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[Rick Atchley's Sermon On Racial Reconciliation]
[Rick Atchley's Apology]
[Dr. Evans' response to Rick Atchley's Apology]
March 19, 2004
Mr. Rick Atchley, Minister
Richland Hills Church of Christ
6300 NE Loop 820
North Richland Hills, TX 76180
Dear brother Atchley:
A former member of the Richland Hills Church of Christ where you minister called me by telephone and asked me to pull up on the Internet your sermon of January 28, 2004, entitled "Reconciliation to Reckon With." Distraught with the way you are leading that church in doctrinal matters, the lady was particularly concerned with your brandishing your concept of reconciliation, grace and salvation to young African-American ministers as you express in this sermon. As I was asked by the sister, who, incidentally, is white, I listened twice to your entire message, taped it and transcribed it, as enclosed. And I shall share it with other African-Americans and interested parties. Your sermon simply corroborates what I have known all along, as it relates to black/white relationships and attitudes in churches of Christ. I will explain my concept by using the part of your sermon that deals with your "dream" of reconciliation between the white churches of Christ and the African-American churches of Christ, first, as you state, in Tarrant County. You undergird your major premise by stating somewhere in your sermon, that with regards to reconciliation of the races, "We must not just talk the cross, but we must walk the cross." Your cogently talking the cross in racial and doctrinal matters is apparent, but your walking the cross in these matters disannuls your speech. For instance, how many African-American churches in Tarrant County (or anywhere else) have you visited within the last ten years? If none, how can you give the ethos of the African-American churches? How many times have you come to the annual Lectureship at Southwestern Christian College, which is only sixty miles from you in Richland Hills? In my forty-plus years of administration at Southwestern Christian College, I have never known of your ever coming to our campus for any activity. After the "One in Christ" conference at ACU in 1999 and the confession on our campus by Dr. Royce Money for the racist past of ACU, the platitudes about racism of some of you "postmodern" brethren have been generous, but your racial attitudes, in a new format, remain the same as some of those white leaders of the churches of Christ of a bygone era of the antebellum and postbellum South. It is now, in our "postmodern" day, a neoracism espoused by the self-appointed leaders of change in churches of Christ, whom you are among. And your sermon on "Reconciliation to Reckon With" aptly demonstrates my point. Listen, Rick, to your own words.
You state, "The truth of the matter is, historically in churches of Christ our African-American congregations have struggled with a lot of the legalism and sectarianism that some of us knew growing up. THEY STILL DO." First of all, Rick, there is no truth in this matter. How do you know what is happening in the African-American congregations if you have not lived or even visited extensively among them in years, or if ever? Like the racist of old, you are explaining the ethos of the African-American churches from your position in a "gilded cage," the Richland Hills church, that has a few African-American members attending, and from a few young African-American preachers whom you know personally, from whom you have extrapolated your erroneous conclusions and speak as an authority on African-American congregations. As an African-American who has been living and preaching in the African-American churches for over fifty years, I herein inform you that African-American congregations are not struggling, internally, with "a lot of the legalism and sectarianism that some of us [white people] knew growing up." Your implication here is that "some of you" (white people and a few African-Americans) have "grown up" because you know the meaning of "Godís grace," while the African-American congregations are somewhat retarded in their understanding of grace and are still "struggling" in trying to figure it out. I am somewhat surprised that a relatively young preacher such as you would harbor such an attitude.
Secondly, the truth of this matter is, Rick, that the African-American congregations of churches of Christ do not still let the white leaders of churches, schools or publishing companies define for them what they must believe. African-American churches have not made icons of the "Restoration" leaders and do not date their beginnings to the 1830s; and could not care less about what the "Restoration leaders" had to say, most of whom were racist themselves. I was taught in my coming to Christ over fifty years ago to rely on what the Bible says. And that is what I and most African-American preachers have done and still do. Thus, the struggle in the African-American churches has not been, and is not now, over "legalism and sectarianism" among us, as you state, but with "...every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:3-6), which includes erroneous doctrine about grace, morality and salvation. And we will not follow "pied pipers" of change in the churches of Christ by letting you define and articulate to others what we believe and teach. Who made you, Rubel Shelly, Max Lucado, and others like you the "keepers of the Holy Grail" and definers of legalism, sectarianism, denominationalism, grace, "the community of faith" and other cacophonous buzz words being used in the milieu of todayís apostasy? Your fallacious doctrines are a direct descendant from Alexander Campbellís "Lunenburg Letters" published in the Millennial Harbinger of 1837, and later espoused by Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett in more recent years. Are you just learning about the origin of this heresy?
