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On topic of race, there’s so much that I don’t know

George Floyd's death has inspired positive dialogue in many Churches of Christ.

When I was in grade school, my mother said my best friend, Tyra, could come over and play.

Mom was surprised, though, when I stepped off the school bus with a Black boy. I never had mentioned my friend’s race; his color didn’t matter to me.

In the years since, my mother has retold this story with pride. Though she had expected my best friend to be White, she and my father raised my brother, sister and me to believe that all of God’s children are created equal.


Related: Protests and prayers


Through the years, I’ve shared how my grandparents brought busloads of Black children to their small White church in the early 1970s. Papa and Grandma did that — despite the outcry from some fellow Christians — because they wanted those boys and girls to learn about Jesus.

In my 15 years with The Christian Chronicle, my colleagues and I have worked hard to increase the diversity of our coverage and feature more Black voices and faces in our pages.

Until just recently, I felt pretty good about my efforts to love and embrace my Black brothers and sisters.

I saw no need to dwell on concepts such as White privilege or systemic racism. In my mind, the civil rights battle had been fought in the 1960s.

But then George Floyd was killed.

I talked to Black Christians about the video of a White police officer pressing his knee against the Black suspect’s neck. I heard the pain in their voices as they recounted Floyd complaining, “I can’t breathe.” I listened as David Watkins III, minister for the Twin City Church of Christ in Texarkana, Texas, described an officer stopping him for speeding.

As a White man, I’d worry about getting a ticket. David Watkins III — not to mention his 7-year-old son in the backseat — had a bigger concern when he saw the flashing lights.

As a White man, I’d worry about getting a ticket.

Watkins — not to mention his 7-year-old son in the backseat — had a bigger concern when he saw the flashing lights.

“The first thing my son said to me is, ‘Daddy, is he going to shoot you?’” Watkins recalled, as I noted in a Chronicle story last month.

For a child to ask such a question, Watkins said, “is all that I need to know about what he knows about being Black in America.”

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last few weeks: There’s just so much I don’t know.

So here’s what I plan to do: Listen. Seek answers in God’s word, not in politicians or cable TV talking heads. Dig deeper and work to understand better.

I’m encouraged by the positive dialogue that Floyd’s tragic death has inspired in numerous Churches of Christ across the nation.

Trey Elliott prays for Tulsa, Okla., Police Chief Wendell Franklin in the midst of protests after the death of George Floyd. The7-year-old made it his mission to pray for every police officer in Tulsa. Franklin, a member of The Park Church of Christ, said of Elliot: “He is that mustard seed planted which yields a tree used by all.” Franklin praised his city’s peaceful protesters. “May God continue to lay a blanket of protection over all Tulsa,” he said in a tweet.

Trey Elliott prays for Tulsa, Okla., Police Chief Wendell Franklin amid protests after the death of George Floyd. The 7-year-old made it his mission to pray for every police officer in Oklahoma’s second-largest city. Franklin, a member of The Park Church of Christ, said of Elliot: “He is that mustard seed planted which yields a tree used by all.”

In my own home congregation — the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma — preaching minister Randy Roper organized a series of Zoom meetings for White and Black members to talk.

“I don’t really have a formal agenda, but I do want to discuss at least two things: (1) your perspective on race, racism, racial prejudice, racial diversity, etc., especially as it pertains to our congregation,” Roper told a group of us in an email, “and (2) ideas for moving from conversation to action in the church. Of course, we may want to have follow-up conversations after this initial one — let’s just wait and see where the Spirit leads us.”

I was blessed, too, to be invited along with Russell Pointer Sr., minister for the predominantly Black Minneapolis Central Church of Christ, to join a Zoom gathering for members of the multiracial Park Forest Church of Christ in Matteson, Ill.

David Alan Brantford, a Park Forest member, put together that discussion as he dealt with his strong emotions after Floyd’s death.


Related: Why the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is so controversial to many Christians


“The Holy Spirit has been with me as I’ve cycled through anger, tears and fears,” Brantford, who is Black, told me in an email as we discussed his push for racial reconciliation.

A jubilant Brantford reported that the first Zoom went so well that a group from the church started meeting weekly to study the Bible and keep talking about the best path forward.

In North Richland Hills, Texas, two members of the Legacy Church of Christ — Nathalie P. Jones, who is Black, and Robert P. Mullen, who is White — have written a book called “Diversity God’s Way” that offers helpful insight.

“A lot of discussions are surrounding historical events and things that happened in the past,” Jones said. “But Bob and I have had some discussions, and we’re largely thinking that if we start from … within our family, within our congregations and within our jobs … we can really impact change for the better as it relates to race.”

Said Mullen: “I think, unfortunately, a lot of our members are hearing from a bunch of sources that are definitely not Christian sources, not those that are going to be consistent with the culture of the Gospel. I really believe … that Jesus’ culture was, as Revelation 7:9 says, people from every tribe, nation, tongue and language.

“All are in the body of Christ.”

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: George Floyd Inside Story National police race and church Race relations racial reconciliation Racial reconciliation and the church Top Stories

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