20 Nov 2021

Racist Theology Begets Racist Preaching: A Sermonic Response to Brown v. Board of Education

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Africa, Black History, Church History, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Discipleship, Mission, Race Relations, Restoration History
I discovered Cameron’s racist sermon while doing research on another project in the early 2000s.

Racist Theology begets Racist Preaching

God is not racist. The Bible is not racist. Christianity is not racist. Jesus is not white (he is Jewish). These are historical and theological truths.

Tragically many Christians have been, and are, racist. But in the first 500 years of Christianity, Asia and Africa are the dominant story lines, not Europe. Of the “Seven Ecumenical Councils” in the history of Christianity, not one took place on European soil. Most of the decisions reached in those councils were hammered out (on the Old Testament canon, NT canon, Trinity, etc) in “synods” in Africa in fact. Christian exegesis was first nurtured in Africa. Christian scholarship was created in Africa. Traditional spiritual disciplines first took root in Africa. Before Paul went to Europe, Christian faith was already in the heart of Africa in Meroe by a Eunuch (remember our post on the Ethiopian). The intellectual ferment of Christianity traveled from Africa to the North (Europe) not the other way around.

In fact historian Thomas C. Oden has gone so far to call Christianity a “traditional African religion.” It has, after all, been there for 2000 years. (See Thomas C. Oden’s excellent book, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity.” And his scholarly website, The Center for Early African Christianity). We, north American disciples, sometimes forget the facts of history and some how in the back of our minds come to imagine that Christianity is white and everything of value has come from white.

Years ago I discovered a sermon that caused great angst. on Sunday, August 15, 1954 at the Disston Avenue Church of Christ in Gulfport, Florida, W. A. Cameron got into the pulpit and preached a sermon called “The Origin and Development of the Negro Race. The sermon was a smashing hit and he was invited to preach the exact same sermon the next Sunday (August 22) at Pinellas Park. The sermon was published in booklet form and distributed all around.

Did you note the date? The epic Brown v. Board of Education decision by the Supreme Court was May 17, several weeks before this sermon. The sermon is a response to the “busybodies” on the Supreme Court as Cameron calls them.

Cameron is concerned about “race mixing.” He is concerned about the inferior race. He begins by giving a convoluted account of the genealogy of the sons of Noah bringing us to the Curse on Ham and Canaan. Cameron follows a racist interpretation of Genesis 9 that was created by pro-slavery apologists in the 1830s and has had a long afterlife.

Cameron states that Cush, the descendants of Ham, were placed in Africa in sort of a quarantine by God. He says, and the caps are his,

“DO YOU REMEMBER WHERE WE LEFT THEM? IN THE LAND OF ETHIOPIA.THAT’S WHERE JEHOVAH AND HIS BOOK, THE BIBLE LEFT THEM.” (p.5).

In fact, “Today, the black man would be in his own country, where Jehovah put him and left him, and wanted him” if not for the slave trade. But some wanted money.

When blacks somehow managed to leave their location, they always brought ruination upon those they mingled with. Moses caused all kinds of trouble by marrying a Cushite. And look at Solomon, he married a black woman, what did she do? She destroyed Solomon leading him into idolatry (p.7). Race mixing is dangerous! (His one appeal to the Song of Songs is convoluted).

The last two pages of Cameron’s sermon are difficult to read, I confess. It is a good bet Cameron knew nothing of the historical facts we opened with. For Cameron, the “NEGRO’S DEVELOPMENT,” well “IT’S NILL” (his caps).

“They have always been cursed with a sence [sic] of fear, ignorance, superstition and an inferior complex. After 4,298 years they are still right where God left them. We will do well to let them alone, and not try to upset God’s plans.”

But what about the seeming intelligent black folks that are around, Cameron asks. If we did not think a sermon could descend any further, we are wrong. Answering his own question, the preacher who supposedly is concerned with “sound doctrine” states bluntly.

“We have to admit that we have had some very well educated negro’s among us. Some who have made good in business and various trades. How do you account for that?”

“Yes, all those negro’s who have a generous fertilization of white blood have invariably left the evidence of it behind them. But the genuine negro article is just what he has always been.”

I remember when I first discovered this sermon in the 1990s doing research on race in the Churches of Christ. I was stunned by something so blatantly bigoted. But Cameron would tell you he is not a racist! Just like so many today, racism often has a gentle smile.

