Doctrine and Race: African American Evangelicals and Fundamentalism Between the Wars

Mary Beth Swetnam Mathews

Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 2017

White privilege. I am not a racist. Both are statements I’ve made numerous times in my life. Mary Bet Swetnam Mathews challenges these affirmations as she digs deeply into the roots of the label I wear as a Southern Baptist pastor. Her investigation into the vast differences between white, fundamentalist reaction to modernity and the way African Americans reacted demonstrated clearly and sadly a racist, white-privileged approach from my doctrinal forefathers.

Mathews writes,

“fundamentalism itself was a racialized term. The men who coined the term were whit, and in their worldview, and indeed in the worldview of most white Americans of the era, Christianity was defined by the goals and aspirations of white, middle-class educated Protestants.”

Throughout the book she demonstrates with quotations from white pastors, theologians, and editors of Christian news-journals demonstrating how their own upbringing suggest a superiority to and a patronizing air toward African Americans.

The author reminds us that black Protestants had walked out of white Protestant churches in the South and had formed their own denominations, which were well established by the end of WW I. Instead of dialogue, white Protestants spoke and wrote about the need to preserve the difference between the races and they often positioned themselves as experts of what they mistakenly considered a divinely inspired racial boundaries.

Throughout the thoroughly researched book Mathews illustrates over and again from newspaper articles, sermons, and other methods of communication how white Protestants insisted on their moral and doctrinal superiority when it came to defining what it truly meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ and part of His church. African American Christian leaders held to similar positions to white Protestant fundamentalist on the social ‘ills’ of their time: dancing and drinking. However, African American writers and preachers “were unified in their belief that religion spoke to the racial conditions in the United States.”

Perhaps the most telling quote is from Benjamin Jefferson Davis, editor of the National Baptist Union-Review (the voice of the National Baptist Convention) as he asked

“how the white man’s religion permits him to hate his brother because he is black” when for a black Christian, “religion teaches him to live his white brother not because he is white, yellow, or black, but because Christ has taught him to love his neighbor as he loves himself.”

As a seminary student I was schooled in the ‘fundamentals,’ the focus of a series of essays defending orthodox Christian belief against what we were told was the highly subversive German theological method of ‘higher criticism.’ While I appreciate my education in these issues, I must have missed the lectures and/or class on how my white forefathers refused to acknowledge the accomplishments of African American pastors and theologians as they combated the same tendency toward theological drift while fighting a losing battle against the embedded racism of their culture.

I am saddened by what I read. Mathew’s book is a first step in coming to terms with my past, with my fundamental convictions. As I read her work I wondered, where are the Native American voices in our denominational culture? Where are the Asian American voices in our culture? The Southern Baptist Convention has publicly repented of our own denominational history of racism. The messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention elected Fred Luter, a noted African American pastor and leader from New Orleans, LA as president in 2012-2014. There is much more to be done in order to clear up our own misunderstandings of our own history. Dr. Mathews has contributed a valuable resource for taking small steps forward in my own understanding of racism.


Steve Schenewerk


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Settling for Part not the Whole

Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there. Terah lived 205 years and died in Haran.” (Genesis 11:31–32, HCSB)

Abraham, whose life and family comprise the bulk of the Old Testament book of Genesis, is an intriguing personality on many levels. His unquestioning obedience to God (Genesis 12:1-3); his failures (see Genesis 12:10-following; Genesis 16; Genesis 20:1-following); his aggressive protection of family (Genesis 14); and his unwavering willingness to obey God no matter the cost (Genesis 22) are remarkable.

One of the most interesting aspects ins Abraham’s life, however, is often overlooked – Genesis 11:31, “Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they set out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan. But when they came to Haran, they settled there.” (Genesis 11:31, HCSB, emphasis added).

“They settled there.” Abraham’s father had left his family behind, with the exception of Sarai, Abram, and Lot in order to go to the land of Canaan. But he settled in Haran. Why? The Bible never reveals why Terah settled there. We do know from Genesis 12:1 and following that Abram did leave his father and his extended family in order to finish what his father had started.

One of my ancestors, Samuel McAdow, was an instrumental figure in the founding of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.[1] Part of the reason this group of churches broke with the traditional Presbyterian church in the United States had to do with the education of and training of ministers. In the early 1800’s as Americans were moving west at a significant rate, churches were being planted. Those men (and women in the Cumberland Presbyterian movement) acknowledging God’s call on their lives to serve as pastors often travelled back East for ministerial training. Having received their training in the larger cities of the Eastern seaboard, many of these men accepted the call to churches in those cities, leaving churches in the western regions without trained clergy.

Many of the churches being started in the early years of the 19th century was born of the revival of 1800. Needing ministers immediately one of the issues that the Cumberland Presbytery had to confront was how to accommodate these new churches. If men were required to attend seminary before pastoring many of these newly planted churches would die. So this group of men chose to break with the Presbyterian Church of the US and create their own denomination and innovate ways to provide education for pastors without requiring travel back east.

