On Tuesday, a group of 25 Texas Baptist pastors met online for a discussion on race. Attendees were part of the Pastors Common, a diverse gathering of pastors and leaders in their 20s and 30s from across Texas who meet together for practical, communal and theological development.
During the one-hour conversation, three African American leaders shared their personal experiences, responded to questions and provided resources for church leaders on how to address racism and seek biblical justice. Panelists included Matt Thigpen, next generation pastor at First Baptist Richardson; Kinglsey Demakpor, associate student pastor at the Heights Baptist Church in Richardson; and Nigel Robinson, marketing consultant for Texas Baptists and member of Concord Church in Dallas.
At the beginning of the discussion, Texas Baptists Director of MAP and Urban Missions David Miranda read from Amos 5:21-24 and shared with participants about his desire to seek justice during tumultuous days in the country. He thanked the panelists for their willingness to share personal stories and perspectives and said, “the only way we benefit from diversity is if we listen to one another.”
Robinson shared how members of his family had personally been involved in integration efforts in Texas during the 1960s and about his family friend, Rev. Peter Johnson, who worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He described experiences where he knew others had judged him based on his skin color before ever speaking a word to him. Waking up black in America every day is a challenge, Robinson said, but he desires to honor the legacy of his family and continue to work toward justice and unity.
“I’m a black man and there is a high chance others may have a preconceived notion of who I am,” Robinson said. “My foundation, the building block, the cornerstone is forever Jesus. He is the only one with the power to transform hearts. But it doesn’t stop there. I have to be an example to do my best to live a life that looks like Jesus.”
Demakpor, an immigrant from Ghana, detailed a personal incident from his teenage years. He and a friend were surrounded by nine police cars while searching for a set of lost keys. They were questioned late into the night, even though they had done nothing wrong. Demakpor encouraged listeners to seek justice and advocate that all are treated equally, as they are in the sight of God.
“When you read the Gospels, you see Jesus,” Demakpor said. “We know that when Jesus comes, he pursues the Jews, his people. Halfway through his ministry, he starts reaching out to Gentiles, and you begin to grasp the idea that the kingdom of God isn’t exclusively for the Jews.
The ministry of God is the inclusion of people from all tribes, nations and languages into the people of God.
“Jesus was righteously indignant about justice ... If he was here walking on earth, he would be fighting for the marginalized and outcasts and those who are silenced,” Demakpor said.
David Foster, youth minister at Shiloh Terrace Baptist Church in Dallas, asked panelists what it means when churches remain silent on racism and oppression.
Thigpen responded by comparing it to a situation where his wife was made uncomfortable by a comment from another man.
“If I had said nothing or done nothing, what would my wife have felt?” he asked. “She wouldn’t have felt heard, seen, protected or safe. We would still be married, but she would not have felt loved. For me, when the church is silent, what I feel is that you don’t see me or hear me. I don’t feel safe or comfortable.”
He went on to describe Jesus’ message to love, seek and save the lost. For the church to remain silent would be antithetical to Jesus, Thigpen explained. Churches should acknowledge and openly speak about the pain African Americans are feeling.
“You can grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice,” he said.
Thigpen outlined five things that church leaders could do to promote racial reconciliation within the church, including hiring staff who are good, godly people; hiring leaders who are a reflection of the community, promoting diversity; developing a Kingdom theology; embracing and understanding justice and righteousness; and developing a discipleship plan which reflects a Kingdom theology.
“This conversation was possible because of the relationships that we have built over the last few months, and I see it as a first step,” Miranda said. “We need to pray, listen and then seek pragmatic steps we can take toward unity.”
The Pastors Common is facilitated by Texas Baptists Director of MAP and Urban Missions David Miranda and a team of 10 leaders. Over the last two months, during a time of social distancing, the Pastors Common has met twice a week through Zoom calls to dialogue with pastors and Christian leaders. Speakers they have heard from include: David Hardage, Texas Baptists executive director; Jeff Warren, lead pastor of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas; Jared Alcantara, associate professor of preaching at Truett Seminary; and Nebiye Kelile, pastor of Pathway Church in Dallas.
To learn more about the Pastors Common, contact David Miranda at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (214) 828-5297.