(A Fictional Short Story)
Harvard’s Spangler Auditorium was filled to capacity. A few people stood at the back of the auditorium, but the fire marshals limited the number to a hundred standing-room-only people. Fortunately, the event was also live-streamed to the whole Harvard community.
The Harvard Crimson labeled the debate: “A Black firebrand professor debates a stuffy white Christian dean on white supremacy in the Church.”
The Black firebrand professor was Dr. Isaiah Rashad, head of racial conflict in America and author of four books, dealing with white supremacy. His scheduled opponent was Dean Jonathan D. Edwards from the Dallas Theological Seminary.
The curtain went up, revealing a podium at center stage with three people sitting behind it: one Black man, one Asian woman and one white man. The woman stood up and walked to the podium.
“Good evening,” she said. “My name is Dr. Clara Chung. I will be the moderator for this debate. I first want to announce a change in the debate. Dean Edwards tested positive for COVID this afternoon and offers his regrets for not being able to be here. The East Coast Vice President for Business Men’s Fellowship and owner of eight restaurants – Harvey Whitman – has graciously offered to take Dean Edwards’ place.”
She paused to check her notes.
“The rules for the debate are simple because there really aren’t any, except each must treat his opponent with the highest respect. Thus, they have the freedom to roam wherever they choose in their dialogues. Each may make an opening statement, not to exceed thirty minutes. After that, it will be an open debate format.
“Because of a coin flip, Dr. Rashad will speak first.” She turned around toward the two men behind her. “Dr. Rashad, the podium is yours. “
Dr. Chung sat down while Dr. Rashad walked to the podium. Rashad looked more like an athlete than an academic with broad shoulders and long cornrow braided hair. His muscular arms bulged inside his tailored black sport coat.
“Thank you, Dr. Chung,” said Dr. Rashad. “And a big thank you to Harvard University for putting on this debate during black history month. I am proud to be a part of Harvard’s faculty, knowing our university desires to be at the forefront of racial changes in America.”
He stood at the podium with the microphone in his hand.
“In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The most segregated hour in this nation is Sunday at 11:00 am. Interestingly enough, a few months before King’s statement, a Gallup poll showed that one in seven Americans believed there was a biblical basis for the separation of races.
“Does anyone seriously believe anything much has changed over the last sixty years?”
Rashad wove the sad American Church narrative from our nation’s early slavery beginnings to the present time. Over and over again, he pointed out how white supremacist attitudes fueled skepticism and resistance to true peace between the races.
“Today’s white Evangelicals are more concerned with checking all of the right boxes without considering that true repentance means more than just saying, ‘We’re sorry.’ It means being willing to walk through the valley of transformation so that both races arrive at true reconciliation, even if that takes twenty to thirty years or more. It’s only then we will see a lasting peace.”
Dr. Rashad looked at his watch, nodded his head to the audience and walked back to his seat.
Dr. Chung walked to the podium.
“Mr. Whitman,” she said, “it is your turn.”
Whitman stood up and slowly walked to the podium.
If the outcome of the debate depended on looks and charisma, Harvey Whitman was at a decided disadvantage. Short, bald, ten pounds overweight and a meek manner certainly did not play well on most stages, especially following someone like Rashad.
Whitman picked up the handheld wireless microphone and walked back and forth across the front of the stage with his head down and his eyes almost closed. He said nothing for a few minutes. The crowd moved restlessly in their seats.
Then, he stopped and spoke. “Dr. Rashad accurately laid out the problems facing the American Church with its racial issues. I only disagree with him on one point – that it will take twenty to thirty years to work through these problems. And I will prove him wrong in the next twenty minutes.”
He stopped walking and looked toward the crowd to the left of him. He pointed with his left hand.
“Right over there, about twenty rows from the front, is a young woman named Tina Andrews. Tina, would you please stand up? Don’t be shy! The Lord has something for you.”
A young black woman stood up.
The crowd gasped. How could this man know Tina’s name?
Whitman paid no attention to the crowd and said, “I feel that Lord has just shown me that you received some bad news yesterday. Is that correct??
Tears dripped down her face as she nodded her head.
“The Lord is going to heal you of cervical cancer right now in Jesus’ name.”
The woman screamed and fell over backwards into her chair.
Whitman moved to the center of the stage and pointed into the crowd.
“Denzel Martin, stand up.”
No one obeyed his command. The crowd looked around.
“Okay, that would be Denzel Martin at 227 Eighth Avenue, Apartment 2. Do you want me to give out your phone number, too?
A black man stood up, shaking his head.
Once again, the crowd gasped and murmured aloud, wondering how he knew Denzel.
“You just flunked your vision test to be a pilot in the Air Force, right?” Whitman said.
The man nodded his head.
“The Lord is going to heal your eyes right now in Jesus’ name.”
The black man fell over backwards into his chair.
“Denzel, go have your eyes rechecked tomorrow. They will be better than 20/20.”
Whitman called out the names of eight more people over the following fifteen minutes. He accurately told them their problems and then prayed for their healings.
“Has everyone noticed that I have only prayed for black people tonight?” said Whitman. “Okay, have any of these black people cared about my skin color? No! They were just happy that someone was able to walk in the spiritual gifts to help them out of some major problems in their lives.”
Whitman walked to the front of the stage and looked at the crowd with blazing eyes.
“We can debate. We can talk. We can write. We can do all of this and more, but this will take years to unravel all of our racial problems. Or we can learn how to walk in the gifts of the Spirit and do miracles for each other. If we learn how to do this, it will break down whatever barriers are holding us back in a short period of time. Do you realize this is what Jesus did? Shouldn’t we do the same?”
Dr. Rashad walked over and hugged Whitman.
(Just so everyone knows: I modeled Harvey Whitman’s spiritual gifts on the ministries of William Branham and Paul Cain.)