To make a long story a little shorter I found myself on the board of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky from 1993 – 2003. One of the things I am proudest of in that seminary and our other Southern Baptist seminaries is their willingness to provide educational training for pastors and other ministers while they are serving churches across the United States and even the world via the internet and the modular courses these institutions offer.

While I can’t be certain the Mr. McAdow had dreams of expanding to the west coast, I can look back and say that because of men like him and many others, I have been able to serve as a pastor while studying to receive both my Master of Divinity and my Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Maybe Terah saw something in Abram that only God saw, knowing that Abram was equipped in ways he himself was not. Maybe Samuel McAdow saw a future that included the spread of the gospel into the far reaches of the Northwestern United States and maybe not. I celebrate the fact that he at least began a journey that has enabled the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ.



[1], accessed on 2/7/17.

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When Dreams Collide

Recently my wife and I saw the movie, LA LA Land. I may have to forfeit my man card for this: I thoroughly enjoyed the movie! Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, in my amateur opinion, did a fabulous job inhabiting the characters drawn for them by the writer. The music was exceptional and the story was intriguing.

Reflecting on the movie I am still struck by how our dreams change in the various eras of our lives. As young adults we dream of making huge changes in our world. The character played by Ryan Gosling dreams of reviving jazz – not by adapting it to the current culture – but by recovering the essence of jazz music as a creative art. The character played by Emma Stone has a dream of changing the world through her ability to tell and act out a story. The interplay of these dreams and their relationship drive the story.

I remember as a very young pastor attending the Southern Baptist Convention in the mid-1980’s. The meeting was in Kansas City, MO and I distinctly remember ‘dreaming’ about one day serving as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. That dream has collided with reality. Pastoring a small church in a rural part of Oregon, at least according to recent Southern Baptist history is not a place from which to launch a ‘presidential campaign.’ Besides, my dreams have changed.

Just a few miles from where I live I can observe what is known as ‘Colliding Rivers.’ Wikipedia writes

The Colliding Rivers is the name of the confluence of Little River into the North Umpqua River at Glide, Oregon, approximately 12 miles (19 km) east-northeast of Roseburg. It is known as Colliding Rivers because of the nearly head-on angle at which the streams meet,  the only place in the state of Oregon where a river meets its tributary in such a straight angle. Prior to the point of the Colliding Rivers, the Little River approaches from the south and the North Umpqua has completed a sharp bend and intersects the Little River.

The intersection of these rivers is a dangerous place. The two meet with force that is breathtaking to watch – even in the non-rainy season.

Whenever dreams collide, whether it be with other personal dreams, the dreams of a spouse, the dreams of other family members, conflict is inevitable. Whose dream wins? Do dreams merge and morph into another dream?

Many of my dreams have changed either by reality intruding, or by the dreams of another colliding into mine. Colliding dreams is not always a negative. In the case of the Little River and North Umpqua, the result is a more powerful, larger river that itself later merges with the South Umpqua and becomes even larger and more significant as it becomes the Umpqua River. Colliding dreams may create momentary confusion and conflict. But properly channeled, properly managed, colliding dreams can result in an even more fulfilling and more influential dream.

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Room for the Sacred?

A recent article in The American Spectator asks the question: Is there still room for the sacred in the city?[1] Exactly what role does a church play in the everyday affairs of any community? Perhaps a definition might help. Church is not simply a building, a piece of architecture, though there are many examples of beautiful buildings called ‘churches.’ Church is merely a word identifying a community of believers, people who share a common faith and a common way of worship and expression. Church is simply a community in the midst of a community.

So, is there room in a secular community for a gathering a people who have faith? What about for people who claim to have faith in God as expressed throughout the Bible? What about a community who believes that Jesus meant what He said when He said that He was the only way to the Father (see John 14:6)?

Matthew M. Robare cites a study done in Philadelphia estimating that “religious congregations contribute over $100 million to their community annually.” This value includes social services such as food banks, warming centers, clothing donations, and soup kitchens. In a world where state supported social services struggle to keep up these services are invaluable. But are these communities of faith merely present to fill in the gaps that federal, state, county, and city services cannot provide?

What happens when a faith community is no longer able to provide the financial and physical assistance to maintain a building? What happens when property once occupied by a faith community is turned into apartments and shops? What happens to those services that could have been provided?

I have no definitive answers to the questions posed. Other authors (see recently published David Fitch, Faithful Presence, IVP Books; Jonathan Leeman, Political Cbhurch, IVP Academic, and I’m sure there are dozens of others as well) are writing seeking to answer these questions.

Is there room for the sacred? Before a ‘church’ can be present in a community individuals need to be alert and aware of God’s presence in their own lives. Making room for the sacred is not easily done, it is not the result of a 5 – 7 minute ‘quiet time’ every morning. Making room for God’s presence in our lives requires a disciplined approach to waiting on God, nourishing our heart and mind with His Word, silence, and taking the time necessary to attune our hearts and minds to Him.

