A very special wedding

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February is a month most Americans equate with romantic, Hallmark-esque dinner dates with your wife or sweetheart, with the cares of the day and the world locked outside. A year ago, on Valentine’s Day, I witnessed the sweetest, most emotional and most real wedding I may ever witness.

The wedding day is finally here, Sunday 14 February 2016, and here comes the bride. Decked in a beautiful, white lacey gown, she strides down the carpeted floor of a fluorescently lit, dull grey conference room, arm in arm with her father, to meet her dashing groom at the other end of the room.

The congregants — about 200 strong — comprising friends, family and some of the nursing staff of Siskin Hospital for Rehabilitation, in which this sacred service is being held, eagerly watch, with tears in their eyes, as the stunning, red-haired bride, Samantha, makes her way down the white carpet toward her dashing groom.

The father-of-the-groom minister stands in the centre, with groomsmen and bridesmaids at his side, but the groom, Peter, remains seated in a wheelchair. His natural beaming grin is absent from his face, as his nerves and physique are under the debilitating power of Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

Those gathered know the battle Peter and Samantha have faced in the last month, and their marriage is about to become a testimony to God’s healing power and steadfast love and faithfulness to them. We will learn what true love and marriage is all about.

‘I thought I had a stroke’

Peter, an assistant coach for the men’s basketball team at Covenant College, on Lookout Mountain in Georgia, was in North Carolina with the team at the end of January 2016 when he suddenly began to feel ill.

What began as a tingling feeling in his extremities soon eclipsed into numbness and exhaustion. Upon returning home to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he fell in his home one night and his face went numb.

Thinking he had a stroke, he checked himself into the local emergency room and was admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) soon afterwards, as things got worse. Initially, the doctors thought it might be a severe case of mono (glandular fever), but one wise doctor accurately diagnosed it as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

According to the Mayo Clinic, GBS ‘is a rare disorder in which your body’s immune system attacks your nerves’. The autoimmune disease attacks the myelin sheath around the nerves, which causes paralysis — as it was doing with Peter Wilkerson.

Peter was hooked up to oxygen, as he could not breathe or swallow without help and had no control over any of his body. After being admitted to the ICU, Peter’s parents and fiancée came to his side from Columbia, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia, respectively.

For five days, Peter was in ICU receiving intense treatments to stop the nerve attacks so that he could begin to recover. Friends and family prayed for Peter from all corners of the globe as news broke out of his sudden illness.

Siskin Rehab Hospital

After receiving treatment, Peter was admitted to the stroke ward at Siskin Rehab Hospital in Chattanooga. Peter was undoubtedly the youngest in that ward and the doctors said recovery might take a year, with 6-8 weeks in the hospital, that is, if he could begin to recover.

While nurses and therapists tended to Peter’s medical needs, Peter’s parents continued to stay in Chattanooga and care for their son’s physical needs. Jim, Peter’s father, compared caring for Peter’s condition as one might care for a helpless newborn infant, except that he’s got the body of a 24-year-old. Once able to down platefuls of food, Peter could only eat pureed food, which Jim made for him daily in a food processor.

We really take for granted how much our body does just on its own. Movements such as swallowing, closing your eyelids, speaking, and even smiling were nigh impossible for Peter for nearly two months.

Nerves grow back less than a millimetre a day; recovery was going to be slow. For seven weeks, Peter couldn’t even get out of bed by himself, let alone walk. Peter described it this way: ‘The mental side of it is astronomical. You go from being able to do anything you want to not being able to lift your arm’ (‘Rare disorder strikes two Chattanoogans’, 4 April 2016, The Times Free Press). Peter was fighting an uphill battle, alongside his parents and fiancée, Samantha.

‘You could get married here’

Not only did this catastrophic disorder hamper his health and livelihood as a basketball coach, but it changed his life in regard to his fiancée Samantha.

Samantha and Peter were planning on being married in their hometown of Brunswick, Georgia, on 30 April 2016. Now Peter was looking at a recovery period of a year or more and he couldn’t leave Chattanooga.

Some brides might run at that kind of uphill battle, but Samantha’s godly love for Peter kept her by his side through it all. Peter’s father jokingly suggested to the couple that they could get married in the hospital. So that is exactly what happened!

Samantha had already purchased her dress and asked her bridesmaids if they had done the same. Surprisingly they were all prepared and the date for the wedding was set for Valentine’s Day.

Since the wedding was at such short notice, the majority of those who could make it to the wedding were family and friends from Chattanooga and Atlanta. Samantha and her family and soon to be in-laws decorated the conference room, which was down the hallway from Peter’s room.

Wheelchair wedding

Since Peter’s father was a minister, he agreed to officiate at the wedding. Friends from Peter’s church agreed to play music for the wedding and soon everything was ready that Sunday for the wedding.

As congregants filled the grey-hued room, everything was abuzz with excitement and joy. Peter was decked in his best grey suit and was wheeled down the centre aisle with his father and best man in tow.

After bridesmaids and groomsmen were arrayed at the front of the room, Samantha came down in her beautiful wedding gown to sit beside Peter. As Eric Youngblood, Peter and Samantha’s pastor in Chattanooga, writes in his article ‘The wheelchair wedding’, ‘She would not stand, because he could not stand’.

When Jim gave his charge to the couple, he began by saying, ‘Normally I’d offer a charge to a couple as they enter into this relationship, but today I want to commend them’. Jim commended them for their love for one another, especially in the current trial, and their fervent love and trust in the Lord through those trials.

He ended the homily by saying, ‘If this marriage is starting like this, we just know it’s gonna be good’. When the words were given, ‘I now present to you Mr and Mrs Peter Wilkerson’, they kissed and Samantha rolled Peter back up the aisle in his wheelchair.

Although a smile was absent from his face due to the effects of GBS, you knew that Peter was just as joyful as his bride. Peter and Samantha spent their wedding night there in the hospital and were together for several weeks in hospital as Peter continued to recover.

Recovery

It is amazing to see what marriage can do to a body. In Peter’s case it gave him incredible strength and drive to recover. God really worked a miracle in Peter’s life as he re-learned to walk and move and recover his former life as a basketball coach.

A month after their wedding day, Peter surprised Samantha by dancing with her in the hospital. Many weeks after the wedding, Peter finally came home and was able to walk, slowly but steadily.

Easter came and Peter and Samantha visited the Wilkersons in Columbia. At that point, Peter was driving again and was able to ride a bike all by himself! Peter returned to Covenant after many long weeks in hospital and worked part-time for a few months. He is now back full-time and has very few symptoms of GBS or of any nerve damage. He is back to his former weight, having lost 30 pounds from the illness.