What is the white relationship to the black race? Cameron noted that Franklin Roosevelt once said that he and his cousins were “47 points removed.” Well we, white people, will find “ourselves 110,269,195 points away from him [i.e. the black man] –Brother, how close kin are you to Ham? ? ?”

The implication here is, the white race and black race are not even remotely related to one another.

Cameron closes with an exhortation to Harry S. Truman (who created the Civil Rights Commission in 1947) and the Supreme Court which issued its ruling on desegregation earlier in the summer before that fateful sermon.

“Now, if those busybodies who are trying to run everybodies [sic] business, and who are not yet able to run their own affairs, will close up their shop and leave the Negro where God left him. And leave Gods [sic] instruction to the white man concerning the Negro exactly where and how God left it, all will be well.”

And so closes a Sunday sermon in 1954. No one thought Cameron was anything but a sound gospel preacher. He opposed the digressives, stuck to the “pattern” and was asked to preach his message around the state and publish it.

It is interesting to me, that Cameron never once mentions the Ethiopian Eunuch. Here is where this story gets personal for me. Sometimes our biases are SO DEEP that we miss the plainest of facts that are literally in front of our faces. I am not sure Cameron would have known the Eunuch was BLACK. I grew up having sermons on baptism and the Eunuch was always included. But I can recall the day, and the conversation, when it was said out loud to me that the Ethiopian was … well … Black. No one ever told me he was white that I recall. But no one ever told me he was black either. And I remember, being a preacher in New Orleans Louisiana when a black preacher (Robert Birt) stated with clarity the Eunuch was BLACK. It was like scales falling from my eyes. It was not part of my consciousness. It is downright embarrassing to admit this (but I have on many occasions because we need to see our blindness).

Cameron helps us understand race relations in the United States. His sermon is not isolated. His theology is not unique. His theology and his homiletic under-gird a huge swath of American Christianity.

The more we read black literature we will find vociferous protests against this kind of theology and preaching, from Olaudah Equiano to Mary Prince to Harriot Jacobs to Frederick Douglass to David Walker to W. E. B. Du Bois to Martin Luther King Jr. You will find it protested in Uncle Tom’s Cabin!

Charles Reagan Wilson in his epic study of the religion of the Lost Cause, Baptized in Blood, states forthrightly that ministers were the keepers of orthodoxy on the racial ideology not only in the South but America.

Why do we expect our brothers and sisters to have the mind of Christ with the preaching of this kind of racist theology? Millions of Americans are still alive who were nurtured on this kind of horrific Bible reading. What did the disciples think that day with Cameron’s supposed gospel sermon? Why was he asked to preach the same sermon again for another congregation? And why was it published in booklet form and distributed among the congregations? These are questions that today’s church must ask and answer honestly and forthrightly. This sermon says as much about those who listened to it as it does the one who delivered it.

Black History Month gives us a kairos moment, a Holy Spirit moment, to look into our own souls and ask:

Why are we “here?”

How did we get “here?”

I repudiate Cameron. I not only repudiate his sermon but the theology that the sermon rests upon. I repudiate it as beyond false doctrine. It is demonic. That is not hyperbole beloved. It is the truth. It is from spawned in hell and and has wrought the fruit of hell across the land of the USA and the church that dwells within the USA. We have much to repent of beloved. We have much work to do to come clean from our participation in the kingdom of darkness rather than the kingdom of light.

We must look at our presuppositions that allowed such a theology to be born inside our hearts and minds in the first place. That my friends is where the real work is. It is more than just saying, “Oh how could Cameron say that.” We have to look at what allowed Cameron to come to those beliefs in the first place.

May God Have Mercy Upon Us.

2 Responses to “Racist Theology Begets Racist Preaching: A Sermonic Response to Brown v. Board of Education”

  1. Ammar Saheli Says:

    Thanks so much Bobby. Profound indeed! Thanks for your scholarship and boldness in the faith.

  2. Jerry Starling Says:

    I remember hearing an elderly black preacher one time observe that “Simeon who was called Niger” in Acts 13:1 only needed one more g to have the name he had been called many times. Of course, in the first century, that nickname did not carry the stigma it does today.

    And this man was listed among the teachers in the church at Antioch along with Barnabas, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who was a life-long friend of Herod the Tetrarch and a man identified only as Saul. Barnabas led that group of teachers and Saul was listed last. Guess who was #2. None other than Simeon who carried the nickname “Black” when translated into English.

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