Politics, Religion, and Race: An Interview with John DeBerry

This interview is from the latest issue of The Quarterly, available here. To subscribe, visit CobbPublishing.com/Quarterly

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[John DeBerry has served as Tennessee State Representative for 26 years, and has been a gospel preacher for over 50. He lives in Memphis.]

What I’ve got in mind to talk about are three non-controversial topics: politics, religion, and race.

[Laughter] Okay, it don’t get more uncontroversial than that!

Personal History

Where did you first hear the gospel?

I’ve heard the gospel all my life. My dad was a gospel preacher. I was born into the church twice. I was born into the church as a child in my parents’ family. My great-grandparents, brother and sister Enos and Mary Garrett were Christians, my grandparents, Starling and Susie Hall, and my mother and father, John and Pearl DeBerry were Christians, so the church was just part of my life from my first waking moment.

Being a preacher and a Christian was just part of my normal desires in life. I wanted to preach the gospel ever since I was in first grade. So I was introduced to the gospel as a child in my parents’ house. There was reading of Scripture in the evening before we went to bed. The prayer at the table. The talks my mother and father gave us about what’s right and wrong, and what was moral and not moral. That’s my introduction to Christianity.

When did you start preaching?

I actually started preaching in 1967 in the 10th grade. I gave my first formal sermon in the 9th grade, but I had been preparing to preach the majority of my life.

I tell folks all the time I had a little church in one of the big closets in my momma’s house when I was growing up. My grandfather built me a little pulpit, and I say my little church broke up because my brothers and sisters and cousins said I preached too long [laughter]. So that was my first church.

But I started preaching, I think my first sermon was at the Lincoln Street church of Christ in Alamo, TN, 1967. And I’ve been in the pulpit almost every Sunday since then.

Civil Rights and Protests

What do you remember about your personal interaction with the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s?

I remember my first interaction with the Civil Rights Movement, again, from my family. Civil rights, as the way it was taught to me, with the leadership of my family, was really a continuation of what we taught as Christians. My father did not believe in violence. He marched in Memphis with Dr. King. He went to the speech that was made in Washington DC in 1963. My family, I understand, raised money for him to go; he was going to be the representative of the entire family. So civil rights was the right to have the constitutional rights that my father, as a Korean War veteran, had fought for and had stood for. We were always taught to give respect so that we receive respect. We were never taught that anything was free. We were never taught that everybody had an entitlement. We were taught that we had to work, but that the country had to be fair, to give us a chance to work, a chance to achieve, to learn, to educate ourselves, and to be successful. That’s what our parents taught us—they never taught us that anything was free, that there was a free lunch, that we were supposed to wait on anyone to take care of us. We were always taught that we had a right to the opportunity to work and achieve and find success. So civil rights was not a “We’re kicking the door down because of something that we want,” Civil rights was peaceful protest, saying that it was time for the country to change. It was time for us to grow up, to mature, to realize that we have various cultures and ethnicities, and give everybody a reasonable and equal chance. That’s what it was about.

Do you think, had it been violent, the
changes would have happened?
Or do you think it was the “peaceful” part
that made people willing to listen?

Well, peaceful protest changed the world. I did an interview earlier, and I said that America is a child of controversy. We began in controversy. America began in revolution. So revolution, change, protest is part of our DNA as Americans. We change things that are wrong—we fix things that are wrong. That’s why our constitution is so malleable. There were a lot of things that weren’t necessarily up to speed and right in America. We had our flaws, our failures, our faults, but America’s faith always carried its problems. We had the Constitution, the greatest document written by man, because it was based on the greatest document ever written—the Word of God. Therefore, because we were Christians, peaceful protest was the only thing we knew; the only thing we would accept; the only thing we would be part of—we would not be part of anything else, because it wouldn’t be Christian, and it wouldn’t be Christ-like. So if more folks would think, first of all, before you protest—which is an American right—before you have your free speech, before you do what you have to do to change things in in America, because America has been in change and revolution and growing and maturing for 200 years—folks have to first of all check their faith, look introspectively, and ask themselves, as the Lord said one time, “Are you building or are you tearing down?” If you’re not building up, then you’re tearing down. If you’re not being peaceful, if you’re not being respectful, then you’re being destructive.