We can take for granted even the smallest ways our Lord sustains us day by day in our daily movements and habits. But God is our maker and redeemer, and he was glorified through Peter and Samantha’s trial and recovery. What an amazing God we serve!

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in February 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

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Robert Burns, Poet of Scotland

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January 25th marks the birthday of Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns. While his personal character was less than laudable, his poetry has influenced many throughout the world. Before Sir Walter Scott brought Scottish culture and romanticism to its current height in the early 19th century, Burns gave birth to the romantic movement in Scotland through his love poems and social and political commentary. Many of the popular Scottish folk songs today (Auld Lang Syne, Ae Fond Kiss, Scots Wha Hae, etc.) all were written or popularized by Burns.

His works span many different genres and gives the reader an insight into the thoughts and life of a Scottish farmer. “To a Mouse” was written as he was plowing in the field:

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

While his romantic poetry and folks songs are among his most famous, Burns also wrote many on the political and social issues of his day. Poems such as “Ballad on the American War”, “Election Ballad” , “Such a Parcel o Rogues in a nation” use the Scots language to speak about political issues. One of his most famous poems speaks of the brotherhood of all men, an idea which was very new and dangerous in his time,

Is there for honest Poverty
That hings his head, an’ a’ that;
The coward slave-we pass him by,
We dare be poor for a’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that.
Our toils obscure an’ a’ that,
The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,
The Man’s the gowd for a’ that.

What though on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin grey, an’ a that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;
A Man’s a Man for a’ that:
For a’ that, and a’ that,
Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;
The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,
Is king o’ men for a’ that.

Ye see yon birkie, ca’d a lord,
Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;
Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,
He’s but a coof for a’ that:
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
His ribband, star, an’ a’ that:
The man o’ independent mind
He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.

A prince can mak a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;
But an honest man’s abon his might,
Gude faith, he maunna fa’ that!
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
Their dignities an’ a’ that;
The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,
Are higher rank than a’ that.

Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.

But why all this fuss over a farmer poet that’s been dead over 200 years? Burns wrote for the common man. His poems highlight many of the issues that he and his fellow Scots faced which helped them express their joy, their sorrow, or their frustration in whatever situation they faced. His use of the Scots language inspired others to use the same and have henceforth kept it alive. He also immortalized many folk songs that would have died out had he not published them. “Auld Lang Syne” is perhaps the most famous Burns song that is still sung around the world every new year. Even great popular artists of the modern era have been influenced by Robert Burns. Bob Dylan once said that Burns’ song “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose” was his greatest lyrical inspiration. Burns’ published works were not only enjoyed in Scotland but were carried abroad. Today you have people who celebrate Burns’ influence in their culture from Jamaica to China.

That is why people celebrate the legacy of Burns on the 25th of January with Burns night. Traditionally a supper is served consisting of haggis, chappit tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and swede/rutabaga) and the singing and reciting of his poems. As the haggis is brought in, a piper plays “Highland Laddie” and someone will recite Burns’ “Address to the Haggis”:

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin was help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ hands will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

So if you have Scottish heritage or have enjoyed his poetry, raise a glass tonight in honor of Scotland’s bard and perhaps sing one of his songs. Slainte mhath!

First Inaugural Speech

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In light of today, I thought it fitting to share with you the transcription of the first ever inaugural address by our first President, George Washington.

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Among the vicissitudes incident to life, no event could have filled me with greater anxieties than that of which the notification was transmitted by your order, and received on the fourteenth day of the present month. On the one hand, I was summoned by my Country, whose voice I can never hear but with veneration and love, from a retreat which I had chosen with the fondest predilection, and, in my flattering hopes, with an immutable decision, as the asylum of my declining years: a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination, and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time. On the other hand, the magnitude and difficulty of the trust to which the voice of my Country called me, being sufficient to awaken in the wisest and most experienced of her citizens, a distrustful scrutiny into his qualifications, could not but overwhelm with dispondence, one, who, inheriting inferior endowments from nature and unpractised in the duties of civil administration, ought to be peculiarly conscious of his own deficiencies. In this conflict of emotions, all I dare aver, is, that it has been my faithful study to collect my duty from a just appreciation of eve ry circumstance, by which it might be affected. All I dare hope, is, that, if in executing this task I have been too much swayed by a grateful remembrance of former instances, or by an affectionate sensibility to this transcendent proof, of the confidence of my fellow-citizens; and have thence too little consulted my incapacity as well as disinclination for the weighty and untried cares before me; my error will be palliated by the motives which misled me, and its consequences be judged by my Country, with some share of the partiality in which they originated.

Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. And in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United Government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most Governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

By the article establishing the Executive Department, it is made the duty of the President “to recommend to your consideration, such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The circumstances under which I now meet you, will acquit me from entering into that subject, farther than to refer to the Great Constitutional Charter under which you are assembled; and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications, I behold the surest pledges, that as on one side, no local prejudices, or attachments; no seperate views, nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests: so, on another, that the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.

I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my Country can inspire: since there is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity: Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: And since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.

Besides the ordinary objects submitted to your care, it will remain with your judgment to decide, how far an exercise of the occasional power delegated by the Fifth article of the Constitution is rendered expedient at the present juncture by the nature of objections which have been urged against the System, or by the degree of inquietude which has given birth to them. Instead of undertaking particular recommendations on this subject, in which I could be guided by no lights derived from official opportunities, I shall again give way to my entire confidence in your discernment and pursuit of the public good: For I assure myself that whilst you carefully avoid every alteration which might endanger the benefits of an United and effective Government, or which ought to await the future lessons of experience; a reverence for the characteristic rights of freemen, and a regard for the public harmony, will sufficiently influence your deliberations on the question how far the former can be more impregnably fortified, or the latter be safely and advantageously promoted.

To the preceeding observations I have one to add, which will be most properly addressed to the House of Representatives. It concerns myself, and will therefore be as brief as possible. When I was first honoured with a call into the Service of my Country, then on the eve of an arduous struggle for its liberties, the light in which I contemplated my duty required that I should renounce every pecuniary compensation. From this resolution I have in no instance departed. And being still under the impressions which produced it, I must decline as inapplicable to myself, any share in the personal emoluments, which may be indispensably included in a permanent provision for the Executive Department; and must accordingly pray that the pecuniary estimates for the Station in which I am placed, may, during my continuance in it, be limited to such actual expenditures as the public good may be thought to require.

