In the 1930’s, America was in the Jim Crow era. Blacks and whites were heavily segregated. Jesse Owens was a black track star at Ohio State University (OSU), but he couldn’t even live on campus. The racism, however, didn’t stop him from excelling. He became a star at OSU, setting several world records. While his popularity was growing, across the Atlantic a new German leader had gained power, and he was determined to show the superiority of the Aryan race. He considered the 1936 Olympics in Berlin to be the perfect stage to display German superiority. Or so Adolf Hitler thought. Owens had other plans. He won his first gold medal in the 100-meter dash, equaling the world and Olympic records of 10.3 seconds. It was customary for the leader of the hosting country to present the gold medal, but Hitler scoffed, “Do you really think I will allow myself to be photographed shaking hands with a Negro?” In the next event, the broad jump, German favorite Carl “Luz” Long and Owens battled back and forth, taking turns one-upping one another, until Owens finally won setting an Olympic record of 26 feet. Luz gained so much respect for Owens during the battle that after Owens won, Luz hugged him and the two took the victory lap together arm-in-arm. This act of sportsmanship showed true equality among the races at a time when the watching world desperately needed to understand the equal value of all humanity. Owens won two more gold medals and the Germans even cheered his name.
What can Southern Baptists and all Americans learn from Jesse Owens and Luz Long? The answer is that we must embrace one another as equals regardless what our peers may think. Jesse Owens did not care what his friends thought in that moment about him embracing a Nazi and Luz Long did not care what his furor thought in that moment about him embracing a black man. When one race respectfully reaches across to embrace another in friendship, we must return the friendship as equals, especially to those of the household of faith.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal. 3:28-29).
May Christians learn from Owens and Long. May we love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39), and may we affirm the equality of all races, realizing that Christ died for all and that all those who repent and believe are sons and daughters of Abraham, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
Ibid. It must be noted that Hitler was a stubborn fool. He did not learn from Luz’s act of equality. Hitler even forbade two Jewish runners from running in the 4×100 relay. Owens took one of their places and helped the United States win a gold medal. It was his fourth at the 1936 Olympic Games.