Guest post by Dr. Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and author of many books including new release, Oneness Embraced: Through the Eyes of Tony Evans
When I was a boy, my father worked long, hard hours as a longshoreman on the harbor in Baltimore. As a black man without a diploma raising a family in urban America, his work options were limited.
Sometimes the work at the docks was unpredictable. Longshoremen often had extended periods of time without any work at all due to layoffs, strikes, or a lack of ships coming in. But during those times, I never saw my father sitting idle. He was a jack of all trades, repairing anything that anyone needed fixed in a makeshift shop in our basement.
I never saw my mother sitting around idle either. She was either cleaning, cooking, getting groceries, ironing, or doing whatever needed to be done to make sure that we had what we needed as a family. Both of my parents worked extremely hard at whatever they did.
The family atmosphere I knew was similar to the community that I lived in. It was a functioning, relationally oriented, and stable community. People shared food and struggles with each other. You could tell that there was a genuine care for each other. We didn’t have much by way of material goods or opportunity, but we had a community governed by a moral code of mutual respect and personal responsibility in spite of segregation and poverty.
As time went on, due to several influencing factors, fractures began to appear in the urban community I lived in. Families began to break up more frequently. Unemployment and poor academic achievement, juvenile delinquencies, and the growth of alcoholism and drug use slowly began turning a blue-collar working community into our contemporary understanding of an inner-city neighborhood.
A sense of hopelessness crept in as the community wrestled with the realities of pervasive racism playing out despite the achievement of desegregation. These two mutually exclusive realities became difficult for many of us to make sense of.
Like my father, I turned to God for answers. I had seen how he merged his belief in God into all areas of his life, as he frequently took me with him on ministry outings and modeled responsibility throughout our family’s life. He discipled me through normal, everyday activities by pointing out spiritual connections to physical realities. My father made learning and living the Word the priority of our home.
As a high school student in the 1960s, I couldn’t get enough of the Bible. As an African-American, my view was being formed in the reality of racial inequality. This caused me to focus on questions about race, oneness, and social justice in church history. I pored over the Scriptures to shed light on these issues, looking not only to the theology, but also to the practical application of that theology in everyday life.
I talk more about him in my book Oneness Embraced, but my father was a key component in pointing me to the truth during this time. I grew up just a few hours away from our nation’s Liberty Bell that so proudly proclaimed “Liberty . . . unto all.” Yet, when I would go to a fast-food restaurant, I was denied the freedom to eat in a public dining room because I was black. The restaurant was pleased to take my money at the take-out window, but eating in wasn’t allowed.
Though I didn’t fully understand it at the time, the contradiction between proclaiming liberty while simultaneously denying it shaped my mind. Thank God for my father who knew what I was facing and who went to tremendous lengths to counteract the lie. “Son,” he would say, “you’re a child of the King. If they don’t want royal blood in their restaurant, then don’t go in there.” My earthly father pointed me to the truth of my heavenly Father.
As I grew older and looked more closely at the Bible and at Jesus, the Christ, who had come, I discovered something awesome. I discovered that His love for me repositioned me above the class that I had been given by other men. Embracing this truth all of a sudden made what men thought about me irrelevant because now I was seated with Christ in a very high place. He gave me recognition, significance, and value, causing me to be fully proud of His creation in me so as not to allow others to denigrate me by how they defined me—or even to make me think more highly of myself than I ought to think—because now I had truth as my reference point.
Oneness Embraced is a life-work put together in an attempt to put onto paper this reference point, detailing how it applies to all races with regard to oneness in the body of Christ. Our unity can serve as a template for bringing about comprehensive unity in our nation.
Because until we see ourselves, and each other, as God sees us… and respond with an intentional embracing of His call of oneness… we will forever, like the cracked Liberty Bell, ring flat in a world that longs to hear the liberating cadence of truth.
How do you see racial prejudices active today in the community and in church? What do you think our standing before God, as children of the King, has to do with our relationship to each other?