Having thus imported to you my sentiments, as they have been awakened by the occasion which brings us together, I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign parent of the human race, in humble supplication that since he has been pleased to favour the American people, with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparellelled unanimity on a form of Government, for the security of their Union, and the advancement of their happiness; so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations, and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.

Thoughts on the Inauguration of Donald Trump

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No matter how you feel about the soon-to-be 45th President of these United States, his inauguration is an historic event. The American public and Electoral College have elected someone who is not your typical Washington professional politician. Whether he’s capable of serving in this distinguished role has yet to be seen but, all the same, Donald Trump is soon to be our president. What can we do? Our country is at a tipping point, broiled in confusion, anger, and division…”the [country] stands on the edge of a knife, stray but a little and it will fail…to the ruin of all”. Yet as the following line poses so eloquently: “yet hope remains…”

Fellow Americans there is hope for us, hope beyond measure. It does not rest in a President or his Cabinet. It does not rest in democracy or republican values. It does not rest in free healthcare or free education or free press. Our only hope rests in believing in Jesus Christ, the Son of God who became man to take upon himself the wrath of God which we justly deserve. He fulfilled the law’s righteous demands , perfectly, and defeated sin and death on the cross. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)”. But our greatest hope does not lie in a man who was killed for our sake, otherwise the victory would not be complete. No, Jesus Christ was raised from the dead for your sake, for all who would believe. That in Him we may have life in his name. The cares and worries of this life pale in comparison to the eternal hope that awaits us. 

So what does this hope mean in light of today? It means we need not fear anything for God does indeed set rulers in their place and deposes them (Daniel 2:21). God is in the Heavens and does everything that he pleases (Ps 115:3). Nothing escapes his knowledge and in that we can trust. He has put Donald Trump in this office for a special reason and we must trust his judgement. So how then should we treat our new President? The Apostle Paul gives very good instruction in Romans 13:

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1-7)

Paul also tells us to pray for our leaders:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the mana Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.  (1 Tim 2:1-6)

So let us pray for our new President that he will seek the Lord, be humble and wise in his governing, and seek to enact just laws for our good. Let us also seek to love one another, not matter how different we may be or how different our politics may be. And if you are not believing that Jesus is the One, True and Living God, that he alone can save, that he died, was buried, and was raised for you, then I urge you to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus as your Saviour.

 

75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor

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Just over 75 years ago, on 7 December 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes, torpedo planes and bombers attacked the United States at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii.

In a matter of 110 minutes, the Japanese had destroyed 188 aircraft and damaged eight battleships (sinking four), and sank three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship and a minelayer.

Over 2,000 American servicemen were killed and over 1,100 were wounded in one of the most horrifying attacks on America. It was one of several coordinated attacks throughout the Pacific that sought to prevent the United States hindering Japan’s aggressive expansion in the Far East.

Infamous attack

While the attack was catastrophic and sudden, it did not have its desired effect. Rather, it galvanised the United States into becoming fully involved in World War II, in both the European and Pacific theatres. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt so aptly said, it was ‘a date which will live in infamy’ (‘Infamy’ speech, 8 December 1941).

Japan’s attack on the stronghold of the American navy was not an overnight affair. Preparations for war had begun nearly a year earlier, and planning this attack in October 1941.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was the mastermind behind it and, with the help of Admiral Minoru Genda, based his plan largely on the British air attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, in 1940. At first, his plan was opposed by his staff and other high command officers. But eventually he convinced the naval general staff of the plan’s expediency, and it was finalised by 5 November. (‘Planning Pearl Harbor’, David C. Evans, Hoover digest, 4/30/98).

On the morning of Sunday, 7 December 1941, the task force of the Imperial Japanese Fleet, comprising six aircraft carriers with 408 aircraft, stopped just northwest of Oahu, Hawaii. The US did detect their approach, but the first wave of Japanese aircraft were thought to be American B-17 bombers.

Battleships targeted

At 7.48am the Japanese commenced attack. Yamamoto believed America’s battleships to be the most vital to their navy, so they were targeted first. They sat in the harbour’s shallow water, so torpedoes used were specifically designed to operate in shallow water.

Out of 49 bombs dropped on the battleships, only eight made contact with their intended targets, while the torpedoes did the rest of the damage. One bomb made a direct hit on the magazine in the USS Arizona. This caused nearly half the deaths that day.

As bombs and bullets rained from the skies, American servicemen were called to general quarters. Although most American guns and planes were not in readiness for defence, they responded quickly to the air raid alarm and did make a stand.

Japanese dive bombers not only destroyed major ships in the harbour, but also destroyed hundreds of American aircraft, making air-to-air combat nearly impossible. Only eight American pilots were able to take to the skies. They succeeded in downing one Japanese aircraft.

The second wave of Japanese aircraft came at 9.00am and met more resistance than the first wave, but still successfully bombed what was left of Pearl Harbour. After the attack was over, ships lay sunk or severely crippled and the Japanese returned to their carriers, having lost only 64 men.

Although they succeeded in taking the American forces by complete surprise, their initial goal of destroying American aircraft carriers was not successful. Furthermore, the oilfields and repair yards were left unharmed.

The United States declared war on Japan and her allies the following day. The attack on Pearl Harbour had stirred the hearts of Americans, like nothing else, and would serve as powerful propaganda against the Japanese.

Mitsuo Fuchida

One of the principal leaders in the Japanese attack was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida. Fuchida was a renowned Japanese airman, with perhaps more flight experience than anyone in the Imperial Japanese Navy. He had enlisted at 18 and, by 1941, was a competent instructor in horizontal bombing and commander of the air group on the Akagi.

As Fuchida led the first wave of airmen in their attack on Pearl Harbour, he is the one who gave the order to his radioman to transmit to the Akagi the infamous words, ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’

Fuchida described that day as ‘the most thrilling exploit of my career. Ever since I had heard of my country’s winning the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, I had dreamed of becoming an admiral like Admiral Togo, our commander-in-chief in the decisive Battle of the Japan Sea’.

As the war raged on and the Allies neared victory, Fuchida was troubled by thought of a Japanese surrender. He wanted to fight to the last man. He was in Hiroshima the day before the atom bomb fell, but was called back to Tokyo for an important meeting.

By the providence of God, Fuchida was not in the city during that massive attack and never succumbed to radiation poisoning, even though he was instructed to assess the damage in Hiroshima (everyone else in the assessment team died from radiation poisoning).