I think that folks need to realize that peaceful protest ends peacefully, and when there is anarchy and chaos, it only breeds more anarchy and chaos.

You had a well-publicized speech against the rioting going on in several cities.

That speech was entirely because of that issue, of watching what was happening in Chicago, and Washington, and Portland, and other places around the country. Watching the anarchists tearing down statues, defacing public property, burning down people’s livelihood, burning down their stores, their cars, their homes—that was what initiated that speech.

That speech was no more than a continuation of some of the things that I had said in the past that led [my former party] to the decision that I couldn’t associate with them anymore. [My ouster] was about my vote on the heartbeat bill and my vote on parental choice.

Do you attribute the violence today in
the riots to a removal of God from
the public sphere?

I’ve said over and over and over, we have the most spiritually illiterate, the most historically illiterate generation in the history of this country. We have folks who don’t know who Jesus is, don’t know who Adam or Moses or David or Solomon are; and they don’t know who George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Mary Bethune Cookman, Dr. [George Washington] Carver, or even really who Martin Luther King is—they don’t know either, because they’ve been taught not to have allegiance to America. Not only has God been put out of the marketplace, but American history has been put out of the marketplace, the Pledge of Allegiance has been put out of the marketplace, true American history that shows the heroic value of men and women who put everything they owned, and everything they were on the line to get this country started—that has all been thrown away! Now our monuments are offensive—the Washington Monument is offensive, the Lincoln Monument is offensive, the Jefferson Memorial is offensive. Why? Because they haven’t been taught to love the country—it’s just the opposite! We have allowed foreign teachers and professors in our colleges and teachers in our schools who have no allegiance to America to change an entire generation of young people into anarchists instead of patriots. That’s what we are suffering right now.

What is the remedy for that?

One of the things we have to do is start opening our mouths, stop sitting by the wayside and allowing the atheists, the agnostics, the evolutionists, the revolutionists from other countries who want to create their own revolution in America—it’s time for folks to open their mouths and speak up. Speak up by their vote. Speak up by their activities. Speak up by the rearing of their children. Speak up by being strong in their faith. And speak up by electing men and women who fight for what we fight for and what we believe. We have sat by the side of the road, and just as the Lord said in His parabolic teaching, “While men slept…” We have slept. And all of us know the old adage, “The only thing it takes for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.” And that’s what we’ve done—we’ve done nothing. Folks say, “Well, I’ll pray about it.” Well, the Lord prayed, but the Lord also got up from His prayers and changed the world, and that’s what we’ve got to do—we’ve got to change the world. The Lord didn’t send us to go along to get along. He didn’t send us out to say “don’t rock the boat, don’t shake the tree, don’t cause no problems, don’t make folks mad at you—the Lord sent us out to change the world, and we are not doing that. We are letting the world change us, and we need to change that before it’s too late.

It seems like we think we ought to be meek, quiet, not saying anything when challenged.

You do not help a man when you tell him he deserves something that he has not worked for.

I’ve preached this for 50 years: meekness is not weakness! Meekness is power under control. A horse with a bridle is not weak, but he is under control—that power is under control. When the Lord tells us to be meek, He isn’t telling us to be weak, He isn’t telling us to be docile, He isn’t telling us to lay down and let folks walk on us, He’s not telling us to allow folks to poison the minds of our children with propaganda, He’s not telling us to allow the greatest country that has ever been created to just be given away to those who don’t love her, who want to simply dismantle her, and who want to take all of her resources. The Lord never told us to do this. He told us to be wise as serpents, harmless as doves—meaning you need to know when to fight, and you need to know when to run. We have just been running, and we need to turn around and fight.

