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Pastors strive for unity and racial reconciliation

August 20th, 2018 / By: Tammi Reed Ledbetter | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

Pastors strive for unity and racial reconciliation

Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church Pastor Terry Turner speaks to pastors gathered at the “We Are One Symposium” on historic roots of racism that affect the unity of Christians today. Photo by Gary Ledbetter

GRAPEVINE Thirty pastors and staff of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention continued a conversation around unity and racial reconciliation Aug. 8 at the “We Are One Symposium.”  

SBTC personal evangelism and fellowships associate Richard Taylor addressed the need to wrestle with the racial reconciliation divide, seeing the discussion as a launching point for having a conversation about unity.

“We are in a highly polarized and contentious environment in our communities and even in our churches,” Taylor said. To move down the path, Taylor said Southern Baptists need to discuss what it means to be unified and reconciled.

Kevin Smith, executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware, said Southern Baptists and Bible-believing Christians in America contend for biblical truth, “but haven’t put the same energy into contending for biblical unity.” He pointed to the first 15 chapters of Acts as a model of Jews and Gentiles coming together as followers of Christ, united as the family of God.

“There’s something wrong or dysfunctional or sinful when family members don’t look out for one another or are insensitive or indifferent to the pain of others,” he added, recalling the “one another” references cited in the New Testament to bear one another’s burdens, forgive and prefer one another.

“We’ve done horribly with the one anothers because we’ve not appropriately and biblically considered the ‘we.’ If you are just some whatever that ‘other’ is, I can dismiss you in a way that I can’t if I’m seeing you as my brother or sister,” Smith explained. 

Economic, ethnic, cultural or ideological sub-identities often override the definitive identity that believers have with one another in Christ. “Your commitment to Jesus Christ should be able to check every other commitment in your life.” 

Using the analogy of a family, Smith spoke of the hurt of “going through something and you think nobody in the family cares.” In the broader evangelical life, he said, “Indifference and insensitivity is killing us.”

Terry Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church, gave a historical snapshot of the perspective of African Americans in the development of the United States. “When we look at how slavery has impacted our country and racism got started, it is something we have to understand has always existed from the beginning of America,” he said. 

“Most theologians accepted that all black people are cursed, and they deserve slavery and mistreatment,” Turner said, referring to “the erroneous theology that Ham was cursed in Gen. 9:20-27.”

Turner recalled that even the respected preacher Jonathan Edwards warned that if the massive slave population was freed, “they would cut our throats; they would endanger the peace” and “be so idle that they would not provide themselves with necessities,” but rather, “live by thievery and plundering.” 

Citing research from his book, God’s Amazing Grace: Reconciling Four Centuries of African American Marriages and Families, Turner spoke of the psychological impact of slavery that continues to affect the generations that followed. 

“What happens in one generation affects the next generation,” Turner said. “When you find what we’re dealing with in our society, a lot of it has to do with post traumatic slave syndrome and how we’re still affected,” he explained, citing studies by sociologists and psychologists. “We now have a cultural trauma that we deal with much like the Jews have the Holocaust.”

Turner said, “God sees everything through his amazing grace, yet there is a trickle-down effect of racism in our country,” describing 246 years of slavery, Jim Crow laws that relegated African-Americans to an inferior legal status, 150 years of white supremacy movements beginning with the Ku Klux Klan and social risk factors that create racial inequalities.

“The Look Like Heaven movement started by [SBTC Executive Director] Jim Richards and myself with the intention of bringing together all of our races to love one another, care for one another and make a difference in this convention has spread across the whole Southern Baptist Convention,” Turner said. Challenging the group to embrace the unity of racial reconciliation, he concluded, “I believe we’re getting better, but we’ve got a long way to go.”

Pastor Dennis Watson of Celebration Church in New Orleans introduced a brainstorming session by addressing how Christians in America remain divided racially, having forgotten where they’ve come from spiritually and historically. 

“Professing Christians have omitted the contributions of people of color in our nation,” he said, adding that “pastors in churches have resisted speaking against blatant racism and inequality” and forgotten that “the Lord has saved us so that we can together change the world and be his witnesses.” 

Watson called on believers to “intentionally befriend people across cultural and ethnic lines” and “to ask about the other person’s perspective about the economy, politics and racial issues going on in our world and listen without interrupting.”

Gathered around tables, the pastors and SBTC staff shared ideas on strengthening unity across racial lines. One pastor said, “We have to be intentional in how we confront our own biases toward each other and begin to dismantle the stereotypes constructed over years and see that we are all one family.”

In times past believers have failed to discuss issues in a calm manner without becoming frustrated or angry, another participant said. “I treasure all of my relationships with my various brothers of different ethnic makeups, but if we can’t talk about the subject rationally without letting anger set in or allowing ourselves to get caught up in shallowness so we don’t adequately express what we really feel, then we miss the whole point.”

Discussion that “drives us to action to dismantle some of the systemic things we see in our communities and churches” was encouraged by another pastor. “True repentance doesn’t happen until action is employed,” he said.

In praying for the group, Richards confessed “that we as a nation have sinned against you, not just against those of different skin colors or ethnicities or languages—we’ve sinned against you for not being like Jesus.” He asked God to challenge those present “not just with our minds, but to love our neighbor as ourselves” and to walk together with arms linked in ministry.