After Japan’s surrender, its army and navy were disbanded and Fuchida was called to testify in war crime trials. He was angered by these demands, thinking it was the victor’s way of boasting. He firmly believed the Americans had treated Japanese POWs unjustly.

He met an old friend who had been a POW and asked him for evidence to support his view. His friend, Kazuo Kanegasaki, told him that he and the other Japanese prisoners had been given excellent care, especially at the hand of Peggy Covell, whose missionary parents had been martyred by Japanese soldiers.

Her parents had prayed for their executioners, just before they were beheaded. Fuchida asked Kanegasaki why she had returned and taken such care of the Japanese. Kanegasaki told him it was because Japanese soldiers had killed her parents. Fuchida and his friend were bewildered by this, since they both believed in Bushido (teaching, among other things, that virtue requires revenge, to prove loyalty to a loved one whose honour has been disgraced).

Jacob DeShazer

Fuchida saw no rationale for Peggy’s forgiveness or any higher obligation to love someone, especially an enemy. He returned to Tokyo perplexed and curious about this Christian god.

While in Tokyo (1948) he was handed a tract by a Westerner at the train station. The tract was entitled I was a prisoner in Japan. It told the story of an American pilot (Jacob DeShazer) who was taken prisoner in China by the Japanese, sometime after participating in the famous ‘Doolittle’ air raid on Tokyo (April 1942). DeShazer had come to Christ while in the POW camp. Initially he had great hatred for his captors, until he began reading the Scriptures.

Like Covell, DeShazer had a passion to share the love of Christ with the Japanese and returned to became a missionary in Japan. Fuchida describes his reaction: ‘What I read was the fascinating episode which eventually changed my life … The peaceful motivation I had read about was exactly what I was seeking. Since the American had found it in the Bible, I decided to purchase one myself, despite my traditionally Buddhist heritage’.

Upon reading the Scriptures, especially Luke 23:34, Fuchida found the peace and love of Christ that he longed for and submitted his life to Christ. ‘Right at that moment, I seemed to meet Jesus for the first time. I understood the meaning of his death as a substitute for my wickedness, and so in prayer, I requested him to forgive my sins and change me from a bitter, disillusioned ex-pilot into a well-balanced Christian, with purpose in living’.

Missionary

Fuchida spent the remainder of his life sharing the gospel in Japan and throughout the Far East. He stated: ‘Though my country has the highest literacy rate in the world, education has not brought salvation. Peace and freedom, both national and personal, come only through an encounter with Jesus Christ’.

Fuchida met DeShazer in May 1950 and they embraced as brothers in Christ. Fuchida went on to found a missions’ association and wrote and co-wrote many books throughout the remainder of his life. He was fully active in evangelism until his death, on 30 May 1976.

He wrote these words in 1953: ‘I would give anything to retract my actions of twenty-nine years ago at Pearl Harbor, but it is impossible. Instead, I now work at striking the death-blow to the basic hatred which infests the human heart and causes such tragedies. And that hatred cannot be uprooted without assistance from Jesus Christ.

‘He is the only one who was powerful enough to change my life and inspire it with his thoughts. He was the only answer to Jake DeShazer’s tormented life. He is the only answer for young people today’.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in January 2017 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Scots Irish Influences in Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road

There are times when thoughts pop into one’s head that should be written down…they say for posterity’s sake. This “note” may not merit such an epithet as an heirloom but it struck me as interesting.

I thought I would write a few thoughts about songs I’ve listened to. It might seem strange for a preacher’s kid to start off with this one but if you’ve seen my red hair, you know why.

Scots Irish Influences in Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road

Country rock was a thing of the 80s and some vestiges of its ballads and epic tones linger on with Zac Brown Band and Chris Stapleton. It’s hard to think of that music being anything other than American.  Steve Earle was a pioneer of the genre and his album and song “Copperhead Road” bring an an interesting twist to country rock. While the songs on the album are steeped in hard rock and “left-wing politics”, the style and themes of the music bring out some of American music’s oldest ingredients–the influence of the Scots Irish.

Generally speaking, country music, bluegrass, and old-time music draw heavily from the Scots Irish, especially in the case of material. The Scots Irish not only brought their famous fiddles with them to the New World but they also brought their ballads. A ballad, simply put, is a story set to music. They recount the life of workers, outlaws, heroes, and other such blue-collar folks. These ballads were often melancholy in nature and those influences certainly show up in bluegrass and country music. Steve Earle’s Copperhead Road is certainly a ballad; a ballad about outlaws, family, and a hard life.

The song highlights a family in the hills of East Tennessee; they were poor and made their money making and bootlegging corn liquor. With Johnson County being a “dry” county, the Pettimores were often on the wrong side of the law. The main character is the third in a string of John Lee Pettimores but he wants a different life from his father and grandfather. He wants to get out of the poor hard life of the hills and volunteers for the Army during the Vietnam War. He gets a taste of war and finds some familiarity in the tactics of the Viet Cong. He also gets the idea of going back home and improving the “family business”. He starts growing maijuana in the hills and uses Viet Cong tactics to outwit the DEA.

If you know the history of the Scots Irish and their influence in the backcountry, you know how this song fits in. The Scots Irish have a intense loyalty to family, a strong dislike for government control, and are fierce fighters. The Pettimores seem to live up to that:

Everybody knew that he made moonshine
Now the revenue man wanted Grandaddy bad
He headed up the holler with everything he had
It’s before my time but I’ve been told
He never came back from Copperhead Road
Now Daddy ran the whiskey in a big block Dodge
Bought it at an auction at the Mason’s Lodge
Johnson County Sheriff painted on the side
Just shot a coat of primer then he looked inside
Well him and my uncle tore that engine down
I still remember that rumblin’ sound
Well the sheriff came around in the middle of the night
Heard mama cryin’, knew something wasn’t right
He was headed down to Knoxville with the weekly load
You could smell the whiskey burnin’ down Copperhead Road

The culture of moonshining and bootlegging is certainly a Scots Irish tradition. Just after the American Revolution, there was a Whiskey Rebellion where the government imposed taxes on farmers selling corn liquor. Infinitely clever and thrifty, the settlers of the backcountry along the Appalachian Mountains found it was more lucrative to turn corn into moonshine and ship it into town than the grain itself. It wasn’t taxed like other liquors until the American government under Washington tried to enforce it on corn whisky. The settlers, mostly Scots Irish in Pennsylvania and Virginia, rebelled at this and the Federal Army was sent to enforce the law.

