The Time Is Now: An Annual Conference Statement from the Summer of 1963

Photo by Gospel Messenger
An ad in the “Gospel Messenger” from late summer 1963 asks for special donations to help fund the mandates of an Annual Conference statement titled “THE TIME IS NOW…to heal our racial brokenness.” The ad lists developments in implementing the statement including communications to churches from the moderator and an Emergency Committee on Race Relations, the employment of a director of Race Relations, work by Brethren staff in Mississippi for a biracial commission and in Washington to promote Civil Rights legislation, and plans for Brethren to participate in the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.

The following statement was adopted by the 1963 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, which met in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., that June. The statement is reprinted here as published in the “Gospel Messenger” magazine of July 20, 1963, pp. 11 and 13:

The Time Is Now
to heal our racial brokenness

The deepening crises in race relations all across the land confront the Christian church with its sharpest challenges to integrity and discipleship in this century. A revolution in relations between the races is upon us. We can neither stop it nor delay it. We can only hope to help guide it by active participation in it as concerned and courageous Christians.

The time is now to understand that racial reconciliation is built only on the foundation of racial justice, that justice delayed is justice denied.

The time is now to heal every broken race relationship and every segregated institution in our society–every church, every public accommodation, every place of employment, every neighborhood, and every school. Our goal must be nothing less than an integrated church in an integrated community.

The time is now to practice as well as to preach Christian nonviolence. In this revolution let us not only support and uphold the courageous Negro and white leaders of nonviolence, but let us take our share of initiative, leadership, and risk in helping guide the revolution over the precipitous trail of nonviolence.

The time is now to recognize Negro disappointment and even outright rejection of white Christians, their churches, and their faith. Few white Christians have suffered with their oppressed Negro brothers in efforts to obtain racial justice.

The time is now for us to confess to God our sins of delay, omission, and obstruction for racial justice within and outside the church. Our witness has been weak, despite the courageous witness of a few of our number. Our witness has not matched our basic belief that every child of God is a brother to every other.

The time is now for action, “even costly action that may jeopardize the organizational goals and institutional structures of the church, and may disrupt any fellowship that is less than fully obedient to the Lord of the church. In such a time the church of Jesus Christ is called upon to put aside every lesser engagement.”

The call of Christ is for commitment and courage in such a time as this. This call comes to every one of us, every congregation among us, and every community in which we live. We can dodge neither the revolution nor the call of Christ. Let us respond in works as eloquent as our words, in practices as profound as our prayers, in action as heroic as our gospel.

Trusting in the Lord of the church for his continuing truth and power which strengthen us for every good work, we propose the following first steps to implement this declaration of concern:

1. That this Annual Conference engage in an act of confession, repentance, and dedication regarding racial brotherhood and nonviolence;

2. That the officers of this Conference establish a continuous prayer vigil seeking God’s guidance in our concerns for racial brotherhood and nonviolence during the remaining hours of the Conference;

3. That the moderator of Annual Conference send a pastoral letter to each congregation emphasizing the moral issue in the racial situation and lifting up the concerns of this paper;

4. That the General Brotherhood Board take whatever urgent steps and risks it deems necessary and wise in order to move the church forward and to involve it more deliberately in the movement for immediate racial justice, brotherhood, and freedom, including such activities as participation in appropriate Christian forms of reconciliation, negotiation, demonstration, and nonviolent direct action; and that the board appropriate the necessary funds to implement this program;

5. That each of the agencies and institutions related to the Church of the Brethren–Annual Conference Central Committee, the General Brotherhood Board, regions, districts, congregations, Bethany Seminary, colleges, hospital, and homes for the aged–immediately and thoroughly examine its policies and practices and take any necessary steps at once, both to eliminate any forms of racial discrimination and to adopt aggressive policies for racial justice and integration;

6. That we emphasize with the strongest possible urgency the use of the method of nonviolence rather than violence in achieving racial justice in our country and that we call upon the major organizations leading the movement for racial justice to launch a nationwide educational effort as quickly as possible to counsel all Americans regarding the importance, philosophy, and method of nonviolence.

7. That each local church is called upon to affirm by specific council action the already established Annual Conference policy that membership within the Church of the Brethren will be accorded without regard to racial background or national origin.

The time is now for every member of the church to be used of God to heal the brokenness in all peoples and races whom God hath made of one blood to dwell on all the face of the earth.

[gt-link lang="en" label="English" widget_look="flags_name"]