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Lively interracial service builds understanding, scholarship fund

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–They listened intently while standing outside of seminary windows. Professors used their own offices or vacant rooms to teach them one-on-one or in small groups. They did all they could to get a seminary education — except sit in the same classrooms with their white counterparts.
“Imagine that you are not able to receive a theological education because of your ethnicity — the color of your skin,” said C. Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “This was almost the case from 1904 to 1950 in the state of Kentucky,”
Mitchell quoted a portion of the racist “Day Law,” as it was known, saying heavy fines would be levied against institutions “‘where persons of white and negro races are both received as pupils for instruction.'” But that didn’t stop the professors from offering anyone — red, yellow, black or white — the blessing of a seminary education.
“Anywhere they could find a place to meet and open the sacred pages of the Word of God” had to suffice, Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s remarks were addressing African Americans and whites alike gathered Feb. 4 in Southern’s Alumni Chapel to honor the rich heritage begun by the seminary’s first four African American graduates.
Attendees also contributed to the scholarship fund named for those graduates: the Offutt, Bottoms, Miller, Taylor Scholarship Fund, which is used exclusively to aid African American students attending Southern Seminary.
The second annual “Service of Celebration” featured an interracial roster of white and African American pastors, musicians and seminary professors who prayed, sang and read Scripture.
The choir from Bates Memorial Baptist Church — an African American congregation in Louisville — and other singing fostered a revival-type atmosphere that had many clapping their hands.
F. Bruce Williams, pastor of Bates Memorial, delivered a stirring keynote address as he preached from Jeremiah 38:6-13. The Old Testament account of Jeremiah sinking in the mud at the bottom of a cistern — and how an African man (an Ethiopian) named Ebed-melech pulled the prophet from the pit — provided the background for Williams’ message.
As a eunuch and a servant in King Zedekiah’s court, Ebed-melech knew what it meant to be maligned and mutilated. And that was the source of his compassion toward Jeremiah, Williams said.
Noting the political incorrectness of Jeremiah’s preaching, Williams reminded Christians that “our ultimate allegiance is not to country — it’s to Christ. We ought to remind ourselves not to get the flag and the cross mixed up,” he said.
“There is a difference between Capitol Hill and Calvary’s Hill. Can I get a witness?” he asked.
“True patriotism,” said Williams to the boisterous crowd, “will support the country when it’s right, but will challenge the country when it’s wrong.”
“I am proud you are a graduate of Southern Seminary,” Southern’s President, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told Williams following his sermon. “Tonight is a time of commemoration. And the scholarship fund does, to the praise of God, commemorate Offut, Bottoms, Miller and Taylor and the legacy they have left,” Mohler said.
He said any money given to the scholarship fund would be “a down payment on the future.”
“We are unspeakably thankful that we are not where we were. But we also know we are not yet where we should be.”
Mohler expressed gratitude for the meeting’s participants and said, “I want to thank you for being partners with us as we move on together, working and praying for that day when there will be from every tongue and tribe and nation and people a testimony to what God has done in calling together one people known by his name and bought by the blood of his dear Son.”

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  • Norman Miller