Life + Culture

Tom Skinner: The US Racial Crisis and World Evangelism

Tom Skinner at Urbana

In 1970, evangelist and author Tom Skinner delivered a powerful address to InterVarsity’s Urbana student missions conference that in many ways is just as relevant today. It is excerpted here and you can access it in its entirety here

After an important delineation of the history of racism in the United States, Skinner enters in: 

To a great extent, the evangelical church in America supported the status quo. It supported slavery; it supported segregation; it preached against any attempt of the black man to stand on his own two feet. And where there were those who sought to communicate the gospel to black people, it was always done in a way to make sure that they stayed cool. "We will preach the gospel to those folks so they won't riot; we will preach the gospel to them so that we can keep the lid on the garbage pail."

And so they were careful to point out such scriptures as: "Obey your masters," those scriptures which said, "Love your enemy," "Do good to them that hurt you." But no one ever talked about a message, which would also speak to the oppressor.

Skinner goes on to describe the implications for society today:

So, if you are black and you live in the black community, you soon begin to learn that what they mean by law and order is, "all the order for us and all the law for them." You soon learn that the police in the black community become nothing more than the occupational force present in the black community for the purpose of maintaining the interests of white society...

Heavily equipped police in front of the Mall of AmericaThat is the reason why the emphasis is placed in the black community on property values, and the interest is placed in the white community in human life. That is the reason why Chicago's Mayor Daley can say, "Shoot the looters." What does he mean? "We must protect property at any cost. We don't care about human life. In the black community, we will shoot people in order to maintain property." But in the white community, because there are fewer people in proportion to property, the emphasis can be on human life and not on property values.

Dick Gregory says that when Mayor Daley said, "Shoot the looters," he agreed with him. In fact, he sent him a telegram to say, "I agree. We ought to make that retroactive 250 years and put the guns in the hands of the Indians."

And he argues for a better application of the Christian Gospel:

Understand that for those of us who live in the black community, it was not the evangelical who came and taught us our worth and dignity as black men. It was not the Bible-believing fundamentalist who stood up and told us that black was beautiful. It was not the evangelical who preached to us that we should stand on our two feet and be men, be proud that black was beautiful and that God could work his life out through our redeemed blackness. Rather, it took Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Rap Brown and the Brothers to declare to us our dignity. God will not be without a witness...

Tom Skinner


There is no possible way you can talk about preaching the gospel if you do not want to deal with the issues that bind people. If your gospel is an "either-or" gospel, I must reject it. Any gospel that does not talk about delivering to man a personal savior who will free him from the personal bondage of sin and grant him eternal life and does not at the same time speak to the issue of enslavement, does not speak to the issue of injustice, does not speak to the issue of inequality - any gospel that does not want to go where people are hungry and poverty-stricken and set them free in the name of Jesus Christ is not the gospel.

He concludes: 

Jesus was turning the whole thing upside-down, so that they finally had to arrest him too. Because, you see, Jesus was dangerous. He was dangerous because he was changing the system. The whole Roman Empire was shaking. But no shots were being fired, no fire bombs were being thrown, but the whole Roman Empire was rocking. Because, you see, anybody who changes the system is dangerous.

Remember Chicago? Remember those 15,000 kids that went to Chicago for the Democratic Convention in '68? Why did people get disturbed because those kids went? Were they mad because they threw urine at the police? No. Were they mad because they cursed the police? No. Were they mad because they were lawless? No. They were mad because the kids went to change the system...

Police attack students
1968 Chicago

But Jesus came to change the system. And so they had to arrest him too...But how do you stop Jesus? They took and nailed him to a cross. Three days later Jesus Christ pulled off one of the greatest political coups of all time: he got up out of the grave. When he arose from the dead, the Bible now calls him the second man, the new man, the leader of a new creation.

A Christ who has come to overthrow the existing order and to establish a new order that is not built on man. Keep in mind, my friend, with all your militancy and radicalism, that all the systems of men are doomed to destruction. All the systems of men will crumble and, finally, only God's kingdom and his righteousness will prevail. You will never be radical until you become part of that new order and then go into a world that's enslaved, a world that's filled with hunger and poverty and racism and all those things of the work of the devil.

Proclaim liberation to the captives, preach sight to the blind, set at liberty them that are bruised, go into the world and tell men who are bound mentally, spiritually and physically, "The Liberator has come!"

Read or watch the full speech here

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