Not only are the lyrics and story of the song influenced by the Scots Irish but the intro to the song uses a keyboard to imitate the sound of a bagpipe. The “drone” sound continues throughout the song; a key feature in Scottish pipe and fiddle music. If Steve Earle was trying to bring the Scots Irish heritage to the forefront of American music, he did an excellent job.

 

The 2016 Presidential Election

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November 2016

One of the fundamental privileges of belonging to a democratic nation is being able to vote. Our desire, especially as Christian citizens, is to make an impact on our nation and culture through that vote.

We want to have good laws passed, and just rulers and judges put in places of authority, so that we and our children can enjoy peace and prosperity in our country.

That being said, the 2016 presidential election has been a bewildering and perplexing thing to watch, and a more dreadful one to think about. As I voted in the Republican primaries in June, I hoped that someone more ‘conventional’ would become the primary candidate.

Donald Trump’s success in becoming the Republican candidate has left many conservatives in surprise and shock. To be honest, most Americans probably thought it was some kind of joke. Hillary Clinton’s success has not been as big a surprise, but I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that it would be a choice between Clinton or Trump.

As a conservative Christian, it’s one of those situations where you ask yourself, ‘How do I vote for the lesser of two evils?’ As election time comes (8 November), how do I, as a Christian, vote, when I have no desire to vote for either candidate; and possibly wrestle with the idea that one of the two may be the lesser of two evils?

The ‘miracle’ of Trump

The ‘miracle’ (if you could even use that term) of Donald Trump’s success has boggled the minds of most here in America. His movement from what seemed a theatrical stunt to having real potential for becoming President is astounding in the history of the United States and 21st century politics.

But, looking at it bluntly, there’s no magical reason why he’s in the position he is now. While he may be immensely popular with many for his ‘America is Number One’ mantra and his ‘honest’, un-politically correct statements and policies, his success is largely due to his wealth.

According to POLITICO, Mr Trump has a net value of $10 billion and a yearly income of $557 million (Ben White, POLITICO, 31 May 2016). Fortune Magazine estimated that it takes roughly $10 million just to get a presidential campaign started, and then, by the time you’ve gone through the first four states on the campaign trail, you’ve spent $149 million (Fortune.com, 3/28/15). As you probably realised, this is ‘small change’ for the multi-billionaire businessman.

This financial backing has gone hand in hand with his popularity as an untypical politician — someone who isn’t part of the Washington political career scene. Writer Robert Montgomerie explains Mr. Trump’s popularity this way: ‘The majority of Americans, having that one crass and vulgar relative with an endless supply of flatulence jokes and odd charisma, aren’t entirely repulsed by this caricature, but are rather drawn to him.

‘Trump embodies a middle America that is uninterested in the puritanesque self-righteousness of the social justice warrior or similar liberal. He sanctions the fear they have of the Mexican who picks the produce they buy in the grocery store and hangs their dry wall for rock bottom wages.

‘In any case, and perhaps of more importance, Donald Trump has been on television, and certainly a man paid millions for uttering the words, “You’re fired”, and locking up with Vince McMahon [a wrestler] at Summerslam [a professional wrestling event], has something positive to bring to Washington, DC. He is a performer and middle America is in love with him’ (The megalomaniacal Donald Trump and The art of the deal).

Lesser evil?

You may be asking why I would use the ‘lesser of two evils’ adage in speaking about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Who’s more evil? Comparatively speaking, they are both equally ‘evil’. Anyone is, if they are not in Christ.

Many would claim that either candidate is ‘the lesser of two evils’ because of the political ideals or policies they are willing to put up with. Generally speaking, conservative Christians do not vote for Hillary Clinton, because of her stand on abortion and healthcare. Clinton’s views and policies are definitely ‘left-wing’, and conservative American Christians typically have not voted in favour of someone on that platform.

Sadly, a conservative American Christian is more likely to vote for a brazen adulterer who has a stringent stance on immigration, brings more industries home, limits central government, and spends more on defence than someone who is a self-proclaimed liberal with progressive views on healthcare and education.

Many Christians have written back and forth on whether we should vote, or who we might vote for. Franklin Graham said: ‘Vote for the candidates that best support biblical truth and biblical values … In some races, it may not always be clear. You may have to hold your nose and choose of the two’ (quote from ‘Should Christians vote for Donald Trump’, Todd Starnes, Fox News.com, 12 May 2016).

Influential conservatives like Mike Huckabee, Eric Metaxas, Samuel Rodriguez and Richard Land have also voiced that Christians should and can vote for Trump. Others are planning to vote for a third party candidate. Still others might stay home and not vote.

However, at the time of writing, that determined right-wing support is floundering somewhat. Since 7 October, videos and interviews have brought to the limelight at least six women who allege past sexual assault by Mr Trump. He has flatly denied all this, but the women have given graphic detail. At this point, ‘nearly 20 per cent of the 331 current Republican governors, senators and house members have renounced their party’s nominee’ (David Johnson, Chris Wilson, TIME, 12 October). Other Republicans have stated they would accept his apology and would continue to support him (Ibid).

What should we do? Prayer for wisdom and guidance should be our first action. We must also trust God, that he knows all things and does not sit in the heavens wringing his hands with worry over the present political or cultural climate of America (or Britain).

God is in control and does everything that he pleases (Psalm 115:3). He is the one who has put the rulers in their places and commanded us to pray for them (Romans 13; 1 Timothy 2:2).

Then we are to act. Not voting is ‘voting’ (from one perspective), and I would say that that is perhaps a worse option than voting for either candidate. Some might argue that voting for a third party candidate is a waste of your vote, since they probably won’t make a huge impact.

Christ’s kingdom

Whatever an American Christian’s decision, it is up to them to vote responsibly and out of conscience. I don’t think I could vote for Clinton or Trump with a clear conscience, certainly less so with Clinton. Please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in America who face a difficult choice in November.

Toward the earlier part of this year, I thought about the presidential election as I was driving home from work and recorded a thought on my phone. I compared the way that American Christians prayed and pined for the ‘right’ president was the same way the Jews desired a political Messiah during Jesus’ lifetime. They wanted a political Messiah to redeem them nationally from the Romans and serve their own desires for their agenda.

While the desire for freedom to worship, the prohibition of abortion and more freedom for Christians are not bad desires, they can become an end in and of themselves and therefore become our gods.

Our God is in the heavens and our home is not of this earth. We have been made into new creations in Christ. We are no longer our own, but have been bought with a price. I think our fears and worries in regard to the current political climate are often tied to our view of our own lives.

