"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Monday, November 04, 2019

"Racism in Rural America" by Pastor Chris Gordon

Pastor Chris Gordon and family
Today's guest post is written by a friend of mine, the wonderful pastor of First Baptist Church, Hennessey, Oklahoma. Chris writes of his own personal experience with racism in rural areas of Oklahoma. It's because of people like Chris, those who are not comfortable with status quo, that change can - and will - occur in the Southern Baptist Convention regarding racism. Chris is pictured here with his wife and children (one foster child not in the picture per legal reasons). I appreciate Chris writing this narrative, and I'd encourage you to read it through carefully - again, and again.

“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each
other’s eye for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve heard it said lately that what we need in the world is more empathy. If we could see life through someone else’s perspective, we could then understand what they are going through. If we have a
better understanding of what they are going through then we can solve the issues that might be causing pain in their lives.

Over the years I have felt empathy for my black brothers & sisters as they have fought against the systemic racism that not only plagues us today, but has been a stain on our society for many years. I had that same perspective as Thoreau until I experienced an indirect form of racism myself. I say indirect because it was God’s providence at work keeping my family safe, but it was the ignorance of others that showed me racism is alive & well in the church today.

I am a pastor in a Southern Baptist Church in Oklahoma. My career has spanned 20 years and I have served in multiple capacities. My wife & I have served together now for 14 years in SBC churches in our state. I had the privilege of serving several years prior to our marriage as well. My wife & I found out pretty early in our marriage that we were not able to conceive. We were told that we were in the “unknown” category of infertility. Meaning it was unknown why we couldn’t, but that it was highly unlikely. Through many separate incidents, God led us to adopt. We had always thought we would adopt later, you know after we had our “own” kids. Well God had a different plan. Everyday I am more thankful He did. We now have four beautiful children. Three of which are half siblings, same birth mom but different dads. We are a multi-racial family. We have a Hispanic son and the three half
siblings are African American on their birth dads side, Native American on their birth mothers. Our daughter(youngest) is still in the process of adoption, but we have had her since birth. We have brought all of them home from the hospital, so they have been with us exclusively. My wife & I are Caucasian. White people with brown babies.

I was serving in a wonderful church as a Youth Minster when God called me to the Pastorate. I never dreamed I would be a Sr. Pastor anywhere, but God has a sense of humor I guess. I spent almost 2
years sending resumes to churches looking for a Pastor waiting to hear from one of them. I was stuck in that tough spot where churches were looking for a Pastor with Sr. Pastor experience, but I couldn’t get Sr. Pastor experience without someone first hiring me. But alas I plugged along.

As I was beginning to question God whether or not I had heard Him or if it was some bad burrito I had eaten for lunch, I received my first serious phone call. On the other end was a Deacon from a church in SW Oklahoma. I knew of the church as I had served near it while starting my Youth Ministry career. We had a nice conversation about his church & how they were looking for a Sr. Pastor. He had received my resume from one of my references who was a former Sunday School teacher at the church I had served near them. She was a school administrator who knew one of the ladies on their search committee who was an administrator at their local school. I was impressed with the conversation. It flowed easily & he asked all the right questions. He explained that they had two candidates they were interested in. They wanted to hear me preach as they had heard the other candidate. He asked for a video sermon because I wasn’t preaching every week. He told me I was his pick & to expect a questionnaire via email. I was naive in my thinking, but it was so good
to actually think it was a possibility. My mind began to race after that call. I received the questionnaire that night & I went to work immediately.

I sent the questionnaire back along with a video sermon. A couple of weeks went by when I received another call from him. He said they were impressed by my references & they loved my preaching. I of course was excited, who doesn’t love compliments? He encouraged me to speak to their former Pastor, he was a younger guy like myself who had made the transition from Youth Ministry to the Pastorate. I called the former Pastor & we spoke for quite some time. He told me of the challenges the church had faced, but that it was a good place with good people. All in all he had no hesitations about sending a young guy there for his first Pastorate. I called around the area, I spoke with the Director of Missions, I spoke with the Baptist Collegiate Ministry Director that lived close to them. Everyone had great things to say about how loving the people were. I was ecstatic.

