GRAND PRAIRIE – More than 175 Texas Baptists gathered Aug. 26 to pursue racial healing in the wake of a turbulent year of clashes between white, black, and Hispanic Americans.
“The Lord placed this event on my heart last spring because I felt like the Church had not done enough to be a part of the solution,” said Kathryn Freeman, director of public policy for the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission.
The event at First Baptist Church of Grand Prairie sought to equip church leaders and lay members to engage in racial reconciliation in their communities.
“The thing about racial reconciliation is that it’s a process. One conversation or one act of standing up for justice or one act of friendship won't solve the problem overnight,” said Freeman, “But, it can be a step in turning the ship.”
Freeman’s hope for the conference was that it be the first in a series of fruitful encounters where Christians celebrate their God-given diversity, while bringing truth and reconciliation where previously there has been misunderstanding and conflict.
Being bridge builders in community
Tasha Morrison, founder and president of Be the Bridge, detailed the steps toward reconciliation that are needed today. She encouraged attendees to seek reconciliation centered around the foundation of Jesus.
“The message of Jesus unites us across racial lines. The most thriving communities are racially diverse and racially integrated,” Morrison said. “We must see God at work in every culture, because He is.”
Just as Heaven is not segregated, Christians should embrace ethnicities and cultures on earth, Morrison said. For some, it may mean having dinner with a person from a different ethnicity. For others, it could involve meeting with neighbors and praying for God to move in their community.
Morrison called attendees to be bridge builders in their communities by praying for opportunities, examining individual’s hearts through self-introspection, stepping out of comfort zones and becoming good students and listeners.
Be the Bridge is devoted to displaying God’s Glory by inspiring the Church to have a distinctive and transformative response to racial division.
Called to the supernatural
Delvin Atchison, director of Texas Baptists’ Great Commission Team, addressed the American Christian identity, and the difficulty of separating the two roles within the life of the individual.
“The great challenge for most of us is we were Americans before we were Christians…but, we must remember, this world is not our home,” Atchison said.
Drawing from Acts 10, Atchison called attendees to acknowledge several things which accompany racial reconciliation including personal reluctance, public resistance, a powerful response and positive results through the power of God.
A panel discussion, led by Freeman, also addressed the work of the church in racial reconciliation.
Scott Venable, global impact pastor for Northwood Church in Keller, noted worshipping and living together with different ethnicities is important but not always natural.
“Cultural barriers get in the way,” Venable said. “We are naturally drawn to people just like us. But, when did Jesus call us to do things that were natural? We are called to the supernatural.”
For attendee Chris Culley, a 22-year-old from Plymouth Park Baptist Church in Irving, the message resonated deeply.
“As I’ve become aware of racial injustice and systemic racism, I’ve felt a passion God has given me to make progress to pursue racial reconciliation in the church and the community. I want to start conversations for the church to see this as a gospel issue,” Culley said.
Emily Harden, of Ash Creek Baptist Church in Azle, learned about the dynamics of becoming a multi-ethnic church.
“While multi-ethnic is a great ideal to strive for, in practice it is much more complex than just hiring a staff member of another race and expecting people to assimilate to our existing church culture,” Harden said.
The event closed Saturday afternoon with a time of prayer and reflection. Attendees were encouraged to join small groups and share how they would apply what they learned in their communities. Prayer cards were laid at the church altar reflecting the desire for God to move in the lives of those in attendance, and to bring about unity for the sake of the Gospel.
“One 'tribe',” she continued, “cannot represent the fullness of the image of God. If I am not pursuing and experiencing diverse relationships, I am missing out!”