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Riots and civil unrest marked American cities during the late 1960s and early 1970s. When African-American Assemblies of God minister Thurman Faison addressed the 1971 meeting of the Pentecostal Fellowship of North America, he spoke to the social turbulence that was on everyone’s mind.
Faison’s message addressed the question, “How are we going to reach the blacks of our inner cities?” The editors of the Pentecostal Evangel felt the question needed the attention of their readers and reprinted his entire address in the Jan. 9, 1972, issue.
Having pastored in both Harlem and Chicago, Faison was well aware of the concerns facing the African American population of the inner cities. “The urban scene is a constant focus of the news media. What would reporting be without the demonstrations, riots, class struggles, and corruptions of the big cities!” He stressed that the Pentecostal church could not afford to neglect urban evangelism; the major cities of America influence the course of the nation.
While the Pentecostal movement had long been known for their strict stance on “sins of the flesh,” many Pentecostals remained relatively quiet with regard to the sins of pride and prejudice. Faison made the point to his largely white audience that “all unrighteousness is sin — be it prejudice or adultery — and that the righteous Lord loves righteousness.”
At that time, the Assemblies of God had engaged in little intentional outreach to the black community in comparison to its missions efforts with other ethnic populations. In a 1970 interview, General Superintendent Thomas Zimmerman estimated that the Assemblies of God had “at least” 25 black ministers and only a handful of churches in predominately black neighborhoods (Pentecostal Evangel, April 26, 1970).
Faison called Pentecostals to rediscover and maintain their God-given identity and calling to preach the plain gospel of Christ. He noted, “The world demands what they call ‘contemporary relevance.’” He defined “contemporary” to mean “to happen along with,” and “relevance” to mean “to have a definite relationship or bearing upon the matters at hand.” He concluded that “the gospel-preaching church meets this standard of contemporary relevance.”
According to Faison, Christians must address pressing social issues: “God’s purposes have always … had a definite bearing upon the matters at hand.”
Faison knew the powerful impact of the Church in an inner-city community. In 1969, he moved from Harlem to Chicago and worked closely with Illinois District Superintendent E. M. Clark to develop an Assemblies of God outreach to African Americans. The mostly white churches of the Illinois District helped Faison to purchase church property and a parsonage in Chicago’s South Side, along with radio time to promote the new church. This partnership of blacks and whites proved to be a powerful ministry strategy. Southside Tabernacle, under the leadership of Pastor Titus Lee, continues to be a strong representation of the kingdom of God in Chicago.
In 1971, Faison stated that “the issues of yesterday are not the same today, nor will they be the same tomorrow.” Yet the headlines from 2016 reflected the same themes that he referenced in his time: demonstrations, riots, class struggles, and corruption in the big cities. Forty-six years have passed, but many of the same social ills remain.
Why should Pentecostals boldly proclaim Christ in small towns and inner cities, and to people of every race, class, and persuasion? Faison realized that social problems, ultimately, can only be solved with the gospel. He wrote: “The biggest issues will always be constant — the problem of sin in the human heart, the alienation of men from God, and the expressions of unrighteousness in word, thought, and deed.”
Read Faison’s entire address, "What Are We Going to Do About Our Cities?" on pages 8-9 of the Jan. 9, 1972, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “He Preached Through His Hands,” by Betty Haney
• “A Call to Sleeping Jonahs,” by Charles W. H. Scott
And many more!
To listen to Donald Evans' story behind the impromptu footwashing ceremony at the 1994 racial reconciliation service known as the Memphis Miracle, click here.
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.