But we must fix our gaze heavenward and trust God, not fearing those who hate us, or evil rulers that may take away our freedoms. We have a sure hope and our goal should be to spread that hope abroad, no matter what happens politically. I hope this thought is as encouraging to you as it is to me.

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in November 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

Rural American Congregational Singing

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Over the last few hundred years since the American Revolution, ecclesiastical music and singing in America have not changed as much as one might think.

Many of the colonies were founded for religious freedom, especially New England, where the Pilgrim Fathers and Puritans settled. During that time, the foundation for American church music and singing were laid in liturgy, psalmody and hymnody brought from Europe, especially England and Scotland.

Many of the denominations in the United Kingdom had their counterparts in America and we sing many of the same hymns. For the most part, modern day American church music is not too different from that found in British churches.

However, new kinds of singing arose in the rural backwaters of America, both in white and African American communities: singing that was largely different from the music found across Great Britain, though some had their origins there.

Line singing

One of those forms of congregational singing is known as ‘line singing’ and is used among white, black and Native American congregations in the southern and western regions of the country.

In its most basic form, a precentor chants the first line of a hymn or psalm. The song is then sung by the congregation in a dirge-like but impassioned manner without musical accompaniment.

One scholar describes it this way: ‘[As] is usual in oral tradition, the tunes were altered according to the individual singer’s interpretation and abilities. This style of singing featured extremely slow tempos, with notes added to the melody by each individual singer.

‘In addition, since the singing was unaccompanied, people who were not sure of the melody would wait until the leaders sang the next note before joining them’ (The regular singing controversy, Linda Ruggles).

While this form of singing was once popular during the 16th-18th centuries in Europe, it is now only practiced in Europe by Gaelic Presbyterian churches in the Outer Hebrides.

Many of the Gaels and other British emigrants first brought line singing to the American colonies. This form was widely adopted across the colonies, from Plymouth to the Carolinas. The Scots migrated in the 17th and 18th centuries to the American colonies and took their Gaelic Psalm singing with them and taught it, not only to their children, but also their slaves.

While the use of hymnals structured the main form of hymnody in America in the 19th century, more remote churches in the south-eastern United States still used line singing in both white and black churches.

Initially, slaves sang in Gaelic along with their masters, but it did not take much time (though no one really knows when) before the use of Gaelic faded out in American churches. However, the form of singing still was passed on and each denomination had its own variation.

Cultural connections

Professor Willie Ruff, a renowned jazz musician in his own right, researched extensively the connection between African American line singing and Gaelic line singing. He also found white congregations in Kentucky that did the same type of singing and brought them together for a conference at Yale University (‘The line between Gaelic psalm singing and American music’, willieruff.com).

The 2005 conference featured the Sipsey River Primitive Baptist church from Alabama, the Indian Bottom Old Regular Baptists from south-eastern Kentucky, and the Free Church Psalm Singers from the Isle of Lewis, along with many other professors and speakers.

Their music blended marvellously, as there were many similarities between the tunes they used. Even some of the hymns sung by the Alabama and Kentucky churches were the same. Later, someone brought to Prof. Ruff’s attention that this same style of singing was done among the Creek Indians.

During the time of the ‘Trail of Tears’ (forced relocations of Indian nations in the United States, following the Indian Removal Act of 1830), many Indians in the South came to Christ, and some, having intermarried with Scots, learned to line sing the Psalms in their own language and took it with them to what is now Oklahoma.

So, in 2007, Ruff initiated another conference, which featured the African American line singers, the Kentucky line singers and the Creek Indian line singers.

Once again, the singing was very similar between the three congregations and great fellowship was had. When asked about his theory that African American line singing came from Scotland, Ruff replied, ‘We as black Americans have lived under a misconception. Our cultural roots are more Afro-Gaelic than Afro-American. Just look at the Harlem phone book, it’s more like the book for North Uist.

‘We got our names from our slave masters; we got our religion from slave masters, and we got our blood from slave masters (‘Black music from Scotland’, Scotsman newspaper, 31 August 2003)’.

This remarkable style of music is still practiced in the South, though it does not have a large following.

Sacred harp

‘Sacred harp’ singing is another type of a cappella rural church singing that really did originate in the American colonies.

While line singing is a call-and-response sort of singing, sacred harp or shaped note singing is more choral in nature. While the origin of shaped notes is much older than the American colonies, the use of it as church music started in the colonies with the Bay Psalm Book, written in 1698.

Shaped note singing uses a specific type of notation in the hymn or Psalm book, where the notes are not merely round dots on the staff, but take the shape of squares, triangles and diamonds as well.

While shaped note singing may have been widespread throughout the eastern US at one point, it soon became almost extinct in the northern US, due to Lowell Mason’s better music movement. However, churches in the South were still taken with shaped note singing, particularly in rural areas, and continued to use shaped note singing.

The Sacred Harp was a hymn book first printed in 1844 that uses a four-note system (fa, sol, la, mi). Churches would have singing schools, where the congregants would come and learn to read the music and share life and fellowship together.

Sacred harp singing begins with singers seated or standing in a hollow square, with one member standing in the middle to lead. The square is arranged in alto, treble, tenor and bass sections. A leader will stand in the centre and guide the congregation through the song, with the entire group singing together.

This style of singing is democratic and singers take turns leading in song. He or she will call out the number of the hymn from the book and then sing up the scale to find the right pitch to start the hymn.

Everyone sings their own part through, by actually singing out the notes ‘fa, sol, la, mi’. Then the congregation will sing out the words to the hymn in English, having sung the tune once before. If you listen to sacred harp music, you will recognise well known hymns, tunes, and metres, as well as many unfamiliar ones.

It is also interesting to note that The Sacred Harp book does contain many more hymns about heaven than most hymnals I have sung out of, which is pleasing.

Heavenly worship

Having been to one of these singing schools, it is quite an impressive and fun experience. This type of singing is still fairly widespread among Primitive Baptist churches, some Southern Baptist churches, Churches of Christ, and some Pentecostal churches in the South.

Both line singing and sacred harp singing, while not commonplace, have a rich heritage worth preserving and participating in. Singing praises to God is, and should be, one of most joyous experiences for the Christian. The Scriptures are full of songs to the Lord, and we even have a songbook (the Psalter) printed within its very midst!

From the time of temple worship to the present day, God has ordained singing as a way of offering praise and thanksgiving and giving him all the glory. And since those ancient days, as the church has grown and spread throughout the world, brothers and sisters in Christ lift their voices in their own way to praise God.