Politics and Entitlements

What caused you to want to
enter into politics?

It’s my upbringing in general. It’s my mother and father’s activism. My great-grandparents and grandparents’ self-sufficiency—they were all business people, they owned their homes, they went to church, they worked every day. I never had a hungry day, because somebody was cooking, making biscuits, making pies, or whatever. In other words, I saw what character, what virtue, what faith was first-hand. And then I, as an adult, I see the country in a totally different direction. I see children being unraised, I see families falling apart, I men absent from the homes, I see mothers who are doing the best they can to rear the children with their meager resources, but unable to do everything that a man and a woman would be able to do. I saw politicians become corrupt—smiling, styling, and profiling instead of doing the people’s business. I watched this as I grew up, and worked in television, and preached the gospel, and at a certain point, I felt like I had to be part of the change, just as my daddy made that decision in the early 60’s. He had to be part of the change, [and] I could not just stand by the side of the road any longer.

Why did you choose the Democratic Party when you went into politics?

My grandparents and great-grandparents were Eisenhower Republicans. My parents were the first to depart, when John Kennedy ran. They were a young couple, fresh out of the military. And Kennedy won the debate, and so they voted for Kennedy. Over the years, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party were only split by style of government. Remember a lot of folks who are Republicans now used to be Democrats back in the day. So it was style of government, big government, little government. It’s not what it is today. Now the split is over social issues, the belief in God, the belief in life, the belief in the family, the belief in marriage—all of those things. So, when I ran in my district in 1995, it was an extremely conservative district. It had been a Republican district up till 1995—that was the first year it was a Democratic district. It was drawn Democratic, but there was a very good, healthy mix of Democrats and Republicans, and the majority of them were very conservative on these issues. So that was fine, but all of that started changing about 12 years ago [2008].

Do you think the lack of entitlements brought you up into the person that you became?

The trickiness of that subject is that the media, the liberal politicians, and (in my opinion) the propagandist and the poverty pimps—excuse the expression—have styled it toward people. What they have done is wrapped up a loss of self-sufficiency, a loss of self-esteem, a loss of self-worth—they have all wrapped it up in a nice pretty package of entitlement. And that’s wrong, because one thing that characterized the people of the last generation—whether they were black or white, Native American or whatever they were—one thing that characterized them was they believed in working for what they got. They got up in the mornings, many of them in the farms or the factories, some put on white uniforms or blue uniforms or green uniforms, caught the bus, many of them in the rain, went and worked. They built nice communities, nice schools, raised their children, and a whole generation, like my generation, were the first to go to college. Why? Because they believed in working and pulling themselves up and being self-sufficient. You do not help a man when you tell him he deserves something that he has not worked for. You do not help a person when you tell them to expect someone else to take care of them if they are able to take care of themselves. The sad thing about it is this: that our elderly, our sick, our disabled, our veterans who have been injured and hurt in war, many of the children who are born with birth defects—these are the people who suffer when the money is going to able-bodied people who could get off their sorry ends and go to work every day, instead of sitting around expecting someone else to take care of them. Nobody’s saying that people who need help shouldn’t get help—and that’s what help used to be. That’s what the projects used to be. That’s what the food handouts used to be. That’s what welfare used to be. It used to be a hand up, “We will help you; we have a great country, and we will help you while you’re down so you can get up on your feet and make it on your own.” I have so many friends that those programs helped get on their feet. They eventually became homeowners, business owners, educated their children. You know why? Because they used the help, the food, the projects, whatever the government offered to stand up on their own feet, and they were proud that they didn’t need it anymore. That’s not what we have right now. Now we have a perpetuation of entitlements where we have generation after generation after generation that have never had a job. We have created a subclass, and we have created a permanent underclass with these entitlements.

Have Christians turned over their responsibility to help people to the government?