You state in your sermon, Rick, "African-American churches still often preach ĎTHE-CHURCH-OF-CHRIST-IS-THE-ONLY-ONE-GOING-TO-HEAVENí kind of sermons." Regardless of how you received this information, I am happy to state that most (about 99%) of African-American churches of Christ still preach what the Bible teaches about salvation. And one of those tenets is that all the saved in this "dispensation of the grace of God" are or will be members of the body of Christ, which is the church of Christ (Eph. 3:2-6, 9-11, 21; Col. 1:24-26, and many more scriptures which you know, and are easily understood by a truth-seeker). Do you believe, Rick, that this "kind of sermon" can be found in the Bible? Did not the apostles preach this "kind of sermon"? With your neoracist attitude, as revealed in your sermon, the poor African-American churches do not even grasp the meaning of the words "the church" without their being defined by the white brethren who have "good theological training," which I shall address later in this letter.
African-American churches knew and taught, in the heyday of racism, that racism was a grave sin for which many would be lost eternally. And we, African-American churches, learned that from the study of the Bible. And we did not need white brethren to teach us that on the subject of racism. Eventually, some of you white brethren agreed and made a "confession" for the sins of the past. If we could use the Bible to condemn racism, without your giving us the definitions of it, why can we not use that same Bible to point out the sins of denominationalism without having to learn it from you? "But," some self-appointed "pied pipers" of the apostasy say, "we are living in the postmodern age, and we cannot rely on those scriptures that we have used in the past to condemn false doctrines and denominationalism, and to do so is to be mean-spirited." If that is the case, then what do we use in this era of postmodernity to refute the sin of same-sex marriages that is being legalized by our own government? This evil arrangement of same-sex marriages is a postmodern movement that is building on the civil rights of consenting adults to choose their sex partners for life, and, the adherents say, the biblical moralists have nothing but the Bible, which they (the moralists) do not understand culturally, to try and condemn their unnatural lifestyles. Most African-American preachers and members still use the Bible to condemn the sin of homosexuality and same-sex marriages. What do you use to condemn this sin, Rick? May homosexuals continue in same-sex relationships, continue their unnatural lifestyles, and still be saved by the grace of God? Unitarian, Episcopal, and a number of other religious leaders say yes, regardless of what the Bible says about it. If you say no, do you use the same Bible that I use to condemn that sin, or must both of us conform to the mores of modernity? "Consistency, thou are a jewel!"
After your "explaining," in your sermon, to your majority white audience the ethos of the African-American churchesí preaching content, you then delve into its pathos by saying, "It grieves me to say that, but it is true." In this platitude you show your paternalistic, "great white father" attitude toward the preachers and members of African-American churches. The implication here is that you know that the "poor African-American churches should not be preaching those church of Christ-only kind of sermons." But these African-American churches do not know what is best for themselves, as you imply, so you are "grieved" to have to say what you have said about what they preach. This attitude is so reminiscent of the "old South," white attitude of the past: "the good colored people donít know whatís best for themselves. We good white people have to lead them and teach them about grace." Pity! Pity the poor, retarded African-American churches.
You then say, "Hereís what grieves me more: the reason thatís true is because for decades the Christian schools of churches of Christ denied African-American young men to come study. THE PREACHERS IN THOSE CHURCHES DIDNíT GET GOOD THEOLOGICAL TRAINING. It was in my own lifetime that that changed. I remember when I first started preaching a lot of the young black men that graduated from ACU with Bible degrees would come see me and say, ĎWe donít know what to do. Weíve learned to preach GRACE; the black churches wonít hire us, and the white churches wonít even talk to us. WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?í" This part of your sermon, by far, is the most revealing of your neoracist attitude. It appears that you, as an educated, young man, still do not understand the underlying psychosis of racism in white thinking. You implicitly state here that because African-American preachers could not study at the white Christian colleges, before your lifetime, they "didnít get GOOD THEOLOGICAL TRAINING." Who, Rick, is the definer of "good theological training"? It appears that you believe that "good theological training" was confined to the campuses of white Christian colleges, who would not admit African-Americans at that time. It also appears from your statement that African-American young preachers could not understand the biblical teaching of GRACE until your lifetime, when they were taught it by white people. The further implication is that if African-American preachers do not understand and preach grace as you do, which I know is unbiblical, let alone non-theological, they are still deficient and behind the times in their preaching and developing churches. And, according to your own pontification, to preach "church of Christ-only kind of sermons" is indicative of a lack of "good theological training." To help you, Rick, in your misunderstanding of the real issues involved, I was preaching biblical GRACE and training young men to do so before your "own lifetime." Dr. James Maxwell, an African-American, the Vice President of SwCC and a Bible professor here, who received his Associate, Bachelor, Masterís and Doctoral degrees from SwCC, Pepperdine University, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and SMU, respectively, is just one case in point. Would you say that he had "good theological training," realizing that he still preaches "church of Christ-only kind of sermons"? Would he know the meaning of biblical grace without the defining of it by modernists today? Did Doctors James D. Bales, Thomas Warren, Hugo McCord, J. C. Choate, and even Rubel Shelly, in his early ministry, have "good theological training" when they were preaching "church of Christ-only kind of sermons"? If yes or no, when and where did Dr. Rubel Shelly get his "good theological training"? When and where did Max Lucado and you get yours?
