April 9 marks the ending of the Civil War in America in 1865, but it also marks the beginning of the Azusa Street revival in 1906. An African American preacher named William Seymour led this powerful revival. Often when mentioning this historic revival, most people talk about the conspicuous gifts of the Spirit that were present, but William Seymour emphasized love and unity of the brethren.
When the Azusa Street Revival began, culturally it was uncommon for people to hug or embrace when first meeting or greeting someone. Physical contact is not a strange practice today, but, in 1906, most people didn’t even shake hands unless they knew each other well or were close friends. As you can probably imagine, cross-cultural interactions were rare in the years after slavery. In some places in the South, blacks couldn’t look white people in the eyes out of fear of being physically attacked.
A different kind of culture emerged at the Azusa Missions base: The culture of heaven. When people walked in, they were surprised to see Christians that were Native Americans, African American, Asian, Hispanic and Anglo all hugging each other, praying, weeping and joyously praising God with each other. Just 41 years after the Civil War had ended, God put His love on display through them for the world to see, to restore the dignity and value of every person. In response, one leader declared, “The color line was washed away in the blood.” They discovered that the cleansing blood of Christ was the remedy for racial prejudice.
It was for this reason that William Seymour said that love and unity among the brethren were the greatest manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
The irony is that while William Seymour was leading a massive revival in Los Angeles, another man of African descent was being dehumanized as a zoo exhibit in New York City. A 22-year-old man named Ota Benga was put on display in the Bronx Zoo alongside chimpanzees and orangutans.
Members of the Eugenics Society created the exhibit as an example of how people of African descent are closer to monkeys and apes than humans on the evolutionary scale. Even though slavery had ended, white supremacist ideologies were aggressively seeking to establish systemic racism in American society.
Read more about it in The Dream King
These simultaneous storylines stood in stark contrast to each other. While William Seymour was in his calling, Ota Benga was in a cage. One man was in his destiny; the other was in a zoo. This strange dichotomy illustrates why God sent revival to restore the dignity and the value of every person.
It’s no different for the racial injustice that America faces today. We need another revival to baptize us with love that brings dignity and value to every life again.