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Warner Davis

Warner Davis is a retired Presbyterian minister with 38 years of ministry experience. He pastored churches in Kentucky, New York and Tennessee, retiring from Collierville Presbyterian Church.

Racial reconciliation is spiritual, not political

By Published: March 30, 2019 4:00 AM CT

Bill Russell had just spoken at a Kentucky State College event and was mingling with admirers in the auditorium’s foyer where I met him. What I most remember about our handshake is the disappearance of my hand in his.

This memory resurfaced when I read a review of "The Last Pass" in The Wall Street Journal. A book about the 1960s Boston Celtics, it features two players, one white and one black, who played in a city that resisted integration.

Russell was the premier rebounder and shot blocker of his time. He and his white teammate Bob Cousy, a master dribbler and passer, performed wonders together. Their magic and the Celtics’ dominance under the coaching of Red Auerbach “was evident to the naked eye from the stands,”  reviewer David Shribman notes. “What wasn’t evident was just as intriguing, and as important.”

It was how the celebrated duo saw each other. “We see each other as brothers, not as great athletes,” Russell said at the Celtics’ season-end dinner after Cousy retired. 

That remark is amplified against another Russell made two years earlier when he and other black Celtics were refused service before an exhibition game in Kentucky. He said, “I am coming to the realization that we are accepted as entertainers but that we are not accepted as people in some places.”

Russell’s and Cousy’s view of each other as brothers reflects a standard in race relations our society has yet to rise to with its status quo of racial unrest. While we’ve made progress in confronting racism and addressing its injustice, we still fall short, our civil rights laws notwithstanding.

In the words of Spencer Perkins: “You can’t make someone accept you as a brother or sister. All you can do legally is make it against the law for them to discriminate against you.”

Which means racial reconciliation isn’t a political issue so much as spiritual. While we need legal and social efforts to curb racism’s punishing effects, we need the Bible’s theological affirmation of the origin of existence incorporated into our worldview. The revelation in Genesis that all humans originate in the same God transcends all color boundaries. Seeing others in this light paves the way for racial reconciliation.

Can we progress in race relations as long as secular humanism is the dominant worldview of our culture? Secular humanism is a cosmic outlook rooted in science, and who isn’t grateful for all its contributions to our understanding of the universe? But a philosophy excluding God and his creation of humankind tends to see people in categories of race, not human beings closely linked. 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice resounds. Concerned by any movement that emphasized racial division over common humanity, he invoked God in a 1960 speech at DePauw University to say: "Black supremacy is as dangerous as white supremacy, and God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men. God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race and the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers."

The Daily Memphian welcomes a diverse range of views and invites readers to submit guest columns by contacting Peggy Burch, community engagement editor, at pburch@dailymemphian.com.

<strong>Warner Davis</strong>

Warner Davis

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