In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul tells us that for those who are clothed in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. It’s a beautiful picture! But in life, we know that those distinctions most certainly exist! We know that in the church of Galatia they most certainly existed. Why else would Paul have written this, if there were not struggles related to the status of Jew, Greek, slave, free, male and female?
Likewise, those distinctions most certainly exist within our church. Not literally Jew and Greek. But most certainly the “in” and the “not so in.” Perhaps not slave and free. But certainly those with power and those without power. And who would deny that there are distinctions between black, brown, yellow, red and white; male and female, gay and straight, rich or poor, indigenous and non-indigenous! Those distinctions most certainly exist and testify to the measure to which we fall short of the standard of what Paul says it means to be clothed with Christ. Our seating plans are not aligned to those of the kingdom.
In February 2020, in recognition of Black History Month, I joined colleagues from the Atlantic Ministry Area in a visit to the Black Loyalist Heritage Centre in Birchtown, Nova Scotia. It was part of a several month study wherein these pastors had taken concrete steps to learn a history that most of us knew very little of. They had acknowledged that their lack of historical knowledge was a liability and took concrete steps to do something about it. They did so recognizing that history matters!
One of the most enlightening courses I took during my undergraduate studies was an introduction to African American history. Our primary textbook was. “From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African-Americans,” published in 1947 and revised several time thereafter. It remains a classic.
Its author was John Hope Franklin, who was born in 1915 and raised in segregated Oklahoma. Graduating from Fisk University in 1935, he earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1941. Over the course of his career, he held faculty posts at a number of institutions, including Howard University, the University of Chicago and Duke University. A giant in his field, Franklin served as president of the American Historical Association, the American Studies Association and the Organization of American Historians.
In an address commemorating the 100th anniversary of Franklin’s birth, Harvard president and historian Drew Faust remarked that “Franklin insisted not just upon the relevance of history, but indeed its pre-eminence as the indispensable instrument of change and even salvation from legacies that left unexamined will destroy us. ‘Good history,’ Franklin remarked in 2003, ‘is a good foundation for a better present and future.’ ”
“For John Hope Franklin, history was a calling and a weapon, a passion and a project,” Faust said. “Fundamental to the task at hand would be to revise the ‘hallowed’ falsehoods, to illustrate how the abuse and misuse of history served to legitimate systems of oppression not just in the past but in the present as well.”
Make no mistake, friends. History matters! Black history matters! In this year’s Black History Month I invite you to learn some new history. Check out your public library or Google for a recommended reading list. I promise that it will change you, and us, for the better!