For three decades, supporting the civil rights movement, I believed significant advances had been made in both black and white communities, leading to a more just and harmonious society. My hopes were fueled by evangelicals such as John Perkins (recently feted as World Magazine’s “Daniel of the Year”) who tenaciously embraced Martin Luther King’s teachings on non-violence and loving one’s enemies. To Perkins, the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness—though it seems harder and harder to find in the streets or in Congress these days! And he still holds, unlike the advocates and devotees of Black Lives Matter, that: “There is no black race—and there is no white race. So the idea of ‘racial reconciliation’ is a false idea. It’s a lie. It implies that there is more than one race.” There may be ethnic groups with diverse traditions and perspectives, but they all have the same blood, human blood! Yet my hopes in the path proposed by Perkins suffered a setback during the the O.J. Simpson trial and acquittal, when I was shocked by both the verdict and the enthusiastic approval it garnered from the black populace. Rooted in the black power movement of identity politics (earlier propounded by W.E.B. Dubois and various Marxist-leaning activists), a different, markedly revolutionary vision seemed triumphant. Whereas I’d thought blacks were committed to integration and pursuing the American dream, I then realized that many (if not most) of them still think, as did Martin Luther King in 1963: “The Negro is still not free.”
Uneasy with many aspects of this revolutionary movement, I began to wonder if the optimistic laws and policies enacted in the ‘60s—the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965— had unexpectedly harmed a clearly disadvantaged community. At about the same time we had a guest speaker in a Point Loma Nazarene University chapel named Star Parker. She’d become something of a celebrity in southern California for both her personal story and political positions, radically challenging the civil rights establishment. She had written an autobiographical book—Pimps, Whores, and Welfare Brats (c. 1997)—which I read and found illuminating. Soon thereafter she published Uncle Sam’s Plantation: How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What We Can Do About It (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Inc., c. 2003, rev. 2010) setting forth her public policy positions.
Parker grew up troubled and rebellious, stealing and doing drugs and engaging in promiscuous sex leading to four abortions. Her irresponsible lifestyle was subsidized by the maze of welfare programs which abetted her destructive behaviors. In those years she routinely blamed racism for her predicament—though in time she came to identify her laziness as the real culprit. Then, in her mid-20s, she encountered a pastor who challenged her to think and act differently, to take charge of her life and live responsibly. She found a job and later became a self-employed publisher and radio host. In the process she began to think through and share her markedly conservative, Christian views, thereby eliciting an unexpected tirade of abuse, including death threats from leftists (both black and white) who found her a threat to the status quo. That various social support systems (welfare, affirmative action, public schools, health care, etc.) were failing meant nothing to her foes so long as they preserved what she came to see as “Uncle Sam’s Plantation.” She saw that the material “poverty” addressed by various and infinitely-expanding federal programs (77 and counting!) was actually a symptom of the real poverty, which is preeminently spiritual and cultural. “Government programs cannot help the broken poor because their poverty is in their heart and spirit” (p. 33). Big Government agencies, allegedly helping the poor, have in fact reduced them to a passive dependency akin to slavery. “Uncle Sam has developed a sophisticated poverty plantation, operated by a federal government, overseen by bureaucrats, protected by media elite, and financed by the taxpayers. The only difference between this plantation and the slave plantation is perception” (p. 77). On the governmental plantation the family has collapsed, the educational system failed, personal freedom eroded, and personal responsibility often disappeared.
Rather than pour more trillions of dollars into this failing system, Parker calls for blacks to take charge of their lives and—above all—find what she found: a vibrant faith in the living Lord Jesus Christ. She’s left the plantation and believes her decision is the only realistic solution to racial problems in this country. Hers may be the straight and narrow road that is the only way to the good life.
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Very much in the mold of Star Parker, Candace Owens has recently written Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape from the Democrat Plantation (New York: Threshold Editions. Kindle Edition, c. 2020). Owens has gained a sizable following for her U-Tube pod-casts, so she put her views in print in Blackout. She insists the real problems in black America are moral rather than economic, and the Democrat Party, by singularly focusing on material factors, effectively suppresses what’s most needed—a recovery of personal responsibility and discipline, especially regarding the family. But, unfortunately: “If you are a black person in America today, your identity is as much defined by your skin color as it was more than a hundred years ago and quite similarly, for all the wrong reasons. To be a black American means to have your life narrative predetermined: a routine of failure followed by alleged blamelessness due to perceived impotence. It means constant subjection to the bigotry of lowered expectations, a culture of pacifying our shortcomings through predisposition” (p. 2).