Let’s talk about something novel. What if every family took care of their own family the way it was; where if a person had a fire, lost a home, if they lost their jobs, the family came in and took care of that person? What if the church did like it used to do?

I remember our house burned down when I was in third grade, and the church surrounded us with love. They brought us clothes and food, and they helped my parents get back on their feet while the house was being rebuilt. They brought furniture, the women made curtains—it was wonderful! What if we went back to the family of the church and the natural family that God gave us?

Because of the breakdown of the family—both in the church and in the home—we see folks out there with no safety net, no teaching, no upbringing, no counseling, no religion, no faith—they’re lost. The walking wounded. If the church would go back to the preaching of the gospel, the way the Lord said—the Lord told the folks to sit down, He fed them, and then He taught them. In His teaching, He taught them how to love themselves—He said “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He taught them to love themselves, in other words, I will help you. If you’re sick, I will heal you. If you’re ignorant, I will teach you. And when I’m finished, you get up and take care of yourselves.

And I hate to prolong this, but remember when the Lord protected the woman who was caught in sin? She had a death sentence; in a few minutes they were going to bludgeon her body with stones, and she was going to die that day, because of her own sin—caught in the very act. Jesus saved her life, and then said, “I don’t condemn you.” But the words he said at the end of this are often forgotten from some of our contemporary teachers. Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” In other words, You go change your life. Don’t let me find you in this position again.

What if we helped people, taught people, strengthened people, encouraged people, gave them skills, and taught them how to fish—what if we did this and said, “we don’t want to see you in this position again,” and actually gave the tough love that the Lord gave?

What do you think brought the changes
in social policies within your old party?

I think what brought it on was what was happening with the national issues. With the legalization of abortion in 1973—that sent a signal throughout the country that America was certainly not the same place anymore. I remember my mother campaigning against abortion until her death in 1970, when I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman College. I remember some of the things they were saying about abortion. I remember learning how Planned Parenthood started, who the people were that started it, and what was behind them starting Planned Parenthood. I learned all this stuff in the late 60s and in the 70s. So when abortion was approved in 1973, that signaled that America was gradually changing, right then and right there. Twenty years before, or let’s say 1963, in spite of all the turmoil that might have been going on in the country, when MLK made his speech in Washington in 1963, I guarantee you the majority of the people—black and white—would never have thought that ten years from now, we would be killing the unborn. I guarantee the majority of them never would have thought that would happen. But it did happen ten years after that speech, in 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States of America took away the constitutional right of life from the unborn. And now millions and millions and millions and millions of babies have suffered for it. Because of this, we have categorically changed the culture and the faith and the religion and the character of this country to where now, it’s all about whatever we want. It’s not about what the Bible says, it’s not about what’s right, it’s not what faith dictates, it’s just whatever we can get the majority of the vote for. That’s why we have that, we have the desecration of marriage, we have the killing of children, and the disrespect for parenthood and the home, and our aged and the veterans because of it.

Christians as Politicians

Do you think more Christians ought to serve in public office?

Oh, I absolutely do. Especially now. There was a time when you had the Dwight D. Eisenhowers, and you had men of character, the Ronald Reagans, the Jimmy Carters—whether you agree with them, Republican or Democrat, whether you agreed with them on everything or not, you knew they were good men who loved the Lord, who loved the country, and you knew they were going to do their best. That’s not what we see now. We see politics turning into the biggest racket in town, and the racketeers are those who run for office, the propagandists who feed people what they want to hear, not what they should be told.