Conversely, in reference to the above doctors, there were other theological intellects in the churches of Christ before your "own lifetime" who preached then what you preach now (see the book Voices of Concern, edited by David Myers). They refuted the "church of Christ-only kind of sermons." Which of the aforementioned groups had "good theological training"? For a current example, Leroy Garrett, Ph.D., was preaching fifty years ago what you preach now about "Christians in all denominations," regardless of what the Bible says. Did Dr. Garrett, who, from my own experiences with him, would qualify even today for the Grand Dragonship of the Ku Klux Klan, have "good theological training" at that time? Now he is embraced and lauded by the purveyors of change in the churches of Christ, as recently demonstrated at the ACU lectureship. I have lived long enough to be able to compare and contrast the numerous "latest ideas" (Acts 17:21 NIV) that have been introduced by some of the white brethren in churches of Christ. And I see the same attitudes, when it comes to respect for the intellect of African-Americans, by some of you agents of change in the churches of Christ that I saw in the old Foy Wallace racist attitude toward the "colored people" a half-century ago. And the few African-American young preachers that you have met, as well as the few black members of your church who have acquiesced to you in their religious thought, are not representative of one-tenth of the African-American church.
You state that when you were a young preacher at ACU, "a number of the young black men that graduated from ACU with Bible degrees would come see me and say, ĎWe donít know what to do. Weíve LEARNED TO PREACH GRACE; the black churches wonít hire us, and the white churches wonít even talk to us. WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?í" Here again, white racism, neoracism, raises its ugly head. These poor, formerly "grace-retarded" young preachers who have had two to four years of training by teachers at SwCC who graduated from ACU and other universities with advanced degrees in Bible, have just learned about grace during their matriculation on a white Christian college campus. And now, according to your scenario, these aspiring preachers are armed with ACU degrees and this "new knowledge" on grace imparted to them by ACU professors, who by the way, Rick, were still preaching those "church of Christ-only kind of sermons" at ACU forty years ago. I know this is true, because I, as president of SwCC even then, worked very closely with Don Morris and his successor, John Stevens, as well as with the administrators and Bible professors of most of our Christian colleges at that point in time. And every one of those men preached "church of Christ-only kind of sermons," with all but one of their schools having in their bylaws that all members of their board, administration and faculty must be members of the church of Christ (only) in faith, doctrine and practice. According to your criteria for African-American churches that do not walk to your cadence in the area of grace, these white leaders of the past, with terminal degrees, did not have "good theological training," because they preached then what most African-American preachers and churches preach now. I believe that you received your academic degree(s) from one or more of these institutions headed by these men of the past. Did you receive your "good theological training" from any of them, or, as is the case of most change agents in the church, from a theological seminary that had no respect for the authority of the Bible, or from the plethora of publications of denominational thought-leaders, most of whom have no respect for what the Bible teaches?
