THE REPENTANCE PROJECT / AN AMERICAN LENT
Jim Crow and the God Who Hates
WEEK V / DAY II
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Scripture / Proverbs 20:23
The LORD detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.
Our History and Its Legacy
While we all are familiar with the biblical truth “God is love,” we are prone to forget that God also hates. To be more specific, we are keen on remembering the things God calls abominations as long as they coincide with our own agendas and predilections. We conveniently “misremember” certain things God hates when it means we may have to give up power, privilege, and status. Sadly, this has largely been the case in majority culture churches throughout American history.
At the close of the Civil War, the U.S. Congress endeavored to even the scales among southern ex-slaves and southern Whites. Passing the Fourteenth Amendment granted full citizenship to slaves. Passing the Fifteenth Amendment banned racial discrimination in voting. This led to further Reconstruction policies, like the Enforcement Acts passed between 1870 and 1875. These acts protected African-Americans’ right to vote in elections, hold office, and serve on juries, as well as receive equal protection of laws. These new laws meant that federal troops would be sent into the south to enforce these laws and protect African-Americans from being harassed at the voting booths by White Supremacist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan.
The early results were encouraging, especially in southern states like South Carolina. Because African-Americans in South Carolina vastly outnumbered whites, the newly-enfranchised voters were able to elect a majority of African-American representatives to the state assembly. Many of these legislators worked to rewrite the state constitution and pass laws ensuring aid to public education, as well as civil rights for all.
This success was short-lived after the Presidential election of 1876 and the Hayes Compromise of 1877, in which Rutherford B. Hayes (who had lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden) agreed to remove federal troops from southern states in exchange for the electoral votes necessary to win the presidency. This effectively ended Reconstruction and ushered in the Jim Crow Era. Ex-slaves had now been turned over to the mercies of their ex-masters. Laws making brown and Black people the equals of White people were seen as preposterous and even un-Christian. In 1883, the Supreme Court was inclined to agree with these sentiments and deemed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 unconstitutional. This would be the last civil rights legislation signed until 1957.
Jim Crow laws quickly supplanted the laws passed during Reconstruction. The allure of these policies, rooted in white supremacy, were appealing to whites afraid of losing jobs to Blacks. Politicians exploited Blacks to win the votes of poor White workers. Newspapers fed into the biases of White readers by embellishing or even inventing Black crimes.
These laws touched every aspect of life. In South Carolina, Black and White textile workers were prohibited from working in the same room, entering through the same door, or gazing out of the same window. Blacks increasingly became un-hirable with several unions passing rules to exclude them. In parts of Richmond, VA, one could not live on certain streets unless the majority of residents were people that the individual could marry. This worked to keep Blacks out of White communities, because it was illegal to marry outside of one’s race.
In 1914, Texas had six towns in which Blacks could not live. Mobile, Alabama passed a Jim Crow curfew signifying that Blacks could not leave their homes after 10 PM. Soon, signs marked “Whites Only” or “Colored” hung over doors, ticket windows, and drinking fountains. Georgia designated Black and White parks. Oklahoma designated Black and White phone booths.
Segregation became the modus operandi for prisons, hospitals, and orphanages, as well as schools. Black and White students had to use separate textbooks in North Carolina. In Florida, the books couldn’t even be stored together. Atlanta courts kept two Bibles — one for Black witnesses and one for Whites.
The question begs to be asked, “Where was the Church?” The Church in America was largely silent and/or complicit. Many of these policies were written and consented to by avid church-goers. Pastors of congregations preached sermons on the Christian argument for segregation. They warned that integration was against God’s will and against the laws of scripture.
I think another question needs to be asked: “Where Is the Church?” As believers, our mission is to convey the heart and mission of God to restore both broken people and broken systems. This means we love what God loves and hate what God hates. If Jesus cares about individuals as well as structures, then we are to care about both, too.
Sadly, it has often seemed that in attempting to deal with the issue of racial injustice, many White Americans reduce the issue and thus truncate the Gospel into an individual one rather than a structural one. For many, racism only manifests itself in dramatic occurrences like crosses being burned on an African-American’s lawn or lynching a young 14 year-old boy like Emmett Till for allegedly whistling at a White woman.
For many White Americans, this view is so exclusively individualistic that these types of occurrences become the rubric by which they evaluate racial injustice for themselves as well as the country. If they aren’t practicing similar types of demonstrable and blatant racism against African-Americans, the belief is that they can’t be racist or racially insensitive. For them, if these types of examples have subsided, then racism can be relegated to an unfortunate relic from a dark past that occasionally makes intermittent cameo appearances.
Ironically, these beliefs serve as the bedrock of structural racism, which is more insidious than the blatant racism of Jim Crow America because it’s shrouded in ignorance. These beliefs are held by grandmothers and grandfathers, moms and dads, brothers and sisters, friendly neighbors, pastors and congregants. By all conventional standards, these are “good” people. Yet by embracing the idea of individual racism at the expense of structural racism, these people ignore the cumulative and disparate effects these policies have had on African-American communities.
Reflection and Response
The heart of God hates unjust measures. God hates unequal scales. He calls it an abomination. To have the heart of God is to say that image bearers are not just worthy of freedom, but worthy of friendship, and even better - worthy of being family. May God give us a hatred for the things that He hates, and a deep and abiding love for those that He loves.
Written by Darryl Ford