On the significance of today

Sam Hart

2009-01-20 19:52:03

Watched the Inauguration (what's the standard on that, do we capitalize it? Just realized I really don't know) on CNN and MSNBC. Recorded it as well. Before, during, and after it, I have found myself in debate with a friend of mine over it. This friend considers himself "numb" about the entire affair, such that he has no positive or negative feelings about it. He didn't seem to understand the significance of this day, not from a political standpoint, but from a human one.

As I was trying to figure out how best to explain the significance, I realized that I really couldn't do the explanation justice. There simply have been too many before who have so eloquently laid down the foundation as to why this was important. I will admit that amid the political grandstanding that inadvertently takes place in any governmental sea change the meaning may become lost if you don't look for it, but that does not mean we shouldn't look for it.

In 1897 Charles Harrison Mason, previously a Baptist Minister preaching in Arkansas, founded the Church of God in Christ, a pentecostal church, along with many disfellowshipped former Baptist Ministers. He and his wife Elsie Mason, would make it their missions in life to spread the word of God (as they saw it) throughout the southern states. They converted a former gin joint into one of their primary revival locations, and saw phenomenal growth in the south. Today, the COGIC claims membership of over 6 million.

In the COGIC, all were welcome. Charles Mason ordained ministers who would go on to found other Christian denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, and the United Pentecostal Church International.

What's the significance of this? Why does it all matter?

Charles Mason was black, he was born to parents who had been slaves, and his church welcomed all. In his congregation could be found both white and black people. Recall this was in the late 1890s U.S. south- Jim Crow segregation laws were in place and such racial co-mingling was taboo to the point of it being criminal. There were churches for whites and churches for blacks. What Charles Mason was doing was controversial, but was based upon his belief that everyone was equal in the eyes of his Lord.

Additionally, he was a black preacher who would ordain other white preachers. He would credential over a dozen white preachers, many of which would go on to lead other large pentecostal denominations still active today. If co-mingling white and black church members under the same roof (or tent, since we're talking revivals :-) was taboo at the time, then a black man ordaining a white man was anathema.

Today, we do not celebrate Charles Mason's birth, and he is not a well known civil rights leader. Indeed, he was not a civil rights leader at all. He was simply a man whose faith and conviction knew no racial bounds. But his work laid down the foundations for the civil rights leaders to come after him. Because of the barriers he broke and the faith-based movements he put in place, we were lead to the eventuality of Dr. King. We were lead to the eventuality of the realization that "separate-but-equal" wasn't really equal after all.

Because of Charles Mason, we were guided to a mind-set that would allow us to elect a black man to the highest office in our land. Whether you agree with Obama's politics or not is irrelevant to the significance of his election.

And that is the significance of today- Not that Democrats have won an election (although, I am personally ecstatic about that), and not that an unpopular president is finally out, but that we have taken one more step towards that great American ideal that all men are created equal.