This Week in AG History -- October 22, 1967
Racial conflict and change dominated the American landscape in the late 1960s. August 1967 epitomized the era. The month began with race riots engulfing Washington, D.C., and ended with the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to serve as the first African-American Supreme Court justice.
In the midst of this racially charged month, the most prominent African-American Assemblies of God minister, Bob Harrison, delivered a message at the 32nd General Council held August 24-29, 1967, in Long Beach, California. Harrison's sermon, which addressed the racial strife of the day, was published in the October 22, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Harrison was acutely aware of the effects of racial prejudice, as the racist patterns of the world had found their way into the church. In 1939, the Assemblies of God instituted a policy that denied ordination at the national level to African-Americans. African-Americans could still be licensed at the district level. Harrison graduated from Bethany Bible College (an Assemblies of God school in Scotts Valley, California) in 1951 and was eligible for district licensure. However, he was initially denied a license on account of his race. This decision was later revisited and, in 1957, the Northern California-Nevada District granted Harrison a ministerial license.
This injustice was compounded by irony: Harrison's godmother, Cornelia Jones Robertson, was ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1923, before the national policy was instituted. She was one of the earliest African-American females ordained by the Assemblies of God.
Harrison quickly rose in prominence in evangelical circles. He joined the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1960 and traveled the world as an evangelist. In 1962, he became the catalyst for overturning the policy against ordaining African-Americans. Harrison, in his new role as an ordained Assemblies of God minister, became a visible proponent of working across the racial divides.
In his 1967 General Council sermon, Harrison challenged the notion that racial problems could be cured by political and economic means alone. "Only Christ and His gospel can solve it," he asserted. Having traveled around the world, Harrison also observed that American segregation provided a poor witness of the Christian faith.
Harrison noted that people "tend to confuse Biblical Christianity with American culture." He explained that while American culture was influenced by Christianity, "the Church exists as a minority" in America. Harrison furthermore offered a blunt assessment of American morality: "America is long on money and materialism but terribly short on values that count."
Harrison's interracial vision was grounded in the Great Commission. His sermon was suffused with admonitions that everyone has the responsibility to accept and serve Christ. He encouraged readers to have "total commitment" to bring "the whole gospel for the whole man and the whole world." According to Harrison, Christians should think in terms of the "human race," rather than in terms of black or white.
Harrison called for Christians to lead a "counter-revolution," which he described as "a new era of Bible-based, soul-convicting, sin-blasting evangelism." This counter-revolution, according to Harrison, "began centuries ago at Pentecost."
Read Bob Harrison's article, "These Things Shall Be," on pages 2-3 of the October 22, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• "The Refugee Problem," by Robert C. Cunningham
• "Getting God's Help in These Times," by H. C. Noah
• "The Triumph of the King," by W. Glenn West
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.