Consequently, Owens endeavors to “detail just why I believe the Democrat Party’s policies have led to the erosion of the black community by fostering a persistent victim mentality. I will explain how a radicalized push for feminism is both emasculating and criminalizing men who are needed to lead strong families, and I will reveal the fallacy of socialism, in its inherent argument for the very same government that crippled black America in the first place. Lastly, I will expose the inefficiency of the left-leaning public education system and tackle the media’s role in the collective brainwashing of our youth” (p. 11). Her case is well-argued, filled with data as well as personal perspectives (emphasizing the positive role her hard-working, self-reliant grandparents played in her life), and worth reading simply to better understand a position that seems to be gaining some traction among younger blacks.
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Vince Everett Ellison, following a career as a correctional officer, recently became involved in both politics and Christian ministry. After supporting the Democrat party for most of his life he has recanted, persuaded that: “Too many people become democrats because they want “FREE-STUFF”. I’m a conservative because I demand “FREE-DOM” (p. 47). Subsequently he wrote The Iron Triangle: Inside the Liberal Democrat Plan to Use Race to Divide Christians and America in their Quest for Power and How We Can Defeat Them (Outskirts Press, Inc.. Kindle Edition, c. 2020). As is evident in the book’s subtitle, Ellison takes a jaundiced look at the Democrat Party which he thinks has internalized the perverse prejudices of President Lyndon B. Johnson, who sought to give blacks (via the Civil Rights, Voting Rights acts, and Great Society programs) “a little something, just enough to quiet them down.” Consistently thereafter blacks (by a 90 per cent margin) have supported Democrat politicians, and, as Nancy Pelosi cynically noted while lofting a glass of water: “This glass of water would win with a D next to its name in those districts.” Liberal Democrats have, Ellison charges, deliberately betrayed Black America so as to get and maintain control of the nation. They accomplished this “by infiltrating and then compromising the three foundational institutions of the Black community: the Black preacher, Black civic organizations, and the Black politicians. I call this trifecta: ‘the Iron Triangle’” (p. 7). Consequently the black community now looks as if its ruled by totalitarian socialists, featuring “one-party rule, forced compliance, extreme poverty, government dependency, and dictator worship” (p. 7). This was an amazing tradeoff: “Blacks gained the right to eat and use the bathroom beside Southern Whites while White Liberals gained control of a nation and potentially the world” (p. 7). And they’re supporting a political party which, according to its platform, supports “government funding of child murder, the legality of sexual perversions and pornography, the legalization of illegal drugs, and the promotion of atheism” (p. 138).
In accord with Star Parker and Candace Owens, Ellison thinks the main problem in the Black community is the failure of individuals to take personal responsibility for their lives. In part this is because black preachers, organizations, and politicians forever claim it’s “someone else’s fault” and that blacks are inevitably victims of racism (whether overt or covert) and worse off than they were decades ago. Rather than helping blacks learn to thrive in America, their leaders have done little more than teach them how to protest. Ironically: “If protest brought about desired change, Black people would be the most successful race in the country and Asians would be the least. Instead the converse is true” (p. 24). Members of the Iron Triangle profit mightily while ordinary Blacks suffer poverty, crime-ridden neighborhoods, failing schools, drug abuse, and fractured families. For fifty years trillions of dollars, multiplied marches, riots and mayhem, had accomplished nothing!
Ellison, a committed Christian, especially condemns the many black preachers who sell their souls for a bowl of porridge (i.e. money generously distributed by Democratic functionaries in pre-election periods). Thereby, he thinks: “The Democratic Party controls most Black preachers. The Black preacher controls the Black church. And the Black church is the spout that pours the Black community into the Democratic Party” (p. 87). Before getting into politics, running for a congressional seat in South Carolina, he talked with his father, who had reared his family in the church and orchestrated a family singing group that produced several gospel albums. His dad cautioned his aspiring adult son to trust bootleggers before preachers! In fact: “There is a common saying in the Black community: most ‘Black preachers talk Black, live White, and think green. I was going to find that it was more than a saying” (p. 95). Many of them, like Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, embrace racist versions of liberation theology, pitting victimized blacks against oppressive whites—“a heresy that has polluted the ‘Black’ Church since that the early 1970s” (p. 115). To Ellison: “Preachers that lead their congregation into the wretched ideology of Marxism, with its hatred of GOD, victimization, and murderous past, and away from the love, forgiveness, and reconciliation of Jesus Christ have committed the highest form of treason” (p. 122).
