Colbert (“Bert”) Scott Cartwright’s biography appears in the introduction to his July 1959 sermon in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the following Race Relations Sunday sermon on February 12, 1961, Cartwright uses an anecdote from his father’s childhood to illustrate a theological lesson in race relations. Near the close of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Christ intones, “Whoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” That judgment extends easily to Little Rock’s race relations: “we white persons have got ourselves into a position of saying ‘You fool’ to members of the Negro race. When you boil our practices of racial discrimination and segregation down to their essence, we white people are saying very emphatically to Negro people, ‘We are superior and you are inferior.’ We are saying to the colored race, ‘You fool!’” Why the harsh judgment of Jesus? Cartwright specifies two reasons: first, to continually emphasize someone’s inferiority is to maim him—mentally, morally and physically; second, the attitude is perhaps more destructive to the person who holds it; it “maims and cripples” his soul. Cartwright closes by noting that Christ’s judgment is followed by His command to leave the church until we are reconciled with our brother—and we “don’t have forever to work this problem out.”
Pulaski Heights Christian Church, Little Rock, Arkansas
February 12, 1961
One day, when my father was a child, he was playing with one of the neighbor boys, and as it frequently happens, a misunderstanding arose between the boys. The boys had done something that my father did not like, and my father with anger cried out, “You fool!” Somewhat to his amazement his grandmother, who had been watching the boys, grabbed him and took him into the parlor, opened up the family Bible and read to him where Jesus said, “Whoever shall say, ‘Thou fool,’ shall be in danger of hell fire.”
In relating this incident, my father has said that the reading of this terrible judgment scared the living daylights out of him. He could feel the temperature of the room getting decidedly warmer already. From that time on, so far as he was concerned, to call a person a fool was one of life’s greatest sins.
Today the word “fool” is a common enough one and there are not many of us who have any qualms of conscience when we use it. Why was it that Jesus spoke so harshly about a person’s saying to someone, “You fool!”
Jesus makes this statement in the portion of the Sermon on the Mount in which he reinterprets the traditional Jewish laws. He says: “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill: and whoever
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Publication information: Book title: Rhetoric, Religion and the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1965. Contributors: Davis W. Houck - Editor, David E. Dixon - Editor. Publisher: Baylor University Press. Place of publication: Waco, TX. Publication year: 2006. Page number: 408.
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