In this interview, Dr. Robin Johnston, editor in chief and publisher for the United Pentecostal Church International, discusses racial reconciliation.
“Let us be deeply sensible of… the evil of a division in principle, spirit or practice, and the dreadful consequences to ourselves and others. If we are united, what can stand before us? If we divide, we shall destroy ourselves (Gal 5:15-17), and the work of God, and the souls of our people” (William J. Seymour as quoted in The Origins of Global Pentecostalism).
Q: Why is racial reconciliation important and how do we begin to address it?
God made humans in His image. Therefore, every person is created with intrinsic worth and dignity. We should love and honor others because God does.
To address where the church is and where we have developed blind spots, we start by affirming the Bible is true and God’s inspired Word. The issue is not with the Bible but with our ability to correctly read and interpret it. In a broader context, we have two limitations that color our vision: (1) our fallen nature and (2) living in a world tainted by sin. It may be that we are not capable as humans to understand everything the Bible has to say. That shouldn’t surprise us—we can’t always understand each other. As North American Apostolics, we are influenced by culture. We’re not always successful at filtering out our ecosystem and its flaws.One can argue the Apostolic movement did much of the theological thinking that would lead to the Civil Rights Movement. #racialreconciliation Click To Tweet
Our Back Story
Going back to history, there was an interracial movement at Azusa that was entirely out of context with culture. There was anticipation by this group that the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh just as Peter explained from Joel’s prophecy. The anticipation was that it would happen in the church. The revival was led by William Seymour, an African American whose parents had been slaves. He had an incredible vision for multicultural, interracial fellowship.
The restoration impulse, which ultimately pushed the church back to its roots, was an attempt to restore the church to a multiethnic and interracial fellowship. But there were broader cultural pressures, particularly across the American South but not just there. Inside the broader Christian church, at least in some pockets of it, there was an attempt to use biblical text to justify racial segregation.
The Broader Culture Infiltrates the Church
Growing Jim Crow laws in the South (a series of local laws that conformed to a broad cultural pattern) segregated people by race with separate school systems, restaurants, hotels, water fountains, and neighborhoods. That broader pressure that infiltrated our culture influenced the church.
That broader pressure that infiltrated our culture influenced the church….The white Apostolic movement knuckled under that pressure.
Places like Missouri redlined neighborhoods and wouldn’t allow loans to certain groups of people. Unfortunately the white Apostolic movement knuckled under that pressure. By the mid-1920s there had been some segregation for the movement.
Voices for Inclusion
In the late 1920s, Robert C. Lawson, founder of Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ—an African American group which had split off PAW in 1919—wrote a
[Robert C. Lawson] suggested Jesus physically had the blood of all nations running through His veins.
book called The Anthropology of Jesus Our Kinsman Christ. He suggested Jesus physically had the blood of all nations running through His veins. He reached back to interracial marriages—Judah and Moses—and emphasized inclusion of Caucasians, African Americans, and Jews. He used that platform to argue that Jesus physically would have had the blood of all three races and became our kinsman-redeemer because He’s like us. Therefore, we should be an inclusive church. Lawson’s work addressed the concern that we were following broader American culture and segregation. He and other leaders played important roles in raising issues of inclusivity. One can argue the Apostolic movement did much of the theological thinking that would lead to the Civil Rights Movement.
Bio: Dr. Robin Johnston serves as the editor in chief and publisher for the United Pentecostal Church International. In addition he is the director for the Center for the Study of Oneness Pentecostalism and an adjunct professor at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
Resources and Links
To read more by Dr. Johnston, click here.