The church was in a small country community of around 250. The church was the only church in the community. They were a few miles from a bigger, more diverse military city. It had never been a town, just a farming community with a church & a school. The community had grown over the years as people moved out there to commute in to the bigger city. They liked the small school & the rural feel I guess. Again, all I had heard was how loving these people were. Small town rural community churches are filled with wonderful loving folks. They are my kind of people, I thought. I grew up in the country six miles from town, in a church of 40 people. It was my dream church so I thought.
Never in a million years did I expect what happened next.

After a few weeks had passed I began to get curious as I hadn’t heard from the search committee. The chairman had assured me that I should expect a face to face interview. I was beginning to get
impatient. Was it something I said? Was it something I did? Something I didn’t say or do? All the while I was plugging along at my Youth Ministry position, but I was starting to imagine myself Pastoring these people in the rural community, yet not a word from them.

I called the reference who had shared my resume. She said she wasn’t sure what had happened, because from what she was told they loved me. Her friend had spoken highly of me & my preaching. She said they loved all the answers I gave to their questions. She offered to call her friend on the committee for me to see what was happening. I told her to wait a couple of weeks, if I hadn’t heard from them I would let her know. Three weeks went by, crickets. So I called her up & asked to make the call.

When she called me back she was livid. She was crying & she was mad. I’ll never forget her phone call. She started the conversation off with “YOU DIDN’T WANT TO GO THERE ANYWAYS!!!”. It sent chills down my spine, it does even as I write this. She went on to explain that her friend, former friend I might add, had explained they were going with the other guy. She told her that the church didn’t have any issues with my multicolored family, but that they were concerned the community would. They were entrusted by God to reach their community after all, and many in that community moved out there to “get away” from the color in the larger city. She was certain my kids weren’t “like” “those kids” in the bigger city, but how could they reach people that wouldn’t know that. It was best they moved on from me to protect us & reach their community. My friend apologized to me. She
could hear the anger in my voice. I responded angrily. I said things I shouldn’t have. I have since repented of those sins.

The church never told me they were moving another direction. Never heard from them again. They didn’t send a letter or even a phone call. They called the other guy. He was there 10 months. They fired him. God protected my family and for that I am eternally grateful.

So you see I used to feel empathy. I used to think I knew what it was like. But in reality, I didn’t. I didn’t know what it was like to have people spurn you because of the color of your skin. I didn’t know what it was like to have people stare at your wife in judgement when she’s at the
grocery store with her brown skinned children. I didn’t have a clue. But now I do.

I am not advocating against empathy, I am advocating for action. It is a both/and situation. When I read about Marcus Hayes being victimized by people of FBC Naples, my heart felt empathy, and my
soul was called to action. We must speak out and act out against the evils of racism. We must call people out for their sins. We must first dig deep into our lives to see if the problem could be in us. The roots run deep. They are not easily torn out. God commands us in Hebrews to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely. We must act swiftly. We must remember that the enemy wants to steal, kill & destroy. We cannot defeat the enemy of racism, but we serve the Risen King who can.


Note (from Wade Burleson) - Other issues besides "race" were present at FBC Naples that led to Marcus Hayes not being called as Senior Pastor. However,  it's been confirmed to me that racism was present in some members. Even if racism was .001% of the reason 19% voted "No" regarding Marcus Hayes, it is necessary to confront the .001%.

And finally, it was announced at FBC Naples on Sunday morning, November 3, 2019, that the church is going to conduct a re-vote on Marcus Hayes as Senior Pastor at FBC Naples and that the announcement in the services received a standing ovation.

This time, if there are "other" issues besides racial prejudice, go ahead and call the African-American pastor that God has laid on the hearts of the Pastoral Search Team (and staff) and deal with those "other" issues separately. #MarcusHayes #GraceTriumphs

#WellDone #FBCNaples


Bob Cleveland said...

The church ... the ekklesia ... ought to be the first to address such problems, but it usually seems we are not.

