Nineteen years ago, the world lost one of God’s finest — Arthur Conard. He and I, along with five others, were a part of a very special club. Its development and function just sort of happened, in what became a beautiful thing, a “God thing.” We were all members of the same church in Boston, a big family with great diversity in the membership.
I wrote this article quite a number of years ago, and it can be found also on my regular Bible teaching website (gordonferguson.org). I am posting it here in memory and honor of my special departed friend, Arthur, and to encourage his widow, Joyce Conard. I was privileged to be the officiating minister at his memorial, attended by more than 700 people. His aunt, who was not a member of our church, read the obituary details. She knew more about our club than I would have expected, for she stated that Arthur was a member of the “infamous” Big Black Brother’s Club! Read on and you will understand why!
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Spiritual thinking means that we are colorblind in one sense, but it means more than that. It also means that we are both color-aware and color-appreciative. The Galatians passage above affirms that in some sense, physical distinctions are ended in Christ. Regardless of race, social status or gender, we are all equally valuable to our Creator. None is superior and none is inferior, for we are all made in the image of God and saved by the blood of Jesus. But we do not cease to be who we are racially, socially and sexually. Men are still men and women are still women. We must remain aware of those differences if we are to be effective evangelistically. Read Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 on the principle of becoming all things to all men to reach as many as possible.
We must also be appreciative of the differences that remain. America is a blending of cultures like few other countries. Of course, in our cosmopolitan world, the cultural and racial composition of most nations is far more varied than in the past. However, Americans generally relish the variations more than the norm, since we were built with this diversity from the beginning. We are the big melting pot, and the acceptance of this diversity is at least a part of the reason many from other countries would like to migrate here. The attraction of financial opportunities is the biggest draw, but even more because these opportunities are found in a setting where backgrounds don’t mean too much.
However, in spite of this relatively accepting atmosphere, prejudices abound. I was raised in a part of America at a time when blacks and whites were quite segregated. I did not attend school with blacks until post-graduate studies when I trained as a minister. (Thankfully, that all seems so strange now.) When I was a teen, I did construction work in the summers as what was called a common laborer, and most in that category were black workers. Being around black men on the job was the first time I was able to closely associate with them on a peer basis, and frankly, both they and I loved it. We had a blast acting more than a little crazy together. I enjoyed their fun-loving ways no end, and my life was enriched by close association with those who were different from me racially and culturally. Since I was a young adult, some of my closest friends have been from different minorities. As I learned from their cultures and backgrounds, I grew to delight in our differences.
The church in the Bible was made up of equals, but equals with some pretty significant differences. Learning to love each other and live together in one Body was not always easy, but it will always be God’s way. All white churches or all black churches or all Asian churches or all Hispanic churches stand in stark contrast to the early church that Jesus built. Variety is the spice of life. We need each other, and we need to be enriched by the differences in each other. I rejoice in the true kingdom of God, because it is such a conglomeration of different types of people. We have the rich and the poor; the educated and the uneducated; the young and the old; the social adept and what the world might call the social misfits; the blacks, the whites, the Asians and the Hispanics, and then mixtures of all of these. We are the same in heart and purpose, but not the same in so many other ways, and these differences are cause to rejoice. Only God could bring such a group together in love and harmony. Our unity is the demonstration to the world that we are true disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35; 17:20-23).
On my desk is a very unusual picture of seven men, affectionately called the BBB Club ─ the Big Black Brother’s Club. A number of years ago, several brothers in the church started coming over to our house on select Monday nights during the fall to watch Monday Night Football on TV. Most of these brothers were black, and gradually, the moniker of “the BBB’s” started being used. So, by mutual agreement, I was also black on Monday nights. (Actually, I always thought that I had too much soul to be a white man anyway!) On the nights when we are going to meet, we would discuss whether to invite a “token white” for the evening (remember, I’m black on Mondays). It was quite a group. Although a number of different “brother-brothers” (black disciples) have attended at different times, our club ended up with seven members: Bob Peterson, Walter Parrish, Curt Garner, Keith Avery, Jon Williams, Arthur Conard and me. My wife said that she could hear us out in the street, even though we met in the basement. Gin Rummy or Spades card games often competed with the football game, and to say that it was a lively meeting would downplay the true nature of the atmosphere considerably.
These brothers seemed to understand that I needed some setting where I don’t have to be a church leader of any type, but only one of the brothers, able to let my hair (what I have left) down completely. I needed these men and I cherished our times together. Now that others have heard about us, they are clamoring to get into the fray. With good-natured but raucous humor, we give them a hard time and let them know, that according to our by-laws, visitors have to be approved by a majority of the club members. None of those little white skinny guys have much of a chance of approval! Actually, those who do come have a great chance of losing their skinniness, since the food items are not exactly of the low-fat variety!
The picture to which I referred earlier is very unusual because it was taken after Arthur died suddenly of heart arrest last fall at age 38. (With the help of a friend, Arthur’s picture was scanned into a computer along with our picture taken later, and now we have the seven originals in a BBB Club picture.) He had a heart condition and realized that he would not live a normal life span. Yet he was as full of zest for life as anyone I have ever known. Deeply in love with God and people, he spent his last hours out sharing his faith. Returning home on the bus, he simply went to sleep and woke up with God. About 700 people attended his memorial service from all walks of life. The BBB’s, along with several of Arthur’s closest brothers wept together at his casket, but during the day, laughed about as often as we cried. Our tears were not for him but for ourselves. He will be missed greatly by his faithful wife, Joyce, and by a vast throng of friends and family who loved him deeply. Life for us will not be the same, both because he leaves a void and because he changed us by his copious love and laughter. My background was about as different from Arthur’s as one could imagine, but we were (are) brothers, and on Monday night, brother-brothers.
In our racially tense society, people are more than impressed at our camaraderie and deeply appreciated love for one another. Where else can you find such outside the family of God? We are in no way up-tight about our differences; we glory in them. God made us as we are and he expects us to enjoy each other to the full. Any family in which all the children were exactly alike would be boring at best. The diversity of nature demonstrates God’s belief in the special place of variety in his plans. When visiting our son and his family in Hawaii, I usually go snorkeling at least once. The numbers of fish species I see is astounding. It is often claimed that no two snowflakes are alike. (Of course, those making the claim must have done a rather enormous amount of research, and they will have to be satisfied with tentative conclusions at most.) God obviously is trying to tell us something important, even by the design of nature.
Spiritual thinking is colorblind in its absence of prejudice, but color-aware and color-appreciative in making us a family. I have often said that the ultimate effectiveness of spiritual leaders is found in their ability to lead different types of people. If we can only relate well or become emotionally close to people like us, we are missing out on one of the greatest possible blessings of life. May God grant you the perspective of family that he has taught the BBB’s, for then your life will be enriched more than you can imagine! And thank you, my unique brothers of the club, for allowing me to be one of you in far more ways than simply being members of the same church. Praise God for his plan for his kingdom!