Christians need to take a long look—in my opinion, of course—take a long look at Ephesians chapter 6, when the Apostle Paul was saying to the church at Ephesus, in the middle of the Roman Empire, with all that the Caesars and others were doing—Paul said fighting people, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” What was Paul’s solution? Stand! Somebody needs to stand in the legislatures. Somebody needs to stand on the board of education when they’re trying to push these books and all of this rotten education upon our children. Somebody needs to stand in the Congress, stand in the Senate, when it’s time to put people on the Supreme Court who will make a decision based not on what is popular, but on what is right. Yes, I think Christians need to stand wherever the Lord deploys us so that we can fight the fight that we’ve got to fight. The Lord wasn’t killed at church. The Lord was killed on a garbage heap on the outside of Jerusalem as a political obstructionist by a Roman politician and a Jewish politician. Why? Because He stood against their politics, and for that reason, they put Him to death.

If a Christian decided to run for office, how would he prepare himself mentally and spiritually for that, and what are some dangers he would need to look out for as he is running and then serving?

First of all you got to prepare your mind, meaning, you’ve got to be a Christian. If you’re not a Christian, don’t do it. You got to be someone who has a fortified faith that is rooted and grounded. A tree is rooted, a building is grounded, and neither one of them are shaken very easily. A Christian who has a faith that is going to lead them, that’s going to give them sight, that’s going to give them vision, that when it is time to sit down and make the tough votes, you can decide between character and popularity. And those are hard decisions. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that they’re not, but I had to make decisions on voting for the heartbeat bill, I had to make decisions on voting for education that gave parents the right to educate their children as they see fit. I understood the implications, I understood the consequences. I knew that the very next day I would be called everything but a child of God in the newspaper, on radio, on billboards, or wherever they could stick my name with something negative—and that’s exactly what they did. But I was ready for it. I was ready for it, not because of my strength, but I was ready for it because of the strength of the Lord. Because He fortified me to know what is really important, and what is really lasting.

I encourage young people to educate themselves, know what a great country this is, understand, don’t listen to the folks that are trying to teach you a changed history. They’re revisionists who want to make our country something that it is not. I was talking to someone the other day, a teacher, who said “Well you know, Christopher Columbus was this, that, and the other.” I said, “Ma’am, in 1492, if my memory serves me right, when Christopher Columbus sailed and found that new land, there wasn’t a democracy on planet earth—no such thing as democracy. America created this democracy. They created the one-man, one-vote, everybody-can-speak, free-speech, right-to-religion, right-to-have-your-doors-locked, right-to-carry-your-weapon system—America created this! So when the revisionists want to tell you how sorry America is, we need to go back 300 years—go back 250 years—and you won’t find anything on the planet earth like America. What’s the relevance? It’s worth fighting for.

I was like a lot of folks. I was ready to throw up my hands and say, “You know what, it’s not worth saving. It’s too far gone. I’m really tired of these crooks and politicians and liars and propagandists.” I was in that boat, brother, and you know what God did? He put a grandchild in my hands. And when that grandchild wrapped her little hand around my finger, I went back to the day that my first child and my second child [were born], and the energy I had about giving them a life, and I said, “My grandchild deserves the same thing that I had and my children had—I gotta fight for this.” And I wish more grandparents and big sisters and big brothers and uncles and other family members decided, “You know what, the children have a right to a good country. We need to fight for this country or we’re going to lose it.”

What dangers do elected Christians face?

You have to make sure you don’t sell out. It’s takes a lot of money to run for office. When people send me money, I have a pretty good war chest. You know why I have one? Because first of all I lay it back. I have learned from the church to lay by in store. At the same time, I war a good warfare, so people send money—[people] who I have fought on the floor, because they know I fight with integrity. They know what I’m fighting for. So don’t be a sellout. There are a lot of folks who want you to sell your principles, to sell your virtue, sell your morality, sell your faith. They want you to sell out. And if you don’t know who you are, what you are, and whose you are, that temptation will be there. They know one thing, they can send anything they want to, I’m going to put it in the bank, and use it to get reelected so I can come back and fight you again. My vote is going to stay the same. My character is going to stay the same. If I fought against your bill in 2019, I’m going to fight against it in 2020. It doesn’t matter what you send. So people have got to have a resolute, rock-solid understanding of who they are, and what they intend to be, whatever the changes [around them] are.

