Science in Christian Perspective
SEGREGATION AND WORLD MISSIONS
Warren and Shirley Webster
From: JASA 16
(June 1964): 41-42.
Once again the newspapers of Asia and Africa carry daily reports of racial unrest in the U.S. What happens today in Little Rock or Birmingham is on the front page of tomorrow's paper in Cairo, Karachi and Djakarta-complete with photographs of police dogs, fire hoses, bombings and burning crosses.
Here in Pakistan a prominent national paper ran a series of articles last year on the plight of the Negro in "Christian America," depicting his struggles to realize the rights guaranteed in the American Constitution, but often denied him in practice by his white coreligionists.
An international Muslim magazine commenting on the Negro's fight for equal opportunities in education could not refrain from concluding: "If a University Campus-supposedly an institution for learning and education- has to be turned into a military camp in order to convince the white 'scholars' of the virtues of human brotherhood and equality there is something wrong with them."
The resultant damage to the "American image" of democracy and fair-play is serious enough in the eyes of world opinion, but the negative implications for the world mission of the Church are even more disastrous -and perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the Muslim world.
The religion of Islam has historically been largely free of race and color prejudice. This is often adduced as an evidence of Islam's superiority and proof of its claim to be the world's final and greatest religion. Muslims can truthfully boast that in all of Africa there is no such thing as a racially segregated mosque, and throughout the world Muslims of all races freely pray and worship together. It is little wonder that in parts of Africa Islam is gaining converts ten times as fast as the Christian churches and is growing among Negroes in America also.
More than one Muslim, when confronted with the claims of Christ, has replied in effect, "Why should we leave the brotherhood of Islam where men are not looked down upon because of race or color in order to become merely 'second-class citizens' of the Kingdom of God like the segregated colored people of Christian America and Protestant South Africa?" If one could reply by distinguishing between "Westerners" and "Christians" and go on to demonstrate that it is not Christians who are responsible for denying equal rights and opportunity to their colored neighbors, it would be a strong argument in support of the leavening and life-transforming power of the Gospel in the face of selfishness and hate. But as long as there are Christian pastors and churches actively aligned with the forces of bigotry and discrimination against the Negro, the whole world will know and continue to mock the missionary when he speaks of the Truth that makes men free.
There is something incongruous and contradictory about churches which send missionaries half-way around the world with the Gospel of Christ while refusing to worship with the colored people of their own community. If the contradiction is not readily apparent to the sending bodies, you can be sure it is seen and recognized for what it is by the peoples to whom the missionary is sent. In an age when the world seemed big, men perhaps could afford to be small, but now that the world has become small, men-certainly Christian men-must learn to be big.
In the Muslim world, Western society's vulnerability in the area of race relations contributes not only to rejection of the Christian message, but at the same time it encourages Muslims to believe that in Islam they have the only hope for the colored people of America and Africa. The phenomenal growth of the Black Muslim movement in the U.S. over the past decade is fraught with significance as a case in point. More and more Muslim writers are emphasizing the need for Islamic missions to the Negro. The following appeared in the local paper in May 1963:
In fighting against racialism, the American Negro has Islam as his greatest champion. Indeed such of the American Negroes who have embraced Islam are to be found in the very front ranks of these freedom fighters. Bitter experience has taught them that Christianity has not solved the racial problem. It Is high time that we form an Islamic Mission for the Negro to see that the message of Islam reaches each and every American and South African Negro who Is fighting for basic human rights.
Christian Church's unhappy involvement in racial segregation and discrimination
is the delight of her enemies and the dismay of the missionary. As one servant
of Christ in the Orient wrote: "The missionary movement carries about its
neck the mighty millstone of our inconsistency as it operates in the colored
world I and
it staggers more and more beneath this weight *
" Another messenger of
the Cross, Ross Coggins in Indonesia, sums up the plea of many missionaries in
Would God that friends of segregation For awhile could leave our nation, Come with me across the seas, Work by my side with Javanese; Or, If not here, some other clime Where Christ Is preached-Oh, just one time!
In times of swift communication, Nation cannot hide from nation What it does. Within brief hours Headlines shout how hatred's powers Close love's doors with jarring thud Because of race, because of blood.
A helpless, dark-skinned boy is slain, His slayers freed to slay again; No mark of Cain upon their brow, They strut in triumph and avow, "If a nigger is my brother, Let his keeper be another."
Is there no love that will transcend Man's petty strife and condescend To men of other creed and hue? Forgive! They know not what they do! Is it too much, we humbly ask - Unchain our hands to do our task.
No one can deny that the problems are complex and immense-but they are not impossible. There is a Christian answer! Christian love must find a way-or fail to impress this generation as a Gospel for the whole world. On behalf of Christ's ambassadors in many lands, we plead with you in the churches of America to rise in Christian love above the factor of race in order to demonstrate the spiritual oneness of believers for which Christ prayed, "so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."
"Is it too much, we humbly ask- Unchain our hands to do our task." -Warren and Shirley Webster, Conservative Baptist Foreign Mission Society, Dadu, West Pakistan.