I have just learned about the white nationalism demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the violence that has erupted between a mob of two-bit racist thugs and the decent human beings who were counter protesting against them. It made me think of a brave but little-known Christian man who once encountered the same violence at the hands of similar two-bit racist thugs in his own small community. His name was Reverend Paul Turner, and he was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Clinton, Tennessee, in 1956. Few people remember Reverend Turner today, but I would like to begin changing that with this blog post.
Please watch the two video items (below) about Reverend Turner for purposes of historical context. One is a brief film clip. The other is the complete story of The Clinton 12. Both videos contain an excerpt from his one famous sermon, which was filmed by CBS News. CBS failed to capture it in these two videos, but the sermon contains these 10 important words: “There is no color line at the cross of Jesus.” During the mid-1950s, it was nearly unheard of for a white pastor to utter such words to a white congregation in the American South. Moreover, these words were uttered at the very center of one of the first and worst racial hurricanes in American history—the desegregation of public schools in Clinton, Tennessee. Click on the following safe links for the video clips and an article about Reverend Turner:
As a nation, right now today, wherever you are sitting, wherever people are standing in Charlottesville, and wherever a black football player is taking a knee, we need to begin taking the words of Reverend Turner seriously. If there is no color line at the cross of Jesus, why should we have color lines anywhere else on this Earth? In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus said: “Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven.” Jesus makes it plain in his own words. The Kingdom of Heaven begins here on Earth folks—right now—with you and me. If the Kingdom of Heaven allows no color lines at the cross of Jesus, it surely allows them nowhere else on this Earth. We need to understand that and act just as wisely and bravely as Reverend Turner did in his time and place. Racism has no place in this country, and we must oppose it vigorously so the minds of our people are no longer poisoned by racial hatred and violence.
Reverend Turner (Second from Right) Escorting African-American Children
from Their Homes to Clinton High School
Reverend Turner was reluctantly drawn into standing up for the civil rights of 12 African-American high school students—but once he was in—he was all-in. He stayed the course in his mind and heart. Staying the course was hard for this kind and gentle—but very brave—man. For the rest of his life, he received various kinds of push back from white Christians about what he did in Clinton, Tennessee, even in places as far away as Connecticut and California. The stand he made ultimately ended in tragedy for him. However, I hope that he did not die in vain. We all need to remember Reverend Turner and his courage in our time and place in American history. He was one of the first and great men of the American Civil Rights Movement, and ultimately a true Christian martyr in it, and he should be remembered that way in our American history books and in the minds of all Americans.