“The Lingering Effects of Lynching”: A Reflection

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Recently Southeastern’s Library hosted a talk entitled” The Lingering Effects of Lynching on your Ministry: An Untold Story.” The heart behind this discussion is twofold. First, we believe that sin has effects on our eternal destination and on our present everyday lives. Sin carried out in and on our families does not just fade away (think abuse, rape or – in this case – lynching), but can cling on through guilt, shame or fear. These lingering effects can become hindrances toward gospel proclamation, and a minister aware of hindrances is at an advantage.

Second, as an educational institution, when two new books were published around the same time on this topic by scholars near their 80s who live in the RDU area, we wanted to sieze this opportunity to learn from scholars about their academic works in an educational setting. Below is one student’s thoughts on this talk.

I have observed white and black brothers and sisters have more frank conversations born out of genuine concern for each other.

Before the Lecture

Recently, the Library at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted a talk titled The Lingering Effects of Lynching on Your Ministry: An Untold Story. I was intrigued, shocked and hopeful about the conversations this event would provoke, and these conversations began before the event ever occurred.

A week before the event, my co-worker Jason entered my office. He asked if I could explain the title and help him make sense of it. I didn’t fully know the details of the talk, but I began to help my friend understand why this event was taking place and what may be covered. “Do you know why folks would be lynched?” I asked Jason. I told him black people would often be lynched for mere allegations — claims about actions they supposedly did — even if those allegations were false.

The terror of lynching caused black people to live in fear. They didn’t feel comfortable fully expressing themselves because of the potentially perilous consequences. At the end of the conversation, I noted that these were my hunches about the upcoming talk, but we should catch up afterwards to verify whether my summary was accurate.

This impromptu discussion demonstrated that the Library talk was already having an impact. As a result of such events and dialogue, I have observed white and black brothers and sisters have more frank conversations born out of genuine concern for each other. These kinds of conversations had not happened as freely in the past. I in turn as an African American have felt these change first hand.

In addition, the title of the Library talk also raised questions in my own mind. For example, why do so many blacks attending majority white churches not speak up about things going on in society which bring them such pain and trauma? Or, how is it that I can have a conversation with two white guys and not feel the kind of uneasiness I feel when I have a conversation with two black guys in public, even on Southeastern’s campus? (In the past black men congregating was an invitation for distrust and perhaps worse.) I reflected on how the culture I live in has not always had black people’s best interest in mind. This talk, from the title alone, engendered a desire to attend and have such questions answered.

A Summary of the Lecture

At the event, Rev. James White, Prof. Colin Adams and Drs. Will Willimon and Donald G. Mathews covered many aspects of this discussion on lynching. Two major portions stood out to me and illumine why lynching’s effects endure today. First, the speakers mentioned the geographic correlation between the lynching that took place in the past with the number of homicides, the practice of the death penalty, church burnings, incarceration rates and the rise of segregated institutions. Second, they mentioned how many African American students in their university classrooms are afraid to talk about lynching or present-day injustices because of what might happen to them in their current contexts.

They also addressed the strikingly similar cultural conversations that occurred surrounding lynchings and the modern-day conversations we have about shootings. (For more info, watch the video above.)

Even today, my doubts whisper to me that if I open up I may face a backlash.

A Reflection on the Lecture

While I know discussing these topics can engender fear, let’s remember Christ’s love which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). This kind of love must frame our conversation about lynching or rage in general. If you are fearful to talk about our country’s past — either because of what may happen to you as a minority or as one in the majority culture — know that the Christ’s love and the gospel has the power to overcome the sin, evil and abhorrent nature that haunts us. Knowing you have brothers and sisters who love you allows for the conversation to take place and allows us to be freed of the lingering effects of our ancestors’ sin. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

As an African American man, I want to live out who God has made me and is making me to be in the gospel of grace. As I reflect on The Lingering Effects of Lynching on Your Ministry, this talk freed me up, even just a little, to do that. I want to be known, truly known, but the history of lynching still lingers. Even today, my doubts whisper to me that if I open up I may face a backlash for my openness. And while this backlash may not be a physical lynching, it will deeply hurt nonetheless. Lynching’s lingering effect for African American brothers and sisters is a fear of community. Lynching’s lingering effect for my white brothers and sisters is a lack of robust community. The body of Christ is made to be whole, not divided – therefore lynching’s lingering effects need to be discussed and met with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a result, I’m grateful for what I learned and for the conversations the event provoked. Even more, though, I’m grateful for this deeper sense of community.

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Eli Byrd

Eli is an M.Div. student at Southeastern Seminary who is married with 5 children. He oversees the GO Certificates at Southeastern and is the Director of the College Ministry at Richland Creek Community Church.

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