Another thing is, you have got to have some tough skin. I’ve had billboards put up with my face on it, with curse words, big electronic billboards with curse words and my face on it. I’ve had mail-outs, nasty mail-outs, one with me on one side and President Trump on the other. And at that particular time, I had not even met President Trump. “DeBerry and Donald: Too Conservative, Too Dangerous.” And they sent that out all over my district. I’ve had all types of attacks on radio. I’ve been called an “Uncle Tom,” or “Stepin Fetchit.”[1] I’ve been called all those things on the radio. But you know what, each time, when I don’t flinch, don’t change, don’t alter, don’t capitulate, don’t compromise, my people reelect me and send me right back up there to continue to stand. That’s what they’ve done thirteen times, regardless of what they’ve called me or said.

So I say to young people, have a tough skin. Know who you are. Because right always wins. Light always overcomes darkness. And God has already promised, Jesus has already promised, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” I lift up Christ in my life, in my politics, and wherever I am, and they’ve got to do the same.

Choosing a Candidate

What do you feel a Christian should focus on when choosing a political candidate? (And you can pass if you want to on this)

Oh I’m not going to pass on that. What we have allowed the American media to do is bombard us with personality. “Oh, you don’t like this person, do you. You don’t like the way they talk. You don’t like the way they dress. You don’t like their hair. You don’t like their mouth. You don’t like their wife. You don’t like their children.” We have allowed the American media to make these [elections] issues of personality instead of issues of principles and platform. What I advise a Christian to do is remember what God has commanded: Don’t allow yourself to be part of another man’s sin.

First of all, we know that we’re not electing saints. Many times, they’re not even members of the church—we know that. But at the same time, the Lord commanded us “Judge a tree by the fruit it bears.” What’s the fruit when you look at a political office and a political candidate? The fruit it not how well they speak or dress or look. The fruit is the platform. What’s the platform they’re standing on? Are they for abortion or against it? Are they for the biblical standard of marriage or against it? Are they for parental responsibility in the home, parental choice, or against it? Are they for a strong military? Are they for First-Amendment rights? Are they for Second-Amendment rights? Look at the platform—that’s all you can do. We aren’t electing men to be elders of the church, we know there’s a totally different standard there. But when you come to politics, the Lord let us know, in Romans chapter 13, “I’m involved, and there is no authority that I do not ordain.” So what God is saying is, as a godly person, look at that platform and decide who you want to run your country. Because God has commanded us—He has commanded us—you go on and elect the fool if you want to, but every foolish law they pass, you’ve got to follow it.

Is this the reason you were…not retained…in your former party?

Oh absolutely. I don’t represent them anymore. They kicked me out because I don’t represent them. They said it very plainly. They had a Zoom call in the middle of a pandemic, with 24-hours’ notice that they were going to talk to me about throwing me out of the party, a 26-year veteran with a good record, with good rapport on both sides of the aisle—they decided they didn’t want me associated with their party anymore. That was their decision. It wasn’t based on I’m a wretched, no good person, or that I’ve done something that was crooked or slanderous, it was because they said, and I quote, I “don’t uphold the virtues of the Democratic Party anymore, i.e. abortion, and other social issues.” So therefore, I am running as an independent because of that.

Race in the Church

Getting away from political topics…

In some cities, there are both black and white congregations, and (in what experience I’ve had), it is often the case that the white congregations have no idea when the black congregations have an event (gospel meetings, singings, etc.), and vice-versa. I’m sure you would agree that this shouldn’t be the case. What can we, who all agree we are one body, do to bridge this racial divide that sometimes makes it feel like we have two different brotherhoods?

