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A Sunday Morning 53 Years Ago in Birmingham, AL

It was a Sunday morning in September in Birmingham, AL. The fifteenth of September. It was Youth Day, just after Sunday School at the 16th Street Baptist Church, when a bomb blast ripped through the brick building and took the lives of four little girls and left a fifth girl blind in one eye.

These young girls, 14 year old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and 11 year old Denise McNair were torn away from this life and their family friends through the violent, hateful, racist actions of local KKK members, who had threatened the church on other occasions due to it being a center of civil rights activism in Birmingham.

This September is the 53rd anniversary of this vicious attack upon a church, upon a Christian house of worship, upon followers of Jesus Christ, upon the Body of Christ.

In I Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul is writing about the Body of Christ. In verses 24-26, he writes:

“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:24 (ESV)

Yet, when one examines the video footage of the aftermath of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, as well as the footage of the young girls’ funeral, certain members of the “body” were conspicuously absent.

Where were the members of the Body of Christ in Birmingham who possessed pale skin? Where were those members of the body then? Where were they at the funeral? Should not the believers with the pale skin have been represented at the funeral in numbers that reflected the membership of white churches in the city?

Where were the members of the Body of Christ in Birmingham who possessed pale skin? Where were those members of the body then? Where were they at the funeral?

When the time came to rebuild the bomb-damaged church, did the members of the body with pale skin rally around their brothers and sisters with brown skin to help rebuild the church? Where are they in those old, black and white newsreels?

Part of the body was suffering greatly upon that day and in its aftermath….just as part of the body had been suffering under the oppression of Jim Crow and segregation and was still suffering at the time. Why wasn’t the whole body suffering? Why wasn’t the whole Body of Christ in Birmingham mourning? Why wasn’t the Body of Christ, in the entire nation, regardless of skin tone, in mourning?

Almost 49 years later, on June 2015, this time on a Wednesday evening, another black church, in another southern city, this time in Charleston, South Carolina, suffered a hateful, murderous attack upon members of Christ’s Body. This time, nine people’s lives were snuffed out.

Why wasn’t the whole Body of Christ in Birmingham mourning? Why wasn’t the Body of Christ, in the entire nation, regardless of skin tone, in mourning?

Afterward, many black churches implemented security measures to help prevent such a violent attack upon their own congregation, whereas many if not most white churches went about their services and activities as usual.

I recall sitting in a Bible study on that same Wednesday night in my own church. That summer the men and women were conducting separate bible studies. We, women, were alone in the fellowship hall, the doors unlocked, while the men met elsewhere. A week later, after the murder of nine of our brothers and sisters in Charleston, I sat in bible study uneasy. I was unable to concentrate on the study, for thinking about the events of the prior Wednesday.

I was thinking how that the same time we were having our Bible study, a few states away, nine fellow believers were gunned down at their own bible study. But a week later….no security measures had been taken at our church. The doors were not locked, and our study proceeded as if the previous Wednesday night had not happened.

16th Street Baptist Church
16th Street Baptist Church, Courtesy of Wikipedia

I sat watching the door. Wondering what it must have been like at that bible study at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston. I thought about that passage in I Corinthians 12. And I wondered why we did not feel the suffering of members of the body with brown skin?

Almost a year and a half later, on Nov. 5, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, TX, another church service was violently disrupted by an armed intruder on a killing spree that took the lives of 26 people in that church. The church in which this attack occurred was a majority white church. This time…the pale-skinned members of the Body mourned too. This time, white congregations began to take steps to secure their sanctuaries and places of worship. Now, it was personal. It had hit home.

Why? Why can we only relate to the suffering of only one part of the Body? The Apostle Paul describes the Body, “but that the members may have the same care for one another.”

Why do we care more about the members who look like us? Why do we care more about the members who think like us? Where is this caring for one another? Where is the mourning for the suffering of one another? Jesus broke down the barrier between us, and his prayer to the Father in the Garden was “make them one as you and I are one.”

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, a member of his body, who is either grieved or convicted by this lack of caring for one another within the body of Christ, please visit the Peacemakers Discussion Group for our September meeting on Monday, Sept. 30th at 6:45 p.m. at the Faulkner County Library (1900 Tyler Street, Conway, AR) to learn about the ministry of reconciliation.

The topic of this month’s discussion is “What is the Church/Body of Christ? What is its function/purpose? What is its role in society?”

If you live elsewhere, please follow us on Facebook and share our posts and begin to examine within your own church how it can better “have the same care for one another.”

Jesus said that we are the “light of the world.” Let us be that light.

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