Take the schools systems: Government had to mandate integration, even to the busing of students!

Let's face it: the problem is exactly what it seems to be. Let us rise up and fix it, before the government does it for us.

Christiane said...

Dear God, what an insight into how racism affects good people. Thank you for sharing your story, Pastor Gordon, and thank you, Wade, for bringing him here to tell it.

That thing about 'government' that Bob Cleveland wrote is also interesting (Hey, Bob Cleveland, God Bless).

There is so much to be done in so many situations where humanity that is made in the image of God requires us to stand up for those who are needing help with their burdens. The Church in ancient days WAS more responsible than the government, and it WAS recognized by everyone, as there was always in those days an opportunity for a condemned person to seek 'sanctuary' within the confines of the Church and once there, they could not be harmed or those doing the harming would be 'excommunicated'.

So it is the Church that took up for people in ancient days, yes. The first hospitals, the first universities, even at the time of the Great Plague that killed over half of all living persons in Europe, the hands-on clergy of the Church lost almost 90% of its people who cared for the sick and the dying.

But now, in our day, in our country, comes politics. And 'quick fixes'. And unfortunately many in the Church see this as remedy, but it is not.
We abandon our military allies and lock little children up from their parents' arms when what is 'humane' in people is removed from the equation for short-term 'fixes' out of fearfulness, when all that is decent in us as Americans tells us we are doing wrong.

In looking at Chris Gordon's story, that farm community was FEARFUL before it gave in to racism . . . afraid of not 'attracting those fleeing from people of color who were moving out of the cities into the country to escape them'. They were AFRAID of 'the wrong horror'. Chris Gordon would have helped everyone there but they would not.

So I think 'FEAR' is the red light for Christian people in examining how they treat others. And reject others.
And the sad thing is that Christ came to set people free from the kind of fearfulness that keeps people from being able to care for one another in humane ways, in ways that incorporate the fruit of the Holy Spirit, in ways that are Our Lord's Ways. May God have mercy on us all and send His light so we can find our way.

Tom said...


You are right, racism is a manifestation of our fears, where we use fixes that scream out racisms to mask the fears that we have of changing ourselves.


RB Kuter said...

Since comments are slow in coming addressing this post, may I be allowed to share my view at the risk of dominating Wade's site? I tried to edit it down to one comment but couldn't. Forgive me and simply ignore it if not of interest.

There is racism between many ethnic groups but I believe that we can agree that the primary problem in our country is racism between whites and African Americans so I would like to express an opinion in that regard, although my proposals are not exclusively relevant to the African American dilemma.

Over the two hundred years since slavery, African Americans have never achieved equal social status to that of white Americans even though slavery was outlawed during the 1860s. They have continued to be discriminated against by the socio-economic system but even worse by psychological discrimination of being considered less than whites.

The best remedy for racism is to lift the oppressed to a higher living standard so as to diminish the socio-economic differences between the ethnicities. This sort of remedy is pretty well understood to be the case by everyone. Well-meaning politicians have recognized this reality and have attempted to solve the inequalities of the situation and bring African Americans to an equal level within society by throwing what probably has amounted to trillions of dollars into the effort but without total success. Taxpayer dollars used to "provide" housing, food, childcare, medical care, residential utilities, and sub-standard education have made disappointing progress in elevating the people to a higher status level within society that is equal to the white sector. Therefore the people remain marked with a stigma of not being able to be assertive in their own elevation of status.

Why has spending billions of dollars to provide for African Americans elevation in society failed? Because it is a socialist-type response and it never works. Only a fool continues to use the same type of remedy that fails over and over again expecting a difference in outcome.

This strategy of simply providing for people those things they were created to acquire for themselves diminishes the motive for self-achievement, dignity and the gratification of accomplishment. It serves to deplete self-respect. Yet it is a favored tactic used by politicians who recognize its enchanting power of offering something for nothing with the self-serving agenda of capturing the votes of those considered to be the benefactors and keeping the politician in power. With this set-up, the politician maintains power over the dependent as another form of being "master" and the oppressed continuing in a very real form of enslavement and dependency.