My answer is probably going to sound rather strange after the narrative you just gave—and I agree with you wholeheartedly on the things you said: I think we need to continue to do what we’re doing. In other words, we are opening up doors—maybe not as fast as some folks would want—but we are opening up our doors. When people visit us, they are welcome. When folks come to Coleman Avenue [church of Christ, in Memphis], whether they’re black, white, red, yellow, or polka-dot, they are welcomed with open arms and loved, and they are treated well, and they leave and say “I had the best time I’ve ever had.” You know, they may not come back for a while; they may just have been passing through, but we open our doors.

Where we were in America, we were separate; we closed our doors, we made it law, we made it legal, we had two separate societies because the law said so. When we changed the rules, the laws, the morays, open the doors, build the bridges, open our arms and say “You’re welcome,” then you just have to let what happens happen. We integrated the schools in Crockett County in 1968. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Now, just my family, just us, one black family, went to that integrated school for the first time in that entire county. After we went, the next year I think five or ten other black kids came. Then the next year maybe fifteen or twenty. When I go up there now, they have a whole new consolidated school—both of the segregated schools are no more. I think one of them may be an elementary school, and the other one may be an adult class school. But the fact of the matter is, once the doors were opened, people of right mind and faith welcomed each other, and the natural progression of integration happened.

The worst thing we did in America was force bussing. That was the worst thing we could have done. Instead of simply removing the laws, saying, “You can go to whatever school you want to go to, you can be educated wherever you want”—and guess what, people of like faith, of like desires, of like economic means, logistics—the schools would have been naturally integrated, and they would have been in a lot better shape than they were [by] throwing kids on busses, riding them out to the end of town, dumping them out, and making them lose all their culture, and all their background, and all their history.

So what do I think the church ought to do? People need to be Christians. They need to be Christians. If you send an invitation to one congregation, send it to all congregations [in your area]—black or white. Send them and let them know they’re welcome. If they didn’t come, you can say, “We sent you an invitation. We’re looking for you.” Invite preachers over. “Can your preacher come and preach for us so we can get to know you? I’ll go to your church so you can get to know me.” Just act like Christians. And if we did that, that would be something that hopefully our children won’t be talking about these same issues that we’ve been talking about for fifty years.

I know some who don’t like the black
preaching and worship style, and balk when anyone even comes close to it. On the other side, I know a black preacher who wanted his youth to visit a white congregation so they would understand that just because a congregation worships or sings differently doesn’t mean they aren’t Christians.

It goes both ways. I heard in the 1970s from many so-called “elite preachers” that there was a white theology and a black theology. There is a way white people sing, and there’s a way black people sing. There’s a way that black preachers preach and a way that white preachers preach—I heard all this from black people, from black preachers, from black churches, from black elders and deacons. “There’s just a difference, there’s a cultural difference, and we prefer this style.” That’s the way it is.

The problem is it’s been styled as just one-sided. That the church is not integrated because white people don’t want black people to come into their churches. Well, that’s equally the other side. So, the churches have not been integrated because both sides have become comfortable with their culture, with their way of doing things, their way of singing, their way of preaching. But at the end of the day, all of us have got to preach Christ and Him crucified. All of us have got to let brotherly love continue. All of us have got to be forbearing, longsuffering, and love our brethren. You can’t get around it. You can’t build walls where the Lord built bridges, and still claim to be Christ-like and Christian. So all of us, black white, red, yellow, polka-dot, pin-striped, whoever we are, we’ve got to do an introspective examination of ourselves, and ask: Am I being what the Lord wants me to be, for the betterment and the strength of the Kingdom? Because right now, the church of Christ is shrinking. We’re the last man standing. Everybody else already sold out. They sold out to the abortionists, they’ve already sold out to women in positions that are against the Scriptures [elders, preachers, etc.], they’ve already sold out to the destruction of marriage, the removal of parental responsibility. The majority of these churches have already sold out. The church of Christ is the last man standing—and if we don’t stand together, then they’re going to pick us apart and tear us down. The one thing the apostles preached over and over and over before they were all martyred and died, with the exception of John (but John preached it too), was unity. “Let there be no division among you.” And when there is division among us, we set ourselves up for the devil to destroy us.

