” I sincerely believed in the brotherhood of man and that we were all equal in the eyes of God.”
By Wes White
There are a lot of sins I have repented of that I committed while I was in the Worldwide Church of God. And my past racism is probably the one I am most ashamed of.
I hadn’t always been a racist. When I first came into the church in 1971, I was a young rock n roll guitar player who had enthusiastically embraced the peace and love of the 1960s. I sincerely believed in the brotherhood of man and that we were all equal in the eyes of God.
That all changed not long after my baptism when I was taught by the church that interracial dating and interracial marriage were wrong. And let’s be clear. I don’t blame my teachers for my error. Sure, their racist teachings were completely bonkers, but it my fault for blindly accepting them. I should have studied the Bible for myself and then I should have stood up for truth by rejecting this false doctrine. So I put full responsibility on myself for my ten years of racism.
Racism wasn’t a real big deal in the WCG circles in which I ran back then. In our local Chicago congregation, we all got along well. I remember once when our pastor announced in the sermon before that evening’s church dance that there was to be no dancing between two women and no dancing interracially. I already knew the race doctrine. I had accepted it. And no one seemed to mind it. So I just blissfully plodded along.
When I first went to Ambassador in Pasadena (1974), this bogus teaching on race wasn’t a big deal then either. Because the college was pursuing accreditation, they knew better than to practice segregation because they knew they would get dinged by WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges), the accrediting body for California. And I doubt that the Dean of Faculty (Michael Germano) and the Dean of Students (Chuck Ohlman) had any proclivity in that direction anyway.
It wasn’t until after the college closed and re-opened around 1979/1980 that this issue came up. HWA fired most of the previous “liberal” college administrators and replaced them with old-line loyalists. With Raymond McNair as the new Deputy Chancellor, it was a brand new ball game. Raymond was intent on rooting out all interracial dating and even the very thought of interracial marriage. As McNair’s assistant, I fully supported him in this effort. And I learned quickly how to settle any argument on the subject by saying the magic words, “Well, the apostle teaches (fill in the blank).” At that point, anyone who disagreed with me on race was disagreeing with the end-time apostle. You don’t want to lose your job, do you? Point. Set. Game.
One of the more harrowing incidents we had to deal with during that time involved a local church member named Ray Willingham. He was an African-American employee of the church. He was dating a white female student. I can’t remember her name.
McNair was insistent that the two break up. The couple continued dating. McNair would call Willingham into his office and berate him with his fractured logic of why it was wrong to date or marry someone of a different race. The lecture usually involved stories about how farmers don’t mix their different breeds of cows and horses. (There might have even been Scriptures from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.) McNair’s strong suit was his argument that farmers are careful to keep their stock pure.
Thinking back on this story reminds me of a minister friend of mine who I confronted on this issue not long ago. I said, “You know that there’s nothing in the Bible that forbids interracial marriage. How can you be against it?” The only thing he could come up with was, “I believe God loves diversity.” Just like McNair, he was afraid that whatever pure (whatever that is) human stock we still have on this earth is in danger of being mongrelized by all this race mixing.
Back to 1980. Willingham never backed down an inch from McNair. He was defiant. He was NOT going to break up with his girlfriend. They were going to continue their relationship. In fact, he informed the Deputy Chancellor that they would eventually marry.
At that time, McNair would take regular trips down to Tucson to see HWA. Tucson is where HWA lived back then because California subpoenas couldn’t be served on him in Arizona. During at least two of these trips, McNair brought up this Ray Willingham situation to HWA who would thunder, “Fire him and disfellowship him.” So that’s what McNair did.
It is to my shame that I admit I was the one who hand-delivered the written notifications to Willingham at his house – informing him that he had been terminated from his job and disfellowshipped from the church. At the time, I shrugged and figured I was only doing the right thing because I believed that the Bible taught against interracial dating and marriage. Again, my bad. I blame no one else for my wrong actions.
Not long afterward, another interracial situation came up. This time, both of the kids were students. The boy was Caucasian and the girl was Asian. Once again, McNair called the guy into his office and trotted out the same old dog and cattle stories. Once again, the guy stood his ground. And once again, McNair got the go-ahead from HWA to get rid of the couple.
But then a bomb got dropped on us at the last minute. One of the evangelists (I think it was David Antion) was in Tucson talking to HWA. Antion brought up this couple’s situation. Again, HWA thundered that there would be no interracial dating or interracial marriage in his college. Same old/same old.
Well, until Antion unwittingly let something slip that changed the day. Antion had no idea this new information would make HWA reverse himself so dramatically. After Antion’s revelation, HWA threw us a curveball that no one expected. Here is what he said:
“Wait a minute, David! Are you telling me that the guy is white and that the girl is Asian?!?” Why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?!? All everyone has been telling me is that it was an interracial couple. I assumed it was a black guy and a white girl. This couple is all right. Let’s let them get married. And just so we don’t have problems with someone like Rod Meredith, let’s send the couple to Hawaii to live because interracial marriage is accepted there more than in other states. We’ll pay their way there. We’ll pay for their apartment for a while to get them started. We’ll have the local minister help find them jobs.”
I was in McNair’s office when this decree was dumped on the unfortunate, hapless Deputy Chancellor. Once again, the rug had been pulled out from under McNair by HWA.
While McNair licked his political wounds, I was contemplating the theological aspect of the whole thing. I had been taught that intermarriage was wrong no matter which of the races were involved. Why was it wrong for an African-American guy to marry a white girl while it was all right for a white guy to marry an Asian girl? Eventually, the only way I could reconcile HWA’s lack of consistency was to conclude that his belief on interracial marriage was actually an abhorrence of a black guy putting his hands on a white girl.
I was devastated because I couldn’t get it out of my mind that we had harassed and harangued poor Ray Willingham to no end. I asked McNair why there was this inconsistency in HWA’s decrees and the best I could get out of him was that HWA was God’s apostle. I could be wrong, but I believe McNair thought HWA was wrong, but could never bring himself to ever say something like that out loud.
Immediately after this last incident, I studied into what the Bible really says and doesn’t say on the subject of interracial marriage. I quickly came to the conclusion that WCG’s teaching on interracial marriage was totally unbiblical. I immediately repented. I left Pasadena not long after that. I was embarrassed and ashamed of my previous beliefs and my previous actions.
Years later, I tried to find Ray Willlingham to apologize to him and was told that he had passed away. I sure hope that, when I see him in the Kingdom of God, he will forgive me of my sin.
This light bulb moment regarding interracial marriage was the first of several incidents to make me re-think my enthusiasm for following and supporting HWA. The final straw was the Watergate-type break-in of the WCG Spanish Department in 1980. Maybe that is a subject for another time?
Wes and Nancy White have a personal ministry (Dynamic Christian Ministries) which doesn’t ask for or accept donations. They have a live show called “Start Our Sabbath” which airs every Friday evening at 8:00 pm Central US. The Youtube link for this show can be found at dynamicchristianminitries.org.