As a group of individuals come together – people who have spent time individually making room for God – we share our lives, we surrender to the authority of God’s Word, we seek to understand and apply God’s Word in the community in which we live. Then those living around us, those sharing our community, can truly begin to understand that there is room for the sacred, there is a place for God’s people to be God’s hands, God’s heart to the community.

[1] Matthew M. Robare, From Chapels to Condos, The American Conservative, January/February 2017, 6-following.

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As I see the Facebook and Twitter posts of friends with full and overflowing churches on this Christmas morning I realize that – at least in my corner of the world – the opposite is more often true: overflowing empty seats, lots of space for guests that were invited but likely won’t attend. And yet…

The lostness of our community is not surprising nor is it unusual. According to our International Mission Board there are still over 3,000 people groups who have never heard the gospel, the Christmas message. And yet…

The emptiness of our buildings is not a reflection on God’s absence, for as we gather for worship on this Christmas morning we acknowledge that indeed, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, has been born! With shepherds and with angels we rejoice, knowing that God is not distant and far-off but that “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14, HCSB),.

May your Christmas worship and celebration be filled with the joy that only God provides through our relationship with Him as we come to know Jesus Christ!

Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” (Luke 2:11, HCSB)

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This Christmas…

Maybe it’s just because I’ve spent more time than normal in the urgent care facility while my wife is being treated for pneumonia and the flu – all together! Maybe it’s because I am more acutely aware of aging and the challenges just since I turned 60 this year. Maybe it’s because more of the families I share life with as their pastor are sharing the painful side of their Christmas stories of step-children, step-parents, grandchildren, and the ways which family members have of hurting one another.


Whatever the reason, I have been more attuned to the painful side of Christmas. Mary and Joseph were simple, normal young adults living in Nazareth. And then…. Mary is pregnant – though she and Joseph are only betrothed and not yet married. A hastily arranged marriage because an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. A long trip to Bethlehem because some foreign ruler wanted to impose a new tax. A birth in an animal stall because the guest houses were filled with other travelers. Shepherds arriving to see the new born child because of some otherworldly angelic appearance.


A trip to Egypt to escape the wrath of a brutal and murderous tyrant. A return trip home to Nazareth with all the gossip and shame of Joseph and Mary’s predicament.


While we sing of joy the truth is Joseph and Mary may have not felt very ‘joyous’ very often. Probably they felt stress, anxiety, fear, and loneliness.


We gleefully and joyfully attend holiday parties, we exchange festively wrapped gifts, we ooh and aah over magnificent decorations. We eat special food associated with childhood memories and we diligently try to create lasting memories of a special holiday season – one that we can declare as the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year!’


Maybe it’s just the pastoral concerns – families enduring surgeries, families facing mental illnesses, families struggling with losses – but this season the ‘JOY’ we are told to experience is different. Instead of finding joy in the material and commercialized vision of Christmas – where true love is always realized, where the perfect gift is always under the tree, and where the challenges are resolved so that all live happily ever after – let us seek for joy in the promise of God’s presence, in His intervention in our lives through the year, and in the building blocks of hope: Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection and return.


Merry Christmas!

Pastor Steve

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Random Thoughts For An Anniversary

This Saturday, Oct 1, 2o16, marks one year since Douglas County experienced a tragedy unlike any other in our history. A gunman entered a classroom at Umpqua Community College and opened fire killing nine people, injuring more than a dozen people, and changing the lives of thousands in a period of just a few minutes.

Several events are occurring this weekend. A group is sponsoring a 5k/9k walk/run fundraiser for scholarships at UCC. Sanctus Real will share a concert Saturday afternoon and at 7:30pm the Douglas County Evangelical Fellowship is hosting a candle light service at Stewart Park in Roseburg.

Several local pastors, a number of mental health professionals from across the region, and local mental health professionals will be staffing drop in centers throughout the weekend (I will be serving with this group all day Friday and most of Saturday).

Many where were more directly impacted by the events of 10/1/15 want to have nothing to do with the events of this weekend. And many need some sort of way to grieve and express their hurt together – thus the fundraiser, the concert, and the candlelight service.

Life has not stood still for any of us since last year. Family and friends have died, people have moved in and out of our lives, children and grandchildren have been born. But for a few moments this weekend many of us who live in Douglas County will remember the news flashes, the texts, the emails, the phone calls that marked that day. Many of us will remember the hurt and grief we experienced.

Yet life continues to go on. Later this day I will visit a dear saint who is taking her final breaths here on earth. I will finish preparing a message to share with my congregation on Sunday morning. I will cheer on the high school volleyball team.

But life will not be the same. Pray for those of us who are serving our community. Pray for those whose lives are still being impacted daily by those horrific moments (first responders, the families whose loved ones were killed, the individuals and families who were injured – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. There is much rebuilding to do, but with God’s help and in His strength we will discover resilience and the ability to restructure life.


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