Editor’s note: The following article was written by Dr. Samuel Huddleston, Assemblies of God executive presbyter representing ordained African American ministers. It is part of an ongoing series of articles by AG executive leaders.
Mama Mandy smoked a pipe. I can recall her sitting in our yard outdoors under a tree puffing on that thing. Daddy thought it repulsive that anyone would smoke anything. He said, “If God wanted us to smoke, we’d have been born with a chimney on top of our head.” Mama Mandy was my great-grandmother.
I loved that when she visited us in California from her home in Louisiana, she went to church with us. Had our small church been an Assemblies of God congregation, it would have been considered a U.S. missions work. As the only African American family in the congregation, we always sat close to each other, almost snuggling.
I liked looking at the pictures in my father’s Bible that had been written by some man name King James. Pastor McGuire stood before us declaring, “open your King James Bible,” and then he preached.
As a child, I liked the illustrations of different biblical settings in Daddy’s Bible. I don’t remember any of the sermons. However, many of the stories Mrs. Harding told us on the flannel board in Sunday School have never left me.
After church services, when people hugged each other, I noticed something strange. When a white person approached Mama Mandy to give a friendly hug, she put out her hand to stop them.
She never said a word, just stuck out her hand. We kids, her six young impressionable great-grandchildren, just watched in confusion. We never asked for an explanation and she never volunteered one.
Years later, after I married, our youngest daughter wanted me to meet her prom date. When I walked into the living room to meet him, there he stood, with blond hair and blue eyes. I smiled and shook his hand as words rushed through my mind: We ain’t taking no pictures. There will be no evidence of this night.
My thoughts stunned me, a Spirit-filled believer. Where did they come from? We don’t think like that! The evening came and went. But those ugly thoughts would not leave.
We had started a Bible study in our living room that grew into an Assemblies of God church. Because of our planting team, the congregation was multiracial from day one. I recalled racial incidents I had seen and experienced growing up and a few in Bible college — incidents I thought I had forgotten. I had notions that did not belong in the church or my redeemed, Spirit-filled, tongue-talking, Scripture-quoting mind, but there they were. I went to my knees asking God for help. I cried, I wrestled. I didn’t want this poison passed on to my children and especially not my future generations. What could I do?
Because some of my true friends and brothers are white, I decided to take a risk and began slowly sharing with them in private. I soon found out these close friends also harbored such sentiments. Together, with the help of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word, we helped each other deal with this poison honestly. We did not play religious games trying to justify our thoughts. We dug deep, realizing it had to go. We even realized it had influenced our political views, sometimes causing those to take precedence over Scripture. I spoke of the process in my sermons in healthy ways. Our church began to unify.
During one of the times I gathered with other men I thought again of Mama Mandy. Until that moment, I did not realize how much she loved my siblings and me. While she may have been working through past hurts or injustices, she never told us why she did not allow whites to hug her. She took it to her grave. Now as an adult with grandchildren, I realize she could have used words to damage the souls of her great-grandkids. What a gift she passed down by her silence. My pastor friend John says, “silence has never been quoted.”
As an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, I thank Mama Mandy for the gift of silence. Here I am ministering in leadership within this very diverse Fellowship. Its constituents together truly look like a rainbow. Sure, we have problems. Some involve the issue of race. It will be here among us in some degree until Jesus returns. But, it doesn’t have to rule or poison our lives or fellowship. Maybe being slow to speak, quick to listen, and asking questions will help us keep the unity for which Christ died.
When we speak, let it be words of life and questions to help us understand. Proverbs 18:21 puts it this way: The tongue has the power of life and death. The stakes are eternal. Our words can either give life or death. Our tongues can build others up, or tear them down. They can bring peace or division. It is a choice.
Today in some ways the world, because of words, is on fire. The Church is the solution. We must be careful that our words are healing and not adding gasoline to the inferno. Matthew 5:9 says, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
May the world see our unity in Christ to the degree that they will be convinced He lives in us. Then, they might want Him to live in them. Our words are powerful. Be careful of the little ears that are listening to you. You are either a life-giver or an executioner.
Thank you, Mama Mandy for not poisoning the minds of your great-grandchildren. I will be forever indebted to your love for me. May we as Assemblies of God people consider what we are saying and passing on to future generations. What we say about others who are different than us is so important. Remember, silence may not be golden, but it is surely never quoted.