The academic or intellectual racists of the past and of today hold explicitly to the ludicrous theory of the biological inferiority of the African-American, especially when the black man refutes his interpretation of freedom in the American Constitution. Similarly, some of you men in the churches of Christ of the neoracism era hold implicitly to the trite theory of the theological inferiority of the African-American church and most of its ministers, because we will not let you define grace for us, which, as you must know, Rick, is a multiusage word in the Bible, the meaning of which is governed by the context of the passage in which it is used. So, when you say that the black preaching students at ACU in your days there "came to you(???) and said, ĎWeíve learned to preach grace,í" which biblical definition of grace did they mean? Or were you and they given the biblical etymology and multiusage of the word grace in your or their "good theological training," which according to your logic they could not get at Southwestern Christian College, from the older African-American preachers and elders, or from their own personal study. I am astonished, Rick, that at your relatively young age, you still embrace the old, stereotypical racial view of African-Americans as they relate to racial "progress." You will never accomplish your "dream" of reconciliation of the two races until you understand that the seed of racism is first embedded in the mind. And whether you know it or not, it will manifest itself in your speech and in your modus operandi.
In your scenario of the black students with ACU Bible degrees, and who had just "learned to preach grace," coming to you and asking "what are we supposed to do?," it is very reminiscent of some of the "freedmen" following the Emancipation Proclamation as they asked their former masters, "What do we do now, since we have our freedom?" Although I doubt the veracity of most of your scenario, I can tell you what most of those black preachers are doing now: they are preaching those "church of Christ-only" kind of sermons and developing congregations that are experiencing, by Godís grace, real growth, not swelling, which indicates a malady, for a short while, like a few white congregations that preach "another Jesus, another Spirit, and another gospel" (2 Cor. 11:3-4). And the detrimental effect of that "swelling" is now beginning to manifest itself, and is already taking its toll on white congregations.
In reference to your contemporaneous ministerial students at ACU who did not know "what to do," I advise you to check out the pulpits of African-American congregations in America and some abroad. One example will suffice: almost every African-American congregation in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has as its minister, and in some cases elders, a graduate(s) of Southwestern Christian College and other higher level educational institutions. And about 95% of these alumni of SwCC still preach those "church of Christ-only" kind of sermons. The minister, Shelton Gibbs, III, as well as some of his elders, of the Greenville Avenue Church in Richardson, Texas, is a graduate of SwCC and ACU. He still preaches those "church of Christ-only kind of sermons," and has a membership of 2500 and growing daily. Do you believe that brother Gibbs has "good theological training" and understands grace as well as you do? Or does he need to come to your planned retreat and ask you "What am I supposed to do now?"
You state in your sermon that you were cancelled by a black church in Atlanta, Georgia, because of what you believe and teach. And you indicate that the preacher cancelled you "...because he was afraid of what his preaching peers would say." Your rationale is faulty. Did that preacher tell you that fear of "what his preaching peers would say" is why he cancelled you? I know the church of which you speak, and I have talked with the preacher who cancelled your meeting. He says that he cancelled you, Rick, because he did not learn of your unauthorized innovations in worship and your erroneous teaching on grace and salvation until after he had invited you to preach in his meeting. This preacher knows the import of 2 John 9-11. And after portraying in your sermons for your mostly white audience a mafia-type atmosphere among the African-American preachers, you sanctimoniously state, "and this is [has been] the culture in African-American churches for years." Rick, do not further embarrass yourself by trying to explain "the culture of the African-American church." You do yourself and your members a disservice by trying to explain a culture that you know nothing about.
In conclusion of this phase of your sermon, you continue in your "authority on the culture of African-American churches" syndrome by saying, "...but, thereís a new generation of young, African-American preachers that want to break free from that [church of Christ-only culture]. They have started meeting. They formed their own retreat. They are getting together. And they need encouragement; because in black churches of Christ if you stand up and preach SOME OF THE THINGS THAT WE HAVE BEEN PREACHING IN THIS PULPIT FOR THIRTY YEARS, YOU CAN STILL GET INTO A LOT OF TROUBLE. They need encouragement. So, I am going to their next retreat to encourage them. And I am going to invite them to come in 2005 here to this church and be encouraged and know that they have a future. And when this church models to our fellowship that we believe that there can be a new day of freedom and grace, that explodes in African-American churches across America, it will make a statement that needs to be made."
Rick, your very first statement is patently false. Your knowing a few African-American young men who think and teach like you does not give you or your audience a microcosmic view of a "new generation" of African-American preachers. You need to have the macrocosmic view. But you will never have this latter view while trying to pontificate from your "gilded cage." From your disadvantageous position, you state that this "new generation" of African-American young men wants to "break free from that." What do you mean, first of all, by "break free"? Do you mean from their culture or from the teaching of the scripture? Are you saying that you, Lucado, Shelly and others who believe and teach grace like you, are the Great Emancipators of the African-American "freedmen"? And what do you mean by "from that"? From what? Are you saying that the "new generation" of African-American Bible teachers and leaders must assimilate your thinking in order to be viewed as "progressives"? I know many young, white preachers who graduated from ACU and other Christian colleges who still preach "church of Christ-only kind of sermons," based on the teaching of the Bible. And I applaud them for "contending for the faith." Do these young men represent the "culture" of the white church, or do they need to "break free from that"?