We have had a “Round Robin” gospel meeting, with a different congregation hosting each evening, both white and black congregations.

That’s the way it ought to be. I do more gospel meetings at what we have deemed as “White congregations”—I’ve gone places that were known as the hotbeds of segregation, and prejudice, and hatred, maybe 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago, and found the absolute friendliest, most loving, kind people—and many times, I’m the only black face in the room! Why? Because of that community. I’ve gone to places where there are no black people there. If not, there’s only a handful of them. Am I supposed to say, “You know what? You don’t have any black folk in here, I’m not going to come and preach”? No sir, I go and preach the gospel, and have had some of the best experiences that I’ve ever had. Many times [it is in] farm country, and little rural churches, little up-in-the-woods churches. Folks love on you, love the gospel—cook, man, like nothing you’ve ever seen. You know, good vegetables, cornbread, and I leave there feeling refreshed. At a certain point, you don’t see black and white, all you see is Christians—that’s all you see. And that’s the way it ought to be.

You spoke about one of the main reasons America is in the shape it is in being that they’ve forgotten their history. Do you think that the church does its members a disservice by not teaching about the history of the church, especially in this country?

Oh, absolutely, absolutely. I think we need to know more about the history of the church, and we need to know more about the history of the country, because if you just go back 300 years, you find religious oppression. You still find folks able to go to church as they see fit, even with denominationalism becoming so prevalent, folks still had a religious choice. And that originated here in America. I think it is important for folks to know about their country, and to know how many things were first in America. They also need to understand the history of the church, the sacrifices that were made, the men and women who gave their life, Jesus who gave His life for us on the cross—that this thing [the church] didn’t just happen. It was planned in the mind of God. The scheme of redemption was fulfilled and perfected by our Lord’s suffering, by our God’s love, by the Holy Spirit’s inspiration—and we need to embrace it. God provides, we possess. And a lot of us are not necessarily possessing the wonderful blessing that God provided.

Systemic Racism

Do you believe there is systemic racism in America? If so, what are some examples, and how can it be changed?

We created race. In other words, when you go to the Bible, race had to do with various cultures and land, you know, you talk about the Philistines, and the Ethiopians, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and the Danites, and the Levites—and none of those signified color, none of them did. We created color prejudice. Color prejudice is only about 500-700 years old at the best.

“Systemic racism” has been used to say that there’s a problem that can’t be solved, a breach that can’t be bridged, a break that can’t be fixed—I don’t believe that for one second. When I went to Alamo High School in 1968, there had never been a black kid in that school. Never, ever. I was the absolute first, me and my brothers and sisters. At the end of my 3 years (10th-12th grade), the principal of that school, who had never educated a black child in a formal fashion at his school, he came to me and he shook my hand. His name was Mr. Strange. And another young man named Conley said the same thing to me. He said, “Everything that I have ever thought or believed about colored children,” (that’s the term that was used at that time), “you have changed it in two years.” In essence, regardless of what that man may have thought about black children before I got there, my daddy said, “You give respect, you’ll get respect.” He said, “You carry yourself like a man.” I’ll tell you exactly what he said, he said, “You don’t scratch your head when it ain’t itching, you don’t grin when it ain’t funny, you just be a man. If you act like a man, folks will treat you like a man.” And that’s exactly what happened.

So what if folks stop scratching their head, and grinning, and lying, and using excuses like “systemic racism”?—Yes, there is racism, but it is racism whenever there are folks who choose to pre-judge a person rather than getting to know them, regardless of what color they are. If we stop doing that, we’ll end this racism, and we’ll start judging each other by the content of character, and not the color of skin.

[1] Stepin Fetchit was the first black actor to earn $1Million, and was a star during his heyday, but his career slowed dramatically when many black Americans began to view his persona as echoing negative stereotypes. –Editor.

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