Tucked tightly in among some dusty books on the overflowing stacks in Stevens Bookstore, I found it: Tom Skinner’s How Black is the Gospel. That was my first brush with the gospel according to Dr. Skinner, New York gangster turned evangelist/prophet.
I have read the book from cover to cover, many times, dissecting it so I could use it during our racial reconciliation discussion groups or panel discussions on racism in the church. Weeks after that first Stevens discovery, I went back to the musty bookstore in search of Black and Free, written two years before Tom Skinner’s second landmark book. I found it, tattered and torn, but mine all the same. Mine to dissect and consume. And you better believe I did.
If you hang around racial reconciliation circles long enough you’ll find that both Skinner books have been seminal for many folks. Ed Gilbreath references both works in his Reconciliation Blues. And Michael O. Emerson in his Divided by Faith cites Skinner. Folk’ll talk about meeting Skinner at a CCDA conference or some other hallowed venue. They’ll talk about meeting his wife, Barbara Williams-Skinner. They’ll talk about Skinner being a gentle giant or a bridge builder.
I never met him. Only heard his recorded speeches on the Internet. But for me the man helped define a new kind of racial reconciliation. It was strong. It was revolutionary. It was BLACK. It didn’t have a skin color. Didn’t eat a certain type of food or listen to a particular type of music. Didn’t clap and sway at the same time.
It was Jesus, boiled down, stripped of His American skin of religiosity, plucked off the bone of pretense and served up on a rugged platter with plenty of truth and love. It was Jesus. And Jesus was BLACK–strong and revolutionary, that is.
That was then. But what about now?
Is our Jesus (and our gospel) strong enough, revolutionary enough to pull off true racial reconciliation? A real re-connection with our true call to a ministry of reconciliation. A re-conversation of grace and justice. Not a re-conniption or a re-circumvention.
But real re-conciliation. Strong and revolutionary. Black. True black.
If not then we Americans need another God and another gospel.
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