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Bob Harrison, in the Midst of 1960s Racial Strife, Called for a Counter-Revolution

This Week in AG History — October 22, 1967

By Darrin Rodgers
Originally published on PE-News, 22 October 2015

Racial conflict and change dominated the American landscape in the late 1960s. August 1967 epitomized the era. The month began with race riots engulfing Washington, D.C., and ended with the confirmation of Thurgood Marshall to serve as the first African-American Supreme Court justice.

In the midst of this racially charged month, the most prominent African-American Assemblies of God minister, Bob Harrison, delivered a message at the 32nd General Council held August 24-29, 1967, in Long Beach, California. Harrison’s sermon, which addressed the racial strife of the day, was published in the October 22, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Harrison was acutely aware of the effects of racial prejudice, as the racist patterns of the world had found their way into the church. In 1939, the Assemblies of God instituted a policy that denied ordination at the national level to African-Americans. African-Americans could still be licensed at the district level. Harrison graduated from Bethany Bible College (an Assemblies of God school in Scotts Valley, California) in 1951 and was eligible for district licensure. However, he was initially denied a license on account of his race. This decision was later revisited and, in 1957, the Northern California-Nevada District granted Harrison a ministerial license.

This injustice was compounded by irony: Harrison’s godmother, Cornelia Jones Robertson, was ordained by the Assemblies of God in 1923, before the national policy was instituted. She was one of the earliest African-American females ordained by the Assemblies of God.

Harrison quickly rose in prominence in evangelical circles. He joined the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in 1960 and traveled the world as an evangelist. In 1962, he became the catalyst for overturning the policy against ordaining African-Americans. Harrison, in his new role as an ordained Assemblies of God minister, became a visible proponent of working across the racial divides.

In his 1967 General Council sermon, Harrison challenged the notion that racial problems could be cured by political and economic means alone. “Only Christ and His gospel can solve it,” he asserted. Having traveled around the world, Harrison also observed that American segregation provided a poor witness of the Christian faith.

Harrison noted that people “tend to confuse Biblical Christianity with American culture.” He explained that while American culture was influenced by Christianity, “the Church exists as a minority” in America. Harrison furthermore offered a blunt assessment of American morality: “America is long on money and materialism but terribly short on values that count.”

Harrison’s interracial vision was grounded in the Great Commission. His sermon was suffused with admonitions that everyone has the responsibility to accept and serve Christ. He encouraged readers to have “total commitment” to bring “the whole gospel for the whole man and the whole world.” According to Harrison, Christians should think in terms of the “human race,” rather than in terms of black or white. Harrison called for Christians to lead a “counter-revolution,” which he described as “a new era of Bible-based, soul-convicting, sin-blasting evangelism.” This counter-revolution, according to Harrison, “began centuries ago at Pentecost.”

Read Bob Harrison’s article, “These Things Shall Be,” on pages 2-3 of the October 22, 1967, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Refugee Problem,” by Robert C. Cunningham

• “Getting God’s Help in These Times,” by H. C. Noah

• “The Triumph of the King,” by W. Glenn West

And many more!

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org


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Emanuel Williams interview

Cornelius Jones RobertsonWhen Emanuel Williams read the 2008 edition of Assemblies of God Heritage magazine, he could not believe who he saw peering back at him from the pages of history — Cornelia Jones Robertson, his childhood pastor! Mother Jones was one of the featured pioneers in the article, “Known and Yet Unknown: Women of Color and the Assemblies of God,” written by Jessica Faye Carter.

Emanuel contacted me (I serve as the magazine’s editor and as the director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center) to express his appreciation for the article. I was thrilled to find someone who was a close friend of not only Mother Jones, but also of her “grandson,” Bob Harrison (Harrison was a close family friend of Mother Jones, though not related to her by blood).

Mother Jones became, in 1923, one of the earliest African-Americans ordained by the Assemblies of God. Harrison is best-known for breaking the color barrier in the Assemblies of God in 1962, when General Superintendent Thomas F. Zimmerman invited him to become an ordained minister, thus overturning a policy, instituted in 1939, denying ordination to African-Americans.

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