What is a viable, proven method for genuinely lifting an entire oppressed group identified by their ethnicity out of the quagmire of oppression and discrimination?

RB Kuter said...

Fortunately, we have a recent model that proves a method that would be effective in achieving what has not been done for the past two hundred years to diminish racism. It is the elevation of oppresed minority groups using the full power of capitalistic instruments available.

In just the past two years, all minority groups have become part of the "employed" ranks of America at a rate never before seen. The provision of viable jobs has shown that these oppressed groups crave the opportunity to provide for themselves and break their dependencies upon the controlling politicians. They desire true "freedom". Acquiring access to earning their own future is liberating in a true sense.

Drastic rates of decline of reliance upon government subsistence is a result of this huge increase in minority employment. The collateral advantages and benefits are the increased acquisition of self-respect and human dignity, sense of accomplishment, hope, self-esteem, and motivation that the former attempts using a socialist-mindset failed to achieve. It has been realized through the basic application of capitalist ideology.

The corporate business world has been engaged in this process that results in a genuine escalation of the life standards of citizens, all citizens. Why would the "corporate" business sector consider investing in and operating in those oppressed urban and rural areas instead of going to the more affluent suburbs? Reason; profit.

It has been shown that when the government creates an attractive environment in which the corporate business world can function profitably they are willing to invest in society and accept the social responsibility of improving the society in which it functions. We witnessed this with the return of scores of large corporations to the US following the creation of an environment more hospitable to their presence here. That return has contributed largely to our economic upswing in the past two years and resulting impact on the elevation of the status of all citizens including those formerly oppressed.

Opposition to real progress continues. Amazon had intentions to invest billions of dollars resulting in tens of thousands of jobs in New York City. That potential injection of economic growth, increased employment and restoration of communities met strong opposition by the controlling politicians and unbelievably Amazon's offer was rejected. Those self-serving politicians insisted on maintaining power and control over the oppressed. Result; continued status quo.

Still, this was an example of how the government can attract the involvement and immense wealth of the business world to vitalize oppressed communities. Corporations see the advantages. They will invest in the community with the understanding that real renovation and vitalization of the community would be of mutual benefit. Their presence and investment would create an attractive alternative for employees to living there in the vicinity of the business instead of in the "burbs". People don/t "like" to commute.

Oppressed minority groups would be given the real mechanisms to excel in their socio-economic status. An attractive living environment would be established. Children would attend quality, charter school-level schools. Quality childcare would be provided so parents can be trained and employed locally. The provision of gratifying, fulfilling, jobs with insurance, retirement and investment opportunities would be provided by the private sector, not slave-owning politicians. The need for tax-payer support for these essentials would diminish.

Finally, an elevation of those formerly oppressed people who have been discriminated against and victimized by a vicious, racist society that has kept its boot on their necks for generations would be a reality. As the differences in that socio-economic status diminishes, so will the stigma associated with one race as opposed to another.

The roots of discrimination and racism is not cultural differences. It is the socio-economic disparities.

Rex Ray said...

Pastor Chris Gordon,

You said, “I didn’t know what it was like to have people stare at your wife in judgement when she’s at the grocery store with her brown skinned children. I didn’t have a clue. But now I do.”

For an ‘educated’ person, it’s dumb that you didn’t think how half-black kids would reflect on your wife. Was this decision all yours or did you consult her?


This link tells of four myths:

Myth 1: Color doesn’t matter

“Parents who believe they can raise their child color-blind are making a terrible mistake,” says Korean adoptee Mark Hagland, a 54-year-old journalist and adoption literacy advocate. “And it’s shocking how many people I meet still think this way. If there’s a single thing I can share with white adoptive parents it’s to look at the adult adoptees who have committed suicide, or who have substance abuse problems. Love was not enough for them.”

Anonymous said...

My view and experience as both bio and adoptive parent are different. My grandmother had experienced severe racism. (Native American in Anglo country.)