You then state that "they," i.e., young African-American preachers, "have started meeting, formed their own retreat, and are getting together." At this point of your sermon, I am vividly reminded of the wisdom of Gamaliel as recorded in Acts 5:33-39. This educated Pharisee reminded the crowd of Theudas and Judas the Galilean, who led their little respective rebellions which came to naught. His conclusion was "if a thing is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, no man can stop it. And those who are naive enough to try to stop the working of God will only find themselves fighting against God." And I know that manís arms "are too short to box with God."
You state that these new generation, young, African-American preachers who believe and teach like you believe and teach (who are very few in number) "need encouragement, because in black churches of Christ, if you stand up and preach some of the things that we have been preaching in this pulpit for thirty years, you can still get into a lot of trouble. They need encouragement." This indeed is one true statement in this part of your sermon. If any preacher, black or white, comes to 99% of our African-American churches and preaches that people can be saved outside of the body of Christ in the Christian dispensation, that grace will save men regardless of their doctrinal and moral beliefs and actions, that unauthorized human innovations in the worship such as "praise teams and praise dancers" to entertain the worshipers, that baptism is not essential to salvation, that the use of mechanical instruments of music in worship is authorized by Christ, that women may lead the church, and that the church may host a Randy Travis concert, among so many other heresies (Titus 3:10), yes, he will be in "a lot of trouble" (Rom. 16:17-18) with the African-American churches. But his greater trouble will be with God (John 12:48) for "wresting the scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:15-16). But you say that such preachers need to be encouraged, and that you are going to have retreats with and for them so that they will "know that they have a future." Are you saying, Rick, that these preachers who do not follow your "drumbeat" in doctrine do not have a future? I can cite hundreds of young and older African-American preachers who will not let you be the "pied piper" to lead them in religious error to make sure that they "have a future." Such a white mentality of old hampered past efforts of racial reconciliation. And now in the "postmodern" world, you and your comrades who think like you, can articulately "talk the talk" of racial reconciliation, but you do not "walk the walk." Why must racial reconciliation always be on the white manís terms, such as your definition of "the church," "grace," "legalism," "sectarianism," "community of faith," "patternism," etc.? And why does the black man always have to "come to you" for reconciliation? With the number of members you have at Richland Hills, why not send several hundred groups of them to worship with the African-American congregations already existing in the Fort Worth area? I have recently been a part of several "city-wide" meetings with the African-American congregations of Tarrant County, one in the Will Rogers Auditorium, and there were two white people to attend, not one from Richland Hills. Where were you?
When you speak in your sermon about "a new day of freedom and grace that will explode in African-American churches across America," you are trying to give the false impression that African-American churches will soon be hit with a tidal wave (a tsunami) of new doctrines that will be taught by this "new generation" of black preachers. Your pronouncement, Rick, is only wishful thinking. The antebellum tactic of "divide and conquer" under the facade of "we know what is best for you people," no longer works among African-Americans.
If you are serious about racial reconciliation, you and I could do one or all of the following things:
1. You and I can have a series of public dialogues in a public auditorium in Fort Worth/Dallas on the real issues that prevent racial reconciliation between the black and white churches of Christ.
2. You and I can have public discussions of our differing views on the subjects of grace, worship and the meaning of the term "the church."
3. You and I can jointly host a forum (or retreat) comprised of some African-American church leaders and white church leaders, giving the audience the opportunity of asking questions of members of the forum.
4. You, on my herein stated invitation, may come to our SwCC Lectureship, where we do have an open forum, in November of this year, present your "dream" of racial reconciliation, and say to our people whatever you wish to say, just as you did at the Christian Church Conference. And your statements will be followed by a response.
The choice is now yours. And I shall look forward to receiving your reply. For truth has nothing to fear.
Jack Evans, President
[Rick Atchley's Sermon On Racial Reconciliation]
[Rick Atchley's Apology]
[Dr. Evans' response to Rick Atchley's Apology]
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