Lord, raise up a negro prophet
NOTE: This is a reprint of an article written by my father, Joe Bayly, and published as his monthly “Out of My Mind” column in Eternity Magazine back in November 1962. We have reprinted Dad’s article before on Baylyblog, July 13, 2004. Eternity Magazine was a monthly founded by Donald Grey Barnhouse who served Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. Dad’s column ran in Eternity for twenty-five years. As you read, keep in mind this piece was written fifty-nine years ago.
Lord, raise up a negro prophet
by Joseph T. Bayly
For a number of years, speaking, writing, and editing, I have espoused the cause of Negroes. I have not merely accepted, but have been thankful for court decisions in the area of equal civil rights for Negroes. I have repeatedly told my white Christian friends, including those who live in the South, that God will judge us if we are content to enjoy advantages at the expense of others, and the sooner the situation is changed, the better.
Now I have something to say to my Negro Christian friends, something that is seldom said today by thinking white people, especially thinking church people, because we may so easily be accused of speaking without love. Or we may seem to lack understanding of the basic problems confronting Negroes in contemporary culture. Or what is worse, we may seem to be using this as a lever to maintain the status quo, which is so unbalanced in our favor. I run these risks in what I say.
Negro crime and immorality constitute one of the gravest problems in American society today. Whenever I speak at correctional institutions, I am struck by the disproportionate number of Negroes-men, women, boys, girls. I immediately rationalize this situation to myself: If you had been forced to live in the sort of environment these people have always known, if you had always found discrimination based upon color of skin, you yourself would probably have gotten into trouble, your own children might be in this group of young people before you.
A Philadelphia newspaper tells of a public school-located in a Negro neighborhood-in which 70 per cent of the children have been of illegitimate parentage. I read in those same newspapers about Negro gangs, about narcotics peddling and numbers gambling among Negroes.
Perhaps the trigger for what I write was the 13-year-old child whom a medical friend of mine assisted in a difficult delivery a couple of Sundays ago. Or it may have been the young Negro woman converted in a university, who said, “I just can’t face life as a married woman among my people. The standard is too low, at least in the city where I live. I’d rather remain single.”
Now I am aware of the cultural displacement of the Negro masses who emigrate to our Northern cities, week after week. I know something about-nothing of-the poverty, the crowded housing, the discrimination. It is easy for me to sympathize with Negroes and rationalize Negro crime and immorality.
But there is one thing I can’t rationalize. That is the almost complete silence of Negro leaders, including church leaders, about the situation. I have listened for a prophet’s voice raised against these evils, but heard none. I have only heard the multiplied voices of judges raised against the evils of white discrimination.
It is morally unhealthy to sit in judgment upon another race, another people, another person, demanding and receiving confessions of guilt and sin, meanwhile remaining silent about one’s own sin. The sin of discrimination is a heavy weight upon the white Christian conscience, both North and South; the sin of sexual immorality and crime seems to lie light upon the Negro conscience.
Perhaps if I were closer to the heart of Negro affairs, I would hear voices raised. I hope so. Yet I wonder if this is so, since newspapers that report the demands of Negro leaders for Negroes to be appointed to high administrative posts in public education and government would almost certainly report demands of these same leaders for a Christian standard of morality among their own people.
Not that I consider white America moral. I don’t, and I can’t rationalize the situation. But I hear Christian voices raised, I read articles warning of impending judgment.
I know that social change is accomplished one step at a time. I know, too, that God delivered His people from Egypt before He gave the Divine Law. But today we are not in the darkness of pre-Revelation. We have the Light of our Lord Jesus Christ. And Christian morality has never, to my knowledge, waited for social betterment. Those slaves (white) on the Island of Crete, about whom St. Paul wrote to Titus, were expected to influence their masters by their personal morality (Titus 2:9,10)-not by their demands for equality. And I sense that a significant decrease in the number of Negro births out of wedlock, in the number of unwed Negro mothers on the relief rolls, in the number of Negro youths embroiled in delinquency, a significant improvement in Negro morality would do more to change the climate of white opinion toward Negroes than all the pressure groups can ever achieve.
So, I look for a prophet, a Negro prophet, who will scorn personal advantage, who will warn his people of sin and judgment, and preach Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures. God give us a thousand such men.
Meanwhile I shall continue to speak out to exercise my slight influence on behalf of the Christian and American attitude toward equal rights for Negroes. But as we descend the ladder of white privilege, I hope we meet others ascending up the ladder of Negro morality.