Tom Skinner, who molded an entire generation of black evangelical leaders, died June 17 at Norfolk (Va.) General Hospital of acute lymphatic leukemia. He was 52.
The author of four books and a much sought-after public speaker, Skinner began his ministry career in the mid-1960s with evangelistic crusades in New York City's Harlem, where he grew up. He had opportunities to speak to and influence countless individuals, groups, and organizations, ranging from members of Congress to the New York Yankees to officials at IBM Corporation. He also served as chaplain for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League.
For the past nine years, through the Tom Skinner Associates Learning Center, Skinner worked with poor inner-city youth in Newark, New Jersey, seeking to mature them spiritually while providing technical expertise toward a professional career.
Unconcerned about winning popularity contests, Skinner offered a persistent critique of the majority culture, including white evangelicals, challenging his listeners to address issues of racial and social injustice. But those who knew him best agree that he was, first and foremost, an evangelist who sought to introduce unbelievers to Christ and to challenge believers to obedience.
Matthew Parker, president of the Institute for Black Family Development, met Skinner 25 years ago. "He took me aside, spent time and money on me, and encouraged me to grow as a leader," Parker says. "He became my mentor. And what he did for me, he did for many others like me."
Black evangelical leaders now active in missions, leadership development, pastoring, and publishing owe a debt to Skinner. "Many people became Christians through Tom's preaching or came to understand our spiritual gifts because of how he challenged us." Parker says. "He also challenged predominantly white mission and parachurch organizations to a greater awareness of the needs of minorities."
Author, ministry leader, and magazine publisher John Perkins says he was influenced more by Skinner than by any other preacher. Perkins credits Skinner for paving the way for him and other black evangelical leaders such as Crawford Loritts, Tony Evans, and Dolphus Weary.
"Those of us who were brought up in the South, in a more oppressive society, were not able to say some of the things that needed to be said," Perkins says. "Tom was different. He felt freer to express himself, to confront white people, because he had a strong sense of personal dignity." Perkins says Skinner opened the door. "After he confronted an audience, people would be glad when someone like me came along, because I seemed moderate in comparison. "Perkins believes that Skinner never felt totally accepted in either the white or the black Christian communities.
Ironically, Perkins maintains that no one has done more to build bridges between black and white evangelicals than Skinner.
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