One of our children is Hispanic. We never experienced a whit of racism when we lived in basically all Anglo country--the northern plains. But when we lived where Anglos were the minority, our non Hispanic child and we the parents experienced a great deal of racism. And our Hispanic child was not seen as Hispanic enough. To add to the merry mixture, our Hispanic child had blond hair and blue eyes (part Anglo showed) and our non Hispanic were brown hair and eyes (another ethnic mix that was considered Anglo in Hispanic country.)

We learned it is culture far more than skin color or hair or eye color that fuel what can be racism. And then again, it may just be no one knew what to do when you brought lutefisk to the cub scout dinner and they expected green chili stew.


Rex Ray said...

Many years ago, my cousin, Claude, was a High School Counselor. One Black girl was having problems in getting married, instead of living with her boyfriend. Claude worked hard and was successful in removing those problems.

Later, he said the girl’s great grandmother, grandmother, and mother were never married, and received Government checks for their babies. Claude wanted to break that tradition.

Mark A Sims said...

Rex Ray, I believe you have misread Bro Chris. He didn't state that he failed to "think how half-black kids would reflect on [his] wife"; he stated that he didn't "know what it was like..." He was speaking experientially; he had never experienced such a thing. That's a very different animal from failing to consider, beforehand, potential sinful responses among those who claim to know and follow Jesus. So your assessment of "it's dumb that...", built as it is on a faulty reading of what Bro Chris has written, seems a bit overdone. And your question regarding whose decision it was to adopt children of another ethnicity is without bearing based on what was written. Such a question is tantamount to an accusation that Bro Chris "forced" this upon his wife. I would guess that Bro Chris, his wife, and their children are all well-aware of the differences in color...there is nothing in what he wrote suggesting that he is attempting to raise his children to be "colorblind". But the doctrine of justification allows us to recognize the full panoply of differences among us and yet celebrate that the work of Jesus Christ overcomes them all. Bro Chris is calling for action...may we all join him in acting for the gospel.

Christiane said...

some thoughts, not particularly in any kind of order

that we all bleed the same red blood

that we all are made from the same elements of the Earth

that we all have the breath of life breathed into us by God Who gives each of us a soul

that, when Our Lord became 'Man', He assumed our whole humanity to Himself in order to heal it and that this 'whole humanity' included everyone who has, is, and will ever live, of all 'races' and colors for all time . . . That in the Incarnation, Our Lord became the New Adam.

the Samaritan was of a 'different race' and in those days Samaritans were despised, but the parable of the Good Samaritan taught us all that what makes us children of the most High God is that we act towards our neighbor with love

That a miracle occurred once in the heart of a man who had been a hard-core racist and a Christian minister:
I learned something over on SBCtoday about a famous evangelical minister who was for most of his life, a racist.
Then something happened to him.
Here are his own words in a testimony that moved me greatly and gave me hope:

“I never had a battle in my heart, I’ve never faced one in my life, and I never thought I’d have to go through it, as I have these last several years. Nobody in this earth knew that was going on in my soul, but I came to the firm conclusion that I had to change. And this man who needs me, whoever he is, is my brother, and my hand is outstretched. ”
(W.A. Criswell)

IF the Holy Spirit can move in the heart of a hard-core racist Criswell and heal him of this poison,
THEN, given a chance,
the Holy Spirit can work in the whole Church also,
even the places where people look at a black person as someone to move away from,
and in places where little brown children are kept inconsolably locked away from their mother's arms.

Come, Holy Spirit, enlighten our hearts .... and Thou shalt renew the face of the Earth.

Doug said...

I pastored a small all-white SBC church in a small, mostly all white rural community in southern Alabama for many years (I am white). They were some of the sweetest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Yet, racism was rampant and even at times overt. I struggled to understand how these two things went together until I heard someone say something like: "Racism isn't hatred, it's fear". The light came on for me then. I saw that these people didn't hate the blacks or Hispanics, as much as they feared them, either because of years of bias, or simply because they were different. This understanding helped me to love my "racist" church while trying to help them overcome their irrational fears. Just a thought.

