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Controversy at the Bangkok Meeting -- Part Three

January 26, 2022

One of the reasons I don’t think the process was completed is that there was still a lot of “love talking” afoot in small groups, caucuses, new conferences, and personal conversations I had with Africans and Asians even after Philip’s intervention. I know after overhearing whites’ reactions to this “love talk” that the message had not gotten home. Whites were still defensive – furtively defensive. I overheard a number react vehemently to the way other whites felt it would be helpful to everyone to confess their sins and express understanding of the actions and attitudes of Africans and Asians. “Why are we feeling so guilty about everything?” came the questions over and over again. Other whites felt the whole thing was irrational, totally unnecessary and a waste of time. All of this and more was going on clandestinely. But nothing had surfaced in larger groups, especially in the plenaries. Nothing of a face-to-face confrontation; let us settle it once and have done with it in the end.

Miss Pauline Webb had spoken at one of the full sessions that she had observed that Africans and Asians were speaking out and whites were sitting back listening and she thought it was a good thing.

Tracy Jones, trying to reassure his white brethren, said on the occasion of another full session, that all of this could be good. He reminded them of African-Americans in the U.S.A. had subjected them to their baptism of fire. There was nothing new or demonic about what was happening.

Beyond those two reactions, whites were just not publicly responding. This in itself may be no more than white arrogance which refuses to acknowledge the deep feelings of blacks. To do so they would have to recognize the humanity of the “black other” and to recognize the humanity of the “black other” is to confess that a terrible sin has been committed to treating him as though he was a non-person; that he did not exist except as he existed according to the image which whites created for him, which image was according to themselves, their culture and values. Beyond that, he just didn’t exist.

Now, this simply enhances the frustration and resentment of those who were trying to speak honestly. A few years ago Bill Bright, who is the head of Campus Crusades for Christ invited me and other members of the National Negro Evangelical Association to their headquarters in California. For a week Blacks poured out their frustrations, resentments, doubts, and uncertainties. It was an unforgettable experience. There were blacks, conservatives in theology, fighting with one another for employing too caustic language hurting from the nation's racist policies but more pained by the insensitivity on the part of their white brethren who share the same theology – begging and pleading with them to understand! Throughout the week there was no real meaningful response from any whites.

I remember Bill Bright just sitting and not saying a word. There was some attempt to involve us in their Bible Training Institute. But to really get down to issues, feelings, and attitudes, which were our priorities, there was nothing. At the conclusion of the week, there was a call for prayer. I remember I became furious. Prayer? I thought that’s what we were trying to do all week by speaking honestly to our professed “brethren in the Lord” and to God about what was really hurting us. They wanted no part of that kind of prayer meeting. They wanted the nice, safe exercise where one can mouth a few pious phrases about celestial glories, and earthly irrelevancies and arise and continue living in an illusion of righteousness.

It was the only prayer meeting I’ve ever boycotted in my life. I could not help saying over and over to myself, “What a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites!” While men are pouring out their guts, bearing their souls, these hypocrites refused to participate. They could have at least fought back, taken some verbal open position on something, and confessed their sins. Something! Anything! But they sat, as a pinnacle, high above all the heat, anger, and frustration. Their countenances always seemed to say, “How could you say such things and act that way and call yourself a Christian, a follower of loving, gentle Jesus”; or “Oh, you poor man, we will pray for you”; or “How dare you say those things to us whites!”

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