the Garden,” I promoted the opportunity for personal victory over this evil in a section called “The Cross and the Constitution.”  Each believer in America is armed with these two mighty spiritual weapons:

  1. We have rights and privileges guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and,
  2. We have a victorious Savior who has blazed the trail for us to follow.

Now, let’s pull back the camera to a wider view of this opportunity.

  1. We have a Kingdom Agenda. God has a victorious plan for each of us and His Spirit will empower us in every effort, defend us from every foe, and anoint us in assignment when His business is our business and our business is His business.
  2. We are a part of a truly Beloved Community. Jesus is building His church and it is impervious to even the gates of Hell.  He commands legions of angels to go before us, stand behind us, march in step with us with divine strength and wisdom.

No Longer Business as Usual
I do not advocate doing away with culturally formed churches. Americans celebrate freedom of worship.  That means those with similar testimonies and cultural tastes can meet together to worship the Lord in ways that flow from their hearts.  This must not be lost. Our churches fulfill a vital role as institutions that pass on our values from generation to generation which is, after all, a biblical command.

What I propose is a purposeful expansion of public worship events to deliberately celebrate our unity in Christ (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17) and our diversity of worship arts.  If we can learn to do this, we would more accurately reflect the nature of the God we worship.  Here are two examples:

  1. God devised the wings of a bird (unity) and then created countless variations on that design from tiny hummingbirds to massive condors (diversity). We could see our worship in this light and give up the fantasy that “we do it right and you guys do it wrong.”
  2. God invented the gill that allows aquatic animals to extract oxygen from water (unity) and then designed an extravagant collection of sea creatures (diversity.) Why can’t we see our worship styles as delightful diversity built upon our agreed upon unity?

That would certainly would not be “business as usual.”  This unity with diversity would be a witness to a world that needs Jesus that has never been seen before.  It would be a public celebration of joy and truth, as well as a demonstration of equality.  The cross and the constitution would become visible as never before.

For this to happen the artists of the white and black churches must take the lead. In the arts, artists always take the lead.  In popular music this has been happening since the advent of recordings.  What can’t it happen in Christian music? This is my vision of what Beloved Community could be in this century.  The Kingdom Agenda would not only set us all free, it would deliver a death blow to the serpent’s head. Come on!  This would be fun!

Meeting at the Table
There is no greater symbol of Christian worship the Table of the Lord.  As if anticipating the New Covenant, King David declared that the Lord prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.  Frequent combined worship events would speak the Gospel of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward men” at times other than just at Christmas. There is something unifying and binding when we celebrate the Table of the Lord.  The whole of Christianity is symbolized there:

  • The Life of Jesus is seen in the bread.
  • The atoning death of Jesus is represented in the cup.
  • The servanthood that is the mark of His Kingdom is seen in the towel wet and stained with the dirt of this life.

We meet there to worship—all of us—shut away in our separate sanctuaries.  Yet beyond our decorated walls in the realm of the Spirit, we are all the same—sinners in need of Amazing Grace.  Why can’t we decide to once in a while, gather in one house and demonstrate our unity for the world to see?  We could see walls of hostility crumble like the walls of Jericho at the blast of our trumpets.  When we become one in His name, I am sure the Lord Jesus will smile and the serpent will slink away crushed and defeated.

Waging Spiritual Warfare
How should this victorious warfare be waged?  Let us visit this amazing arsenal.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…

What are the weapons of this spiritual warfare?  They are found in the Holy Scriptures:

-The Two Greatest Commandments: Mt 22:37-40: Love God/Love People
-The Spiritual Life: The Sermon on the Mount: Mt 5-7

  • Be a Peacemaker.
  • Be salt and light.
  • Do not hate; it leads to murder.
  • Do not lust; it leads to adultery.
  • Be true to your marriage vows.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Go the second mile.
  • Love and pray for your enemies.
  • Pray for those who use you.
  • Give offerings from a pure heart.
  • Pray in the Secret Place.
  • Forgive those who sin against you.
  • Seek God’s Kingdom first.
  • Fast and pray.
  • Collect eternal things.
  • Guard your vision.
  • Beware if the deceitfulness of riches.
  • Trust God for the details of life.
  • Do not be judgmental toward others.
  • Pray persistently.
  • Walk the way of life; do not follow the world.
  • Be wary of false prophets.
  • Bear good fruit.
  • Built your life on the Rock, Jesus.

-Put on the whole armor of God. Eph 6:10-20

  • The Belt of Truth,
  • The Shoes of the Gospel,
  • The Shield of Faith,
  • The Helmet of Salvation
  • The Sword of the Spirit (the Word of God)
  • Keep on praying!

-Overcome evil with good. Rom 12;21
-The Name of Jesus. Php 2:10; 1 Cor 15:50-57
-Faith in Jesus. John 16:33; 1 John 5:1-5
-Prayer in the Spirit. Eph 6:10-18
-Spiritual resistance through humility. James 7-10
-Praise Eph 3:7-13

For thousands of years, these weapons have prevailed in spiritual warfare, bringing down strongholds and “everything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God.”

 

We are more than conquerors!

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2021 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

Recommended Reading
The Beloved Community, How Faith Shapes Social Justice from the
Civil Rights Movement to Today, Charles Marsh
His Truth Is Marching On, John Lewis and the Power of Hope, Jon
Meachum
Passionate for Justice, Ida B. Wells, A Prophet for Her Times, Catherine
Meeks and Nibs Stroupe
Deep Denial, The Persistence of White Supremacy in United States
History and Life, David Billings
ONEness EmbRACED, Reconciliation, The Kingdom and How We Are
Stronger Together, Tony Evans
Kingdom Agenda, Living Life God’s Way, Tony Evans

Recommended Viewing
America After the Civil War, Reconstruction Pt 1 & 2 PBS Documentary by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

 

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