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Christians pray during Affirming the Faith 2022 in Oklahoma City.
Photo by Audrey Jackson

‘God, where are you?’ Pandemic, war and race discussed as Affirming the Faith resumes

The annual, in-person gathering returned after two turbulent years.

OKLAHOMA CITY — For hundreds of Christians across Oklahoma and the surrounding states, Affirming the Faith was the last thing they did before the pandemic.

The 2020 event — a weekend of singing, preaching, teaching and fellowship — happened just days before the coronavirus, then only beginning to go by the name COVID-19, shut down businesses and moved many churches to an online-only format.

Christians sing during Affirming the Faith 2022.

Christians sing during the Friday evening session at Affirming the Faith 2022.

Now, after two years of virus variants and more than 6 million deaths worldwide, more than 700 saints reassembled in the auditorium of the North MacArthur Church of Christ — amid an escalating conflict in Ukraine and growing tensions with nuclear-armed Russia.

Perhaps that’s why Myron Bruce opted to lead all four verses of well-known spiritual hymns; “Farther Along,” “Send the Light,” “We Shall See the King Someday” and “When Peace, Like a River.”

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“So many times, when tough stuff happens … we don’t know how it can get better,” Bruce, preaching minister for the Southwest Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, told the congregation that gathered for Affirming the Faith 2022. “But we can say, ‘It is well with my soul.’”

He even led a verse of the 1873 Horatio Gates Spafford hymn that doesn’t appear in the hymnals in the church’s pews:

“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come, let this blest assurance control: that Christ has regarded my helpless estate, and has shed his own blood for my soul.”

“Surviving the Tough Stuff” was the theme of the two-day event, sponsored by 25 Churches of Christ. Phillip Johnson, pulpit minister for the Westside Church of Christ in Norman, Okla., delivered the Friday evening sermon with a less-than-optimistic title: “These Present Sufferings.”

Phillip Johnson speaks during a Friday night session at Affirming the Faith.

Phillip Johnson speaks during a Friday night session at Affirming the Faith.

“God, where are you?” It’s a question believers have asked in times of struggle — especially in the past two years, Johnson said. And “in the middle of a war, maybe you have that question.”

In response, Johnson asked those assembled in the pews and those watching online to “the very thing that God asked Adam and Eve to do, that God asked Noah to do, the same request of you that God made of Abraham and Moses and Joshua … what he asked Gideon to do … the very same thing that Esther and David and Daniel and Jesus did.

“I’m going to ask you to trust God. Tonight we’re the Israelites, right here on the banks of the Red Sea,” he said.

Although God’s people faced a fearsome enemy in Pharaoh, “God made this powerful leader seem really small.”

Should churches talk about race?

After Johnson’s sermon, some of the attendees attended a session titled “Grace and Race: A Christian Discussion on Racial Reconciliation,” moderated by Jeremie Beller, congregational minister for the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City and Opinions Editor for The Christian Chronicle.

In the midst of the pandemic, a series of police shootings of Black men sparked racial tensions across the country. Now, as the pandemic subsides and international peril dominates the news, it’s easy for churches to succumb to the temptation to ignore issues of race in favor of “just preaching the gospel,” Beller said as he asked three panelists for their thoughts.

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Harold Redd speaks at Affirming the Faith.

Harold Redd speaks at Affirming the Faith.

When it comes to issues of race, “people aren’t convinced that we have better answers than the world,” said Harold Redd, a longtime minister who currently preaches for two Churches of Christ in Memphis, Tenn. “God reconciled the whole world to himself in the church. What binds us is sin and what saves us is Jesus. … Embedded and inherent in that gospel is the breaking down of barriers.”

The church should be a pillar of truth for its community, said Evan Todachine, but “our views shouldn’t be political, but biblical.”

Todachine, a Navajo, is assistant minister for the Salt River Church of Christ in Mesa, Ariz. The congregation has become a family for American Indian believers, many of whom grew up on reservations and struggled to find a place to worship when they moved into the Phoenix metro.

Alan Martin talks about race at Affirming the Faith.

Some churches have annual, multi-racial gatherings, after which members say, “See you next year,” said Alan Martin, who has taught at Oklahoma Christian University and served as a minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston. But if the church is one body with many parts, as stated in 1 Corinthians 12, “my hand cannot say to my foot, ‘See you next year!'”

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Some churches have made progress, said Alan Martin, a minister, educator and counselor from the Dallas area. Predominantly White and predominantly Black congregations meet for times of fellowship, sometimes annually or slightly more often. But that kind of togetherness does not take the place of real relationships — crossing barriers of race and language by inviting those different from ourselves into our homes, our Bible studies and our lives, said Martin, who grew up in South Africa under the systematic segregation of apartheid.

“Culture was ahead of the church” in desegregation, Martin said. “It’s time for us to take some risks.”

The panelists pointed to the example of Peter, who was called on by God to break cultural barriers when, in Acts 10, he was shown a vision of animals, clean and unclean by Jewish standards, and told to “kill and eat.” The vision repeated twice more.

“God had to shock him to his core,” Martin said of Peter, who soon after the vision was called to the home of Cornelius, a Roman centurion and one of the first Gentile converts to Christianity.

Evan Todachine speaks during Affirming the Faith.

Evan Todachine speaks during Affirming the Faith.

Despite the repeated vision and Cornelius’ conversion, Peter slipped back into his old habits and ate only with a group of Jews who segregated themselves from Gentile believers. In Galatians 2, the apostle Paul recounts his confrontation with Peter about the incident.

“If it can happen to the apostle Peter, who personally heard from God, it can happen to us,” Martin said.

In the same way, churches and individual Christians will experience setbacks as they try to become bridge builders across lines of ethnicity and language, Todachine said.

“We won’t be perfect,” he added, “but we try to be better.”

Find links to videos from additional classes at the Affirming the Faith website.

Filed under: Affirming the Faith church and covid covid and faith Crisis in Ukraine God and the Pandemic National pandemic Post-Pandemic Church Top Stories

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