Amazing Grace For Every Race

In the summer of 1973, Dr. Robert Marsh accepted the call as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dothan, Alabama. Early in his tenure, an African American couple and their two children walked the aisle on a Sunday morning to join the church. 

Dr. Marsh welcomed the family into the 3,500-member congregation as he would any new family. But when the morning service ended, a gaggle of deacons approached Marsh to let him know in no uncertain terms that Blacks were not permitted to join First Baptist, according to bylaws written in the early 1960s, buried deep in the church records. 

In the coming weeks, Marsh used the Wednesday Fellowship Meal and Bible Study to explore the theme of racial reconciliation, focusing on Gal. 3:26-29 and 2 Cor. 5:11-21. The month-long study, attended by 150-200 church members, concluded with this sermon, “Amazing Grace for Every Race,” which led in turn to the full acceptance of the Black family from Queens, New York, and the removal of the whites-only paragraph in the church bylaws. 

The sermon marks one of many small acts of individual conscience that brought southern segregation in its extralegal forms to an end. 

Charles Marsh, October 12, 2021