Ellison’s text is repetitious, badly needing editing. His tone is strident and at times off-putting, but his accusations merit consideration. He certainly illustrates a significant voice in the burgeoning conservative black community.
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A refreshingly upbeat approach to living as a black man in America comes from Rick Rigsby in Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout: How the Timeless Wisdom of One Man Can Impact an Entire Generation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition, c. 2006). He was for several years the Life Skills Coordinator for the Texas A&M football team when it was still coached by the legendary R.C. Slocum, and later worked under Dennis Franchione as A&M’s team chaplain. Understandably he laces his presentation with with fascinating athletic anecdotes. He warmly remembers Coach Slocum saying, “dozens of times: My value as a head football coach will not be based on how many football games I won or lost. My value will be directly related to the quality of the lives of the men I coached. Are my former players productive citizens, good employees, good husbands and fathers? The quality of their lives is the standard by which I will be judged as a head coach” (p. 123). Rigsby spoke at Point Loma Nazarene College while I was the school’s chaplain, and I well remember the joyous, uplifting message he brought. (He may have come, in part, because one of his best friends was Paul Holderfield, Jr., senior pastor of Friendly Chapel Church of the Nazarene in North Little Rock, Arkansas).
Reading his book I now understand why he was so upbeat and infectiously uplifting. He had a dad who made a difference. His father, Roger Rigsby was black and poorly educated, but he never blamed others for anything, so this book has little about “racial” injustice in it. Unlike the privileged black students in today’s elite universities, he repudiated all versions of victimhood. Consequently, his timeless wisdom is precisely what both black and white folks most need to learn. His wisdom looks identical to that of Amy Wax, a courageous law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who endured enormous abuse from the “cancel culture” when she dared suggest affirmative action actually harms blacks (who need to succeed by cultivating healthy habits). She set forth her views in Race, Wrongs, and Remedies, insisting blacks, like everyone else, need to recognize the problems generated by poor educational accomplishments and work habits, acerbated by drug abuse, criminality, and fatherless homes. Government programs, however well-intended, nurture these pathologies. Rather than choosing dependencies of various sorts blacks must take charge of their personal and communal lives. Nothing else will succeed.
Amy Wax’s tough love prescriptions gain affirmation in Rick Rigsby’s encomium to his father, for he wrote Lessons From a Third Grade Dropout “to re-acquaint readers with the wisdom—the common sense that was practiced simply and unwittingly by those who represent a generation gone by. This was an era of individuals who worked hard without complaining. They committed to doing whatever was necessary to help the company and support their families. They took pride in doing a good job. They worked without ceasing. And they maintained high standards—they had high expectations for themselves and the others they were responsible for” (p. xxxiv). Such a man was Roger Rigsby. “This man never ever hid behind an excuse. He never allowed his problems to determine his present or affect his future. He realized that destiny was a choice and not a chance” (p. xxxii). And his son wants to share his wisdom with his world. “It’s the kind of wisdom that is rare in society today. It’s the kind of wisdom that will cause you to be a better person, a greater leader, a more effective worker. It’s the kind of wisdom that will cause you to make an impact . . . rather than just an impression” (p. xxxiv).
Rick Rigsby consistently celebrates his father’s character. “I have never met anyone like him. He simply lived character” (p. 121). His “father believed to the core of his being that a man was not worth much if he could not be trusted to do the right thing at the right time in the right way.” He lived uprightly, telling the truth, keeping his word, treating others well, loving your family, honoring the Lord. Few younger folks, smothered in feel-good therapeutic babble, collecting meaningless “participation” trophies, endlessly looking at cell phone screens, encounter men like Roger Rigsby. They rarely encounter members of a generation that prized doers rather than viewers. Doers are, he constantly stressed, kind. “My dad often said, ‘Son, it does not cost a dime to be kind’” (p. 34). He taught his son to do good things, such as saying “thank you” or “yes, please” or “yes, sir,” and opening doors for others. His dad urged him to encourage people you know and smile at folks you meet.
