Lipscomb Honors Civil Rights Lawyer

This week Lipscomb University celebrates the career and ministry of civil rights attorney Fred Gray. On Thursday, June 7, Tokens–the musical, comedy, theological review– welcomes Gray as a guest at their “Tales of Reconciliation” summer installment at Lipscomb. Gray is featured because of his achievements in civil rights legislation: the defense of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr. and the work around the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as for his life-long devotion to Jesus Christ.

Once again the summer installment of Tokens aligns itself with Lipscomb University’s Christian Scholars’ Conference (CSC). On Friday, June 8, during the 32nd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference, the university will confer upon Fred Gray an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree.

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“This is the highest honor the university bestows on an individual. It expresses Lipscomb’s proactive vision for integration at all institutional levels as integral to the university’s mission,” said David Fleer, professor of Bible and communication and director of the Christian Scholars’ Conference. The theme for this year’s CSC is “Reconciliation: At the Intersection of Scholarship and Practice.” Gray’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement makes this honor particularly fitting for this year’s conference, Fleer said.

Fred David Gray, a native of Montgomery, Alabama who lives in Tuskegee, is in the general practice of law specializing in civil rights litigation. He was educated at the Nashville Christian Institute in Nashville, Alabama State University, and Case Western Reserve University.

Gray began his legal career as a sole practitioner, less than a year out of law school. At age twenty-four, he represented Mrs. Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus, the action that initiated the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Gray was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s first civil rights lawyer He is further known as the counsel in preserving and protecting the rights of persons involved in the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study in 1972, the case of Pollard, et al v. United States of America. One of the first African Americans to serve in the Alabama Legislature since reconstruction, Gray was also the first African American elected as president of the Alabama State Bar Association (2002-2003). He also served as the 43rd president of the National Bar Association.

Along with Fred Gray, This year’s Christian Scholars’ Conference features keynote speakers Miroslav Volf, Yale theologian and international nonviolence advocate; Immaculée Ilibagiza, author of Left to Tell; and Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone. Session topics will range from “alleviation of poverty as reconciliation” to “questions of reconciliation in Terrance Malick’s film ‘The Tree of Life.’” Reconciliation will be traced through the civil rights movement in the U.S., Rwanda, Ireland, the Holy Land, cross-cultural missions, literature, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, business, the Hebrew Bible and the writings of Volf and Verghese.

The Tokens show will feature Mr. Gray; Professor Volf; and musicians Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Amy Stroup, along with the regulars, Odessa Settles and The Most Outstanding Horeb Mountain Boys. This installment has been selected for national distribution via public television stations throughout the country. Tokens already has an agreement in place for Nashville’s WNPT to distribute the show regionally. The June 7 show will be taped in HD and distributed on a national level.

For a full schedule of the Christian Scholar’s Conference, registration or more information about the keynote speakers, visit http://www.lipscomb.edu/csc

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From Every People and Nation, Introduction

Several weeks ago I promised to post excerpts from the provocative, insightful book From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race, by Dr. J. Daniel Hays. The book, written by a self-identified conservative, white biblical theologian traces the picture of race issues throughout the Bible. This first installment is from the book’s introduction:

Not long ago, in a conversation with my colleague Dr. Isaac Mwase, a Black professor and pastor of a local Black congregation, I mentioned that the race problem was an important issue for the Church today. Isaac quickly corrected me by stating emphatically that it is the most important issue for the Church today. This conversation illustrates to some degree of phenomenon that I encountered regularly as I read through some of the recent literature dealing with the race problem in the Church today. Black scholars identify the racial division in the Church as one of the most central problems for contemporary Christianity, while many White scholars are saying, “What problem?”

Likewise, even among those who acknowledge the problem, there is a wide difference of opinion concerning just how bad the problem is and whether the situation is improving or deteriorating. On the one hand, in recent years tremendous progress appears to have been achieved. (D.A.) Carson, for example, documents evangelical churches on the east coast and the west coast of North American that are doing a remarkable job of integrating (Love in Hard Places, 2002, 95-96). Particularly among many White Christians, there is the perception that in these regions things have improved; even in the south and the Midwest many feel that although lagging behind the rest of the country, the race problem is not nearly as pronounced as it was a generation ago.

