The friendship of six ministers — three black and three white — served as visible evidence of racial reconciliation at a workshop on the subject July 13.
Four of the ministers spoke at the meeting at Greystone Baptist Church in Raleigh. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s Racial Reconciliation Task Force sponsored the workshop.
The group of ministers began with Willard Bass, director of the Institute for Dismantling Racism and an assistant pastor at Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, and Nathan Parrish, pastor of Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem.
After taking a spiritual foundations course, Bass was convicted about the need to share the spiritual journey with someone. For about a year, he and another African American minister met together.
When the other minister moved, Bass thought about who else might fit that role. Parish came to mind.
“I didn’t limit myself to African American ministers,” Bass said.
Bass and Parrish set aside time each week to have prayer and discuss scripture and other issues. They met together for a few years before two others and later two more joined them.
Bass said he looks forward to the group’s two-hour meetings each Wednesday.
“I’ve seen the scripture opened up in ways I had never thought about,” he said.
Parrish said he realized when he became pastor of Peace Haven about seven years ago that he was racially isolated and that needed to change. He joined The Minister’s Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity, a historically African American group.
Parrish said he now sees issues in a new way. Students at substandard schools are now children of his friends.
“It changes the way you see your community,” he said. “I’ve had to learn to be accountable to people of color.”
Parrish said churches need to do the hard work of racial reconciliation.
“We need to learn a new way,” he said.
Racism goes beyond individual attitudes to institutional systems, Parrish said. That means the issue must be addressed in deeper ways, he said.
Parrish said he once thought of racism as an individual and personal issue involving the use of racial epithets or hostility. While not minimizing those attitudes, he now believes that patterns of racism are an “embedded reality” to the point they are “almost baked into the DNA of the social structure.”
Tim Monroe, director of the Forsyth County Department of Public Health, said health care reflects institutional racism. In an average year, an African American is 30 percent more likely than a white person to die in his county, he said.
African American infants in the United States are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants, Monroe said. The overall infant mortality rate has improved since 1972, but the gap between the races hasn’t changed, he said.
Monroe showed maps from the 1960 census showing an inverse relationship between wealth and the percentage of black population. Then he showed a map from the 2000 census indicating little difference.
Suggestions about how to remedy the situation are often called “social engineering” or “socialism,” Monroe said.
“Let’s set aside the labels and have the debate about what’s best for our community,” he said.
Those attending the workshop saw other evidence that racism still exists.
They watched a video of an ABC-News segment that included a white man and a black man with similar backgrounds and abilities.
The two men interacted separately with employees at stores, car lots, an apartment complex and an employment agency. In every instance, the white man received preferential treatment.
Later at the workshop, Parrish read a passage from Mark 4 that told about Jesus calming a storm while he and the disciples were crossing a lake. He asked those in attendance to talk about impediments to racial reconciliation.
“What is it that we are feeling and facing that we have to confess and get out at some point to get to the other side?” he said.
One participant mentioned the belief that since he wasn’t as racist as his parents that he was OK. Another talked about how some people refer to “my church” rather than God’s church.
Otto Gaither, a black minister who is in the group of six ministers, pointed out that Jesus left some people behind when they got in the boat. The disciples were on board and were prepared to face the storm. Those attending the workshop are similarly prepared to face the issue of racism.
“That’s why you’re here today,” he said.
Gaither, an associate minister at Dellabrook Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem said white ministers should become friends with black ministers in their community.
“That one relationship with one person can grow to be more,” he said. “In this case, the change will have to start at the top because you have the power. Your people need to see you in different circumstances than they did yesterday.”
As the workshop was winding down, Parrish asked participants what gives them hope.
A teenage girl at the workshop said she was glad to see older people there who were concerned about racism. Another participant mentioned evidence of races coming together in schools.
Jack Glasgow, pastor of Zebulon Baptist Church, told about an eight-year partnership between his mostly white congregation and the predominantly black Zebulon First Baptist Church. The two churches collaborate each year on Operation Inasmuch, a one-day community missions blitz.
The workshop included assurance from the leaders that all discussion was confidential. After the meeting Glasgow agreed to talk generally about the partnership.
“There has been incredibly open and honest dialogue, especially after about three years, that brought trust to a new level,” he said.