Doers look for opportunities to help others. “I can hear my dad’s voice ringing in my mind with a piercing familiarity, ‘Son, always put yourself in a position to help somebody else’” (p. 76). It took his son “over four decades and three college degrees to understand” that his dad was saying: “Son, you have a marvelous opportunity to build value in those around you by looking for ways to help humanity. Remember, no job is beneath you, no task is too unimportant to be left incomplete. Look for those you can help, and your life will be rich with exhilarating experiences, fond memories, and boundless energy from the satisfaction of assisting others. . . . . My son, there is no higher calling than to reach down and pull another up. Helping is biblical, practical, and in great demand today. Always make time to help another person!” (p. 82).
Doers are, furthermore, disciplined—the “essence” of his father. Doers find work and actually do it! They show up on time—Roger Rigsby repeatedly stressed that it’s better to be an hour early than a minute late! And in his 30 years of working as a cook for California Maritime Academy in Vallejo, California, he never once failed to be on time. “Dad would leave home at 3:45 A.M., arriving at CMA one full hour ahead of his shift. For years I thought the value of Dad’s behavior was the obvious. But the real genius of my father’s discipline was what was produced as a result. The quality of endurance was a hallmark in Dad’s life. He never quit. It was Dad’s lifestyle” (p. 58). That explained “his incessant proclivity for excellence and his undeniable intolerance for mediocrity. To this day, I hear his voice with a piercing familiarity: ‘Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it right!’ Nothing further needed to be mentioned. Dad did not believe in slothful, lazy, mediocre, average, or adequate performance. If you do something—he would say—you must take pride in it. And how can a man take pride in something that is not his absolute very best? There was no compromise here. There was no shortcut here. There was no gold medal for just getting by or special ribbon for finishing first. At the very least, a good job was expected. And if we did not do our best, we repeated the task until it met my father’s standard of excellence” (p. 85). In this he was evoking the words of Martin Luther King, spoken a month before he was killed: “‘All labor has value. If you’re a street sweeper, sweep streets the way Michelangelo painted pictures. Sweep streets the way Beethoven composed music. Sweep streets the way Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets in such a profound way that the Host of Heaven will say, ‘There goes a great street sweeper!’” (p. 86).
Such discipline enables one to remain standing amidst adversity and sorrow. “This book,” Rigby says, “began as I stood at my wife’s casket. Flanked by two young sons and a host of relatives and friends, our lives were over, our dreams dashed, our future bleak” (p. 135). Before she died, he’d led what seemed to be a charmed life—teaching at a university, prospering, enjoying the good life. But he was unprepared for the overwhelming sorrow that engulfed him as he watched his wife slip away. “I never knew the pain of a broken heart could hurt so deeply. I never knew loneliness so profound it could paralyze your life” (p. 149). Fortunately for him, his father faithfully served as a wise counsellor. “He would say things like, ‘Son, now is the time to be a man. Your wife needs a man, not a boy. And I have not raised a boy. I have raised a man. And I am proud of you. And with God’s help, you will make it through. And you begin right now by making a commitment—every day—to just stand’” (p. 148). Just stand! That’s a great prescription for right living. “Son, just stand”—those words, spoken over his wife’s casket following her funeral, proved to be the lifeline for Rick Rigsby. “Just stand. The best lesson I have ever received. The most profound lesson I have ever been taught. The best job training course I have ever taken. The best life coaching I have ever gained. The best—absolute best—advice I have ever received. My father’s life was speaking to me. His life’s experiences were telling me a story. It was a story that had two basic truths: 1) You can depend on God no matter what happens, and 2) If you can keep standing in the middle of hell, you will learn to walk again” (p. 121).
A year later Roger Rigsby died of cancer at the age of 77. His son treasured the time he spent with his dad, for “even though he was leaving us slowly, the essence of my father was just as strong in that hospital bed as if he were standing on a podium. “Dad, are you scared?” he asked. “‘Heavens no, Son. God has blessed me with two wonderful sons, a wonderful wife, and an amazing life. And now I get to go home. You boys carry on. You carry on, Ricky. Carry on.’ Even on his deathbed, he was teaching me to be a man. Especially on his deathbed, he was teaching me to be a man. Carry on. Stay the course. Hold your position. Keep standing” (p. 157). So Roger Rigsby, offers wisdom for us all!