On the other hand, some have observed that the evidence for this perception is often anecdotal, and actual statistical survey data appear to suggest otherwise. Emerson and Smith in Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (2000) study the problem, through statistical data based on actual nationwide surveys and interviews. They point out that there is tremendous disparity between the way Whit evangelicals view the problem and the way Black evangelicals view the problem. They also note that the phenomenon cuts across regional lines. Their studies indicate that two-thirds of White Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is improving, while two-thirds of Black Christians believe that the situation for Blacks is deteriorating. The survey data have led Emerson and Smith to pessimistic conclusions….

Emerson and Smith (p171) also suggest that one of the underlying factors hindering evangelicalism’s ability to address the race issues adequately is that evangelicals have a tendency to define problems in simple terms and to look for simple solutions. The race issue, on the other hand is extremely complex, involving history, tradition, culture, religion, economics, politics, and a host of other factors.…

Although there are some significant exceptions, in general there is silence in White evangelical congregations concerning the biblical teaching on this issue. Within these congregations, the current attitude of many Whites often falls into one of three categories. First, some people are still entrenched in their inherited racism. They are interested in the Bible if it reinforces their prejudiced views; otherwise they do not care what the Bible says about race. Second, many people assume that the Bible simply does not speak to the race issue, and particularly the Black-White issue. Third many others are simply indifferent to the problem, assuming the status quo is acceptable and that the Bible supports their current practices.

These views appear to carry over into academia as well. Indeed evangelical biblical and theological scholarship has continued to remain nearly silent on this issue, even though indications of the scope of the problem are obvious.

So this is the first installment. What do you think?

Even White Guys!

So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

sotomayor-with-pres-and-veep Just to set the record straight, the Creator did not begin with a generic white male and then decide to get really creative and diversify. Even if you conclude that God created a male first (and not simply a human), that male was not a generic white American man.

But the architects of the American experience WERE a bunch of white males (even though the nation was built on the backs of an extremely diverse populace), and, until 1967, ALL of our Supreme Court justices were white males (you knew that, right?).

In 2001, Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina, and now a Supreme Court justice, gave a speech to a Hispanic law group in which she explicated and defended the obvious: judges bring their experiences and backgrounds into the courtroom. One line out of the 8 pages (12-pt type, Times Roman) has made the rounds in the blogosphere.

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

Once again a single line is taken out of context. One need only read or hear the whole speech to get the truth of it. But to be fair to her critics, this one line is ill-crafted. I don’t believe the judge meant precisely what she said (this was a speech, not a law brief).

Still, the real problem with the statement is that it begins the same place her critics begin: with the presumption that white males have no relevant backgrounds and experiences that they bring into the courtroom. Sotomayor thinks that’s a bad thing; her critics think it’s a good thing.

The issue her critics present is that the judge admits to bringing her background and experiences into the courtroom. I can almost imagine the bathroom meetings “What’s worse is she seems downright proud about bringing her experiences into the courtroom! This is what’s wrong with having a woman or a non-white on the court: they insist on bringing that non-white non-male stuff with them. Why can’t they be generic like all of the tried and true white male judges of yore? Damn the Sixties! Now we have black people, women, and brown people all wanting a piece of the pie.”

Don’t worry, George Will, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Richard Land, WSJ and all you other complainers; white men are still allowed to bring their background and experience to the bench too, as they have done virtually exclusively for over 200 years. But somehow we’ve pretended that the white males are devoid of background and experience. And they pretend that they argue purely the law. They delude themselves.

BTW, Justice Sotomayor doesn’t bring only her Latina experience and background. She brings the Sonia Sotomayor experience and background. Still with her confirmation, the court reflects a bit more of the actual diversity of the American people than it ever has. And despite her ascent to the bench, white males with their background and experiences still maintain a massive dominance on the Supreme Court.

We must begin to acknowledge: there is no such thing as a generic justice, a generic American, or a generic person. And whether we acknowledge it or not, our backgrounds and experiences go with us wherever we go, for good or ill.