Road to racial unity starts with baby steps
That’s what some leaders say it will take to improve racial relations in Churches of Christ.
At The Christian Chronicle, we keep hearing about more and more such baby steps — genuine attempts at unity that, let’s pray, could be giant strides toward healing the color barriers that still divide us.
Managing Editor Bobby Ross Jr. asked in a recent column: “Isn’t it time we showed the world that God’s people are not one color, or even two, but all colors?”
Praise God for the dozens of Chronicle readers who responded with a resounding “Yes!”
Praise God for the Chicago area church leaders who — even before that column — were planning a Nov. 11 citywide worship celebration featuring black, Hispanic and white preachers.
Praise God for the white and black sisters at two Nashville, Tenn., churches who — inspired by that column — got together for brunch and a tea.
With 13,000 congregations in the U.S., it would be impossible for the Chronicle to know about all the baby steps nationwide — or to list them if we did. But here are a few such endeavors about which we are aware:
• Reader Tom Yoakum of Storrs, Conn., reports that the annual Northeastern States Men’s Retreat — held each summer in Kent, Conn. — drew an even mix of about 300 black and white brothers in June. “This was not unusual,” he said, as the retreat fosters unity.
• Reader Mary Russell called our attention to West Monroe, La.-based We Care Ministries, a national door-knocking ministry. “Whites, blacks and Hispanics knock doors together for ‘white’ churches, ‘black’ churches and ‘Hispanic’ churches,” Russell wrote in an e-mail.
• David Duncan, minister of the Memorial church in Houston, informs us that his mostly white congregation plans joint Sunday night services with the predominantly black Fifth Ward church in January and February. The Fifth Ward church is the same congregation that recently welcomed members of a closed Hispanic church.
• In Delaware, the predominantly white Cedars church in Wilmington hosted a joint worship and fellowship with the mostly black First State Church in nearby New Castle in July.
• In Little Rock, Ark., the mostly white Pleasant Valley church welcomed church member and civil rights attorney Fred Gray, who is black, to its pulpit on a recent Sunday. “There’s a lot that needs to be done in Churches of Christ to come to grips with how we’ve dropped the ball in the past,” minister Chuck Monan told us. “Our bringing Fred in was at least an attempt to acknowledge that most of the white churches didn’t do a good job in treating people fairly and equally. Bringing someone like Fred in sends a powerful message that today’s a new day and we’re moving forward.”
Elsewhere, there are encouraging models where diversity reigns all the time. At the Florissant, Mo., church, for example, the white-black racial breakdown is 60-40. “It has been a huge blessing to raise our children in such a congregation,” member Carla Payne said.
At the Culver Palms church in Los Angeles, English, Chinese, Spanish and Korean congregations share a building. The English congregation has black, white, Hispanic and Asian members. Everyone gets together occasionally for multilingual worship and an inter- national potluck, member Billie Silvey said.
For all the positive examples, though, it probably would be a mistake to insinuate that significant barriers do not remain.
As Don Payne, who is black but attends a mostly white Houston area congregation, said in an e-mail, “I think there is an assumption on both sides that, if there are no overt acts of discrimination, that everything is OK.”
However, he pointed out: “In most cases, as is the case with my own congregation, there are issues that are just below the surface that really need to be discussed. Race is still an uncomfortable issue for many. But I believe talking about it will improve communication and understanding.”
In Payne’s view, the hardest part is taking the first step.
Thank God for baby steps.