It is eye opening to go to a different culture and sing praises to God in that culture, whether Creek, Gaelic or English. It is a beautiful foretaste of what it may be like in heaven, when peoples from all cultures and languages join in song (Revelation 7:9-10).

Farewell, vain world! I’m going home!

My Saviour smiles and bids me come,

And I don’t care to stay here long!

 

Sweet angels beckon me away,

To sing God’s praise in endless day,

And I don’t care to stay here long!

 

Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder;

Oh, yes, my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.

(Hymn 282, The Sacred Harp)

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in October 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

44th PCA General Assembly & Racial Reconciliation

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Church assembly melted to repentance

This June, commissioners (elders) from the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) met in the southern city of Mobile, Alabama, to convene the 44th General Assembly, the denomination’s annual meeting for business.

For the last few years, missional theology, and most recently, racial reconciliation, are subjects that have sparked animated debate. But on 23 June 2016, the 44th General Assembly (GA) took the momentous step of voting 861-123 in favour of a statement on racial reconciliation and repentance of sins.

The overture stated: ‘Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers, such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages interracial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10)’.

Debate

While all were in favour of its sentiment, there were some who contested whether this should be done at a denomination level instead of a presbytery or local church level. After all, not all of the current pastors or parishioners had been there during the Civil Rights movement or had committed those sins. Nonetheless, it was passed with an overwhelming majority.

But how did this issue come to the 44th GA, and why is it relevant today? While the PCA was not created until 1973, it was in inception a predominantly southern denomination. During the Civil Rights movement, there were many in the southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) who discriminated against African Americans.

Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, African Americans had limited, if any, voting rights; could not use the same facilities or schools as whites; and were treated in the most horrible manner. While many white evangelicals may have been kind personally to African Americans during this time, they were by no means in support of changing the status quo in favour of black equality.

Differences

In the PCUS there were three different camps in regard to black equality. Sean Michael Lucas, a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson) and a PCA minister in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, describes these three camps as: those in favour of segregation; those who were moderate; and those who wished to integrate the races in society.

Segregationists defended ‘Jim Crow laws’ (laws enforcing racial segregation), fearing that integration would lead to ‘developing a mongrel population, a development I believe God opposes’ (W. A. Gamble, quoted in Gospel Coalition, 2/6/2015).

Moderates believed that ‘continued legal segregation would undercut the preaching of the gospel in America and abroad. On the other hand, they believed, forced integration would open the door to the possibility of unthinkable race-mixing. Better to do away with legal barriers to blacks’ participation in American society, but then let Christian love and prudence take its natural course’ (Ibid.).

Those that sought for integration were few, but strongly preached that segregation was contrary to the advance of the gospel. Many of them actively sought to bring African Americans into their churches (Ibid.). Many of those pastors would become the pioneers of the PCA in 1973.

The vision and heart of this third group of pastors has been exemplified in the ministry of Billy Graham, who sought to preach the gospel to racially inclusive groups and make social changes through the gospel.

But the PCA is still a predominately white, middle class denomination, whose theological beliefs ‘have still been trumped far too often by other, deeper seated commitments to race, class or region’ (Ibid.).

Initiative

This process of reconciliation began during the 43rd GA, in June 2015, when two highly respected elders in the PCA, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan, brought forward a personal resolution calling for confession of and repentance for historical racial sins of the PCA and resolving to reconcile whites and African Americans in the denomination.

The overture received much debate in the Overtures Committee (OC) (over nine hours) and much more debate on the floor of the GA. There were many different opinions expressed. Some said the issue needed more thought and better wording. Others stated that, since the PCA didn’t exist during the Civil Rights era, it should be confessed on a personal level.

Those who were for the resolution gave biblical reasons for denominational confession and repentance, and said dealing with this issue was long overdue. The committee voted to refer the resolution to the next assembly. But what happened next could hardly have been anticipated and was certainly an incredible event.

The resolution went back to the GA floor for a final vote and passed in favour of waiting until next year. However, there were many who did not share the same opinion as the OC and desired to pass the resolution that year.

Confession

After hours of debate, an elderly man by the name of Rev. Jim Baird, one of the founding pastors of the PCA, got up to speak. In his speech he confessed that he and the other founding members did nothing to help the plight of their African American brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights era.

As he continued to confess his sin before those gathered, the room was moved by the Holy Spirit and many men wept for their sin and the sin of the denomination.

Although the committee’s motion to delay the final resolution until next year (2016) passed, many felt they should pass some some kind of confession and wanted to suspend the rules to do so. The moderator had ruled that they could not suspend the rules, but that they could move for a formal protest.After his confession, the moderator opened the floor for a season of prayer and men pressed forward in droves in fervent confession and prayer for healing that lasted for an hour.

Rev. Jon Price moved against the moderator’s ruling, in which nearly half of the commissioners came forward to sign their names to the protest right there on the GA floor!

It was certainly an historic assembly and one that will be noted as one of the more sweet, holy moments in PCA history.

Thus it was with great anticipation during this year’s GA that the commissioners voted on the numerous overtures advocating racial reconciliation. Over the course of last year, 40 overtures were sent in regarding racial reconciliation and confession of sin.

The OC adopted Overture 43 from the Potomac Presbytery with their final amendments and passed it on to the GA floor. Finally, on 23 June, Overture 43 was passed with an historic vote (85 per cent in favour).

Worship

Overjoyed with such unity and the work of the Spirit in our Church, an African American brother led the assembly in a heartfelt singing of ‘It is well with my soul’.

In the light of ongoing riots and attacks on blacks and other minority groups, it can be said that Overture 43 has been timely for the PCA. It heralds a unified and concentrated effort on the part of the presbyteries to confess past sin and move towards reconciliation.

I would affirm, as others have, that the Bible espouses confession for generational sins, especially in regard to the generations of Israel that forsook the Lord in the wilderness or went after the Baals in the time of the Judges.

Having grown up in the PCA, I know first-hand that the denomination is not very ‘multicultural’, and I hope that these resolutions and their proactive measures will be used for the blessing of all nations and races. 

This article was first published for Evangelical Times in September 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.

 

How American Churches Justified Slavery

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‘There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the coloured race’ (General Robert E. Lee, 1856).

No evil has had a more horrible effect on the culture and history of the United States than the institution of slavery. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the United States built a global commerce on the backs of slaves and waged one of its most bloody wars ever on account of that institution.

While many Southerners, including myself, will say that the American Civil War was fought over states’ rights, it would be false to say that many of those rights were not tied up in the ‘right’ to hold slaves.

