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INSIDE STORY: Breaking down color barriers in the church

TAMPA, Fla. — A while back, a church member named Airdean Russell sent a really nice e-mail to The Christian Chronicle.
Airdean, a Chronicle subscriber who lives in Bartow, Fla., asked us in the kindest way possible why we never covered the national Crusade for Christ.
She noted that the last crusade, in Dallas in 2005, had resulted in more than 400 baptisms. Yet, the Chronicle had failed even to mention it.
The more complicated answer was that the crusade involves primarily black churches, and our sources are not as extensive or well-developed as they should be among that segment of Churches of Christ.
But we want to do better. We want to be a newspaper defined not by color but by a common faith in Jesus Christ.
So — with the blessing and encouragement of Chronicle editor Lynn McMillon — I attended the recent 2007 Crusade for Christ in Tampa and reported on it firsthand. Starting on Page 1, we have given extensive coverage to the crusade in this issue.
Better still, I got to meet Airdean and her husband, Charles. Both were as cordial and friendly in person as in her e-mail — just what you’d expect from children of God.
Everyone I met at the crusade welcomed my 8-year-old daughter, Kendall, and me with open arms. Kendall bought a yellow crusade T-shirt and almost blended in with the other children at the “crochet for Christ,” as she called it.
Yet, I couldn’t help but feel like the elephant in the room — the white elephant.
More than 2,500 Christian brothers and sisters filled a Tampa Convention Center ballroom for a nightly gospel meeting with Jack Evans, president of Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, Texas.
If there were any other whites — besides Kendall and me — in the crowd the night I was there, I didn’t see them. I spotted a few Hispanics, but unfortunately, they were convention center employees, not folks attending the meeting.
To my relief, John Dansby, the crusade’s business administrator, brought up the racial issue before I got around to it.
“I’m one that still believes that blacks and whites can work together as one,” said Dansby, minister of the Russell Road church in Shreveport, La. “And together, we can take the country for the Lord.”
He said he hoped white Christians reading about the crusade in the Chronicle would be encouraged to help with the next one, set for 2009 in Kansas City, Mo.
Some mostly white congregations, including the Saturn Road church in Garland, Texas, supported the crusade in Dallas two years ago, he said. (Saturn Road also organized the North Texas Praise and Unity Worship, which drew together 4,500 to 5,500 church members of all colors a few months ago. See this link for a report on that effort.)
But the one and only Crusade for Christ where blacks and whites truly came together occurred in Detroit in 1991, Dansby said.
Asked why progress on the racial front has been so slow, he said he didn’t know.
But he added, “As you are well aware, the crusade is a fairly conservative effort. We still preach the one church, the one baptism — hear, believe, repent, confess and be baptized.
“And many of the Caucasian churches — I don’t know how to word it — but they don’t like that kind of preaching anymore.”
That’s one possible explanation. But I know of many white churches where the sermons that Evans gave in Tampa would be well-received.
My gut tells me there’s more to this divide than the theological spectrum.
Perhaps we — white and black brethren alike — simply have not made enough of an effort to connect with each other. Surely there are two or three — or a half-dozen — white congregations that would want to join in the next crusade.
And it would be truly marvelous if Hispanic church members offered their assistance, too. In Tampa, the lack of Spanish speakers certainly hurt the effort to share Christ in some neighborhoods.
Earl Wilson, a member of the Gateway church in Homestead, Fla., said he knocked just as many white doors in Tampa as black. But the people behind those doors couldn’t help but notice that all the campaigners were black.
“It makes a difference,” he said.
Isn’t it time we showed the world that God’s people are not one color, or even two, but all colors?

Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Inside Story

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