“Integration.” That’s a word that has different meanings to different people, isn’t it? Probably to most who hear the word the first thing that comes to mind is the civil rights campaign of the 1950’s and 60’s with its marches, sit-ins and other forms of non-violent protest against segregation of the races in public places in America. Integration in the form of granting the right of people to be treated equally without respect to race, religion or ethnic differences has been the law since the problem was addressed as a result of having been brought to the forefront of public attention. It is a shame that, with the protests, violence came resulting in the death of so many people before the nation would be stirred to the point of addressing the problem. While much good has come from integration, yet there is much resentment and bitterness over it even to this day. The imposition of a solution by law to a deep rooted social problem, one that was so emotionally charged and carried so much prejudice, is never the ideal solution. You can’t legislate a problem of the heart out of existence. Only by changing hearts will that kind of problem really be corrected.
Let me tell you about integration I had some experience with that came about for a different reason and ended with far different results. My family and I moved to Camden, South Carolina in 1976 to work with the McRae Road Church of Christ. Soon after moving to this lovely old town in the sand hills, I became acquainted with Richard Harris and his wife, Bright, an older brother and sister who attended another congregation in town. I came to know him as a man of deep faith and love for the Lord who cared about his family and his brothers and sisters in his spiritual family as well.
Due to reasons I will not go into, brother Harris was unhappy attending where he had for years. I, and others at McRae Road, asked him to attend with us, assuring them that they would be welcome. At first he was reluctant to do so. Naturally in an old town in the Old South, there was fear of repercussions within the church and from the community. What would people think of black people attending a “white” church? But after a time when it became apparent the problem in his home congregation was not improving, the Harrises decided to start attending with us and soon others came as well. That turned out for the McRae Road church to be one of the best things that could have happened. It definitely was one of the best things that ever happened in my life.
Richard was a quiet and gentle man – a gentleman in every respect of the word. Though he did not have much education and though he had worked at low-paying jobs and perhaps had not received much notice nor respect from the community, he was a man of great wisdom. He certainly commanded the respect of the church. I witnessed him, with just a few well chosen words, calming situations where people’s tempers were beginning to flare. I grew to be very fond of him and his dear wife. I, in fact, came to look on him almost as a second father. I was able to talk with him in a way that I was never able to talk with my own father.
Brother Harris died just a few months before we left Camden to come back home to Kentucky. There are times I think of him and think about how much I still miss him.
Another blessing that came with the integration of the church in Camden was in the form of sister Suzanne Lee. Suzanne is a jolly, funny, friendly, outgoing lady whom everyone came to love dearly. She always had a smile on her face and a funny story that put a smile on yours. She was a cook in a school in Camden – and a really good cook at that. She loved to share her culinary talent with others. She loved people and loved being with people and because of these loves this remarkable lady built a large room onto her home in order to have the church come to her house, eat together and share their lives with one another. I regret that it was after we had moved away that she did this! I know we missed out on so much for not being there for those get-togethers!
To “integrate” is “to bring together or incorporate (parts) into a whole.” The word derives from the Latin word, “integer,” which means “whole” or “complete.” In mathematics, an integer is a whole number as opposed to a fraction. Integration is bringing of things together to make a whole or complete thing. This is what happens when people become Christians. They are brought together as one people – one family – because they are all children of God. This is why the integration of true Christians by God is a blessing from God without which we are not complete.
No, these people were not made what they were by racial integration. They were people who were whole – people who “had it all together” because the Lord had made them whole. They knew who they were and they knew to whom they belonged. They were Christians. They knew they belonged to the Lord who died for them. Through their forgiveness and their relationship with the Lord they “knew their place” and it wasn’t in the “back of the bus” nor was it in the “driver’s seat.” They knew they had been raised up and seated together in the heavenly places in Christ with all others who are saved by his grace. They loved the Lord and were walking in his footsteps, becoming more and more like their Savior.
The integration that took place in the McRae Road church did not come about as a result of protest. It was not forced on us by a decree of civil law. It did come about by law – the law of Christ. It came about through his law of love.
Because we came together with these good people in the oneness that is in Christ we received many blessings. Because we came together we were, and still are, all the richer for it. I know my life has been enriched for having known these two godly people and the all the others who came to be with us. May God help us to become one! God knows that we NEED EACH OTHER! May he help us all to become whole!