Slavery has never been a new practice; it existed in the days of Abraham, Moses, and Paul. Both whites and blacks have long been enslaved all over the globe, though, by God’s good grace, institutionalised slavery has been abolished in a significant number of nations. Yet it is disturbing to know that often the church has justified slavery.

It is this aspect I wish to uncover for you in regard to American history.

Origin

Slaves were brought to the American colonies as early as the 1640s, when Massachusetts officially sanctioned slavery. Many Africans brought to the colonies earlier served only as indentured servants (having been baptised as Christians) and became free after their time of indenture. However, by the early 1700s, slavery had become widespread.

Although my home state of Georgia prohibited slavery from 1733 to 1750, and some Scottish colonists who settled a town five minutes from my house passed a very rare statement against the horrors of slavery, by the close of the American Revolution (c.1790), there were an estimated 697,694 slaves from New Hampshire to Georgia, and west to what is now Mississippi (US Census records).

The majority of slaves were in the southern states, so that, by the time of the Civil War, there were 3.9 million slaves in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, over to Arkansas and Missouri, and south to Texas and Florida.

This southern localisation created a rift between the northern and southern states, as their two economies and cultures were very different. The North, who had freed nearly all of their slaves by 1810, had a largely industrial economy, coupled with a massive urban population.

The South, whose economy was built on agriculture, depended heavily on slaves for labour and produced huge quantities of cotton, tobacco, rice, indigo, and naval stores for export to the North and Britain. Within its agricultural economy, slavery was part of everyday life and ingrained in the psyche of southerners.

Although not every southerner was a slaveholder — only 30 per cent were — the majority of exported agricultural products was produced by large plantations worked by slaves.

The conditions of the slaves were not uniform. Some were beaten or mistreated horribly, but many slaveholders treated their slaves kindly, like children. It can be said though that most whites, both in the North and South, thought of African Americans as lesser beings, fit only for servitude.

Many, even the revered Robert E. Lee, thought slavery was better for them than their previous ‘heathen culture’ in Africa. Sadly, this racist philosophy was also espoused from the pulpit.

Justification

How did Christians in the southern ‘Bible belt’ support slavery? Their philosophy grew out of a racial understanding of Genesis 9:25-27: ‘He [Noah] said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers. He also said, blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant’.

From oral tradition and passages in the Jewish Talmud, the sons of Ham (father of Canaan) were believed to be black Africans. This idea had taken root in European thought by 1600 and subsequently spread to the New World. It gave many people a ‘biblical’ excuse to do what they wanted to do with ‘Negro Africa’.

As Edith R. Sanders states: ‘It allowed exploitation of the Negro for economic gain to remain undisturbed by any Christian doubts as to the moral issues involved. “A servant of servants shall he be” clearly meant that the Negro was preordained for slavery. Neither individual nor collective guilt was to be borne for a state of the world created by the Almighty’ (‘The Hamitic hypothesis, its origin and functions in time perspective’, The journal of African history; 1969, vol. 10, no. 4; p.523).

During the eighteenth century there were two strands of thought about black Africans: a monogenist philosophy, born out of the Enlightenment, that sought to understand race according to science and saw Negroes as brothers; and a polygenist philosophy that saw Africans as subhuman or the result of degeneration. Sadly, this was what was preached from the pulpit.

James Henley Thornwell

As the southern states grew prosperous on the backs of African slaves, they were unwilling to see them as brothers, even after they became Christians. During the nineteenth century a biblical defence of slavery came from Presbyterian minister Rev. James Henley Thornwell. In an 1850 sermon, he preached the inaugural sermon for building a church in Charleston for slaves.

Unusually, he began by stating that blacks and whites were equal under the gospel: ‘It is a publick testimony to our faith, that the Negro is of one blood with ourselves, that he has sinned as we have, and that he has an equal interest with us in the great redemption.

‘Science, falsely so called, may attempt to exclude him from the brotherhood of humanity. Men may be seeking eminence and distinction by arguments which link them from the brute; but the instinctive impulses of our nature, combined with the plainest declarations of the Word of God, lead us to recognise in his form and lineaments in his moral, religious and intellectual nature the same humanity in which we glory as the image of God (‘Duties of masters’, p.11).

But he also argued against the abolition of slavery unless God’s providence dictated it, as Christ and the apostles did not expressly condemn slavery in their teachings. The main thrust of the sermon was an exegetical approach to Paul’s words on how to treat your slaves with justice and mercy.

Citing Colossians 4:1 and other New Testament passages, he showed that the Bible doesn’t suggest, as some accuse the South of thinking, that the personality of slaves is tied up in the property of the master.

Paul ‘treats the [slave’s] services as duties, not like the toil of the ox or ass — a labour extracted by the stringency of discipline — but a moral debt, in the payment of which they were rendering a homage to God’ (p.20).

He countered William Ellery Channing, a Unitarian abolitionist, and British professor William Whewell, who stated that the southern institution of slavery made slaves ‘the blind passivity of a corpse, or the mechanical subservience of a tool’. Slavery does not mean that one’s soul belongs to another in bondage; the master does not own the rights of the slave, but rather his duties (p.21).

Thornwell acknowledged that slavery is ‘a natural evil, which God has visited upon society, because man kept not his first estate but fell, and under the gospel is turned, like all other natural evils, into the means of an effective spiritual discipline’ (p.32). ‘If slavery is not essentially incompatible with the discharge of the essential duties, as a spiritual service, it is not destructive of the rights of humanity’ (p.38).

Legacy

Thornwell went as far as saying that slavery should be abolished if ‘it can be shown that slavery contravenes the spirit of the gospel, that as a social relation it is essentially unfavourable to the cultivation and growth of the graces of the Spirit, that is unfriendly to the development of piety and to communion with God, or that it retards the onward progress of man…’ (p.17).

Thornwell’s sermon suggested slavery could be good for society, but it certainly did not pan out that way. Though not everyone had slaves, racism in the South had cut so deep into its psyche that it still was having serious repercussions during the Civil Rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.

Even if slavery is not condemned outright in the Scriptures, its practice has trampled on the rights of our African brothers, making them subservient to others and exposing them to horrible mistreatment.

But we Americans really can’t pass judgment on previous generations, when we still struggle with similar sins. We must pray that God will end all racism and slavery practised today and love our neighbour, no matter what his skin colour or ethnic origin. To love one another is our gospel responsibility.

 

This article was first published on Evangelical Times in August 2016 and shared with their permission. All rights reserved. Subscribe to ET’s newsletter here.