Rex Ray said...

Mark Sims,

How did I “misread Bro Chris”? Did I not quote what he wrote correctly? (“I didn’t know what it was like to have people stare at your wife in judgement when she’s at the grocery store with her brown skinned children. I didn’t have a clue. But now I do.”)

When my twin brother and I were growing up and did something stupid, our Father would say, “Did you learn anything?”

I believe Bro Chris learned the hard way.

Sims, if you’re married and decided to adopt a child would you chose one the opposite race from your wife? (Hey, I could ask Wade the same question.)

Mark A Sims said...

Rex Ray, quoting someone doesn't mean you've read them correctly. I pointed out that Bro Chris was speaking of experience, not of his/his wife's thoughts prior to foster care/adoption. You addressed him as if he was speaking of his forethought. What exactly did Bro Chris "learn the hard way"? And to answer your question, before my wife died we were in the process of becoming foster care parents with the intention of adopting regardless of the child's race/ethnicity. In fact, we tried to adopt from Ethiopia but were prevented due to politics in that area. But what if my wife was African American? What race/ethnicity would be ok to foster/adopt?

Christiane said...

for many years I have taught children on just one race: the human race

oh, they were different colors, sure, and had different advantages, yes, and some came to me not knowing the most basic skills and others came with enough emotional baggage that they struggled with acting out behaviors in ways that were disruptive, but also understandable when you knew 'the story behind the story' of what they were living with and of how they had been treated in the past . . .

what did I learn?

that children are children and not to take anything about them for granted in a world where even the smallest 'they should know' can destroy a relationship between a teacher and her student . . . take them where they are, and help them move forward and do this with one thing in mind:
that if you don't help them, who will?

then, you get it

Those human children taught me plenty.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Wade--I am curious. Your last paragraph, if I read it correctly, basically said the church should hire the man the staff and search committee recommend. For once, you don't sound exactly Baptist:)

Should the membership not pray and vote yes or no on the man based on their own understanding of God's leadership? Maybe God led them not to hire him? Not due to racism but something else?

God was not surprised. And if it is His will He wouldn't be stymied by the 80% rule, would He? Perhaps He is calling this man "elsewhere" and this call was a stumbling block?


Rex Ray said...

Mark Sims,

You keep saying I haven’t read people correctly. I thought ‘reading people’ was the business of fortune tellers.

Thanks for answering my question. You said you wife and you had decided to adopt regardless of race.

Did you read this link?


“Parents who believe they can raise their child color-blind are making a terrible mistake,” says Korean adoptee Mark Hagland, a 54-year-old journalist and adoption literacy advocate. “And it’s shocking how many people I meet still think this way. If there’s a single thing I can share with white adoptive parents it’s to look at the adult adoptees who have committed suicide, or who have substance abuse problems. Love was not enough for them.”

Wade Burleson said...


You wrote, "Your last paragraph, if I read it correctly, basically said the church should hire the man the staff and search committee recommend. For once, you don't sound exactly Baptist:)"

Good catch. I probably should explain.

75% is considered a super-majority. I believe the bylaws of FBC Naples were poorly written. The candidate received 6% over a super-majority, and the allegation (by some, not all) is that racial prejudice played a factor in the minority vote.

Since the Bylaws are not being changed, it will be very interesting if the church votes 85% this time. If they do, there is no assurance Marcus Hayes will accept.

So, I remain a "good Baptist" (congregational rule) and resist minority rule. :)

Mark A Sims said...

I did read the link, and I've read countless other articles like it. Acknowledge and own the differences, talk about the hard realities of life, avoid a savior mentality...pretty good gospel ministry advice, if you ask me.

wayworn wanderer said...

Almost 25 years ago, I was chairman of a pastor search committee. We brought a pastoral candidate before the church. The candidate himself set a bar of 90% and told us so prior to his preaching in view of a call. The final vote was well above that. I valued his wisdom in not wanting to come to a church that was not substantially unified in its call.

Anonymous said...

Come to play fun games Now available from just one mobile phone!