Word Tabernacle Church in Rocky Mount, N.C., is hosting an event Sept. 16 called the Courageous Conversations Conference, which will feature plenary sessions, workshops and a panel discussion on issues of race and community outreach.
Keynote speakers for the conference are Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; John M. Perkins, civil rights leader and founder of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation; and Noel Castellanos, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association.
Registration for the one-day event ends Sept. 10. Cost is $10 for standard registration, and free for attendees from churches of less than 100 in membership. Visit theimpactcenterconferences.net for more information or to sign up.
The Biblical Recorder asked speakers about the topics they intend to address at the event. See the questions and corresponding answers below.
Q: How do you help Christians see the importance of racial unity?
A: In order to help Christians understand the significance of racial unity, we have to help them understand the gospel and we have to help them understand the church. Racial unity matters because the gospel matters. And through the gospel, Jesus is saving for himself a people and bringing them together to form a new family. This new family – made up of persons from every race, culture, and background – is visible on earth as the church, and to show that we care about racial unity, we must preach the gospel and be the church. But far beyond simple platitudes, this means that we must bear each other’s burdens, it means we must care about justice, and we must stand against the scourge of racism that threatens God’s church.
Q: What responsibilities, in your opinion, do white Christians bear in reconciliation efforts?
A: I believe that racial unity and racial justice represent a hill on which to die. I know some of my brothers and sisters might feel that issues like this are not one of their primary ministry responsibilities, but honestly I think that is a mistake. What Christians need to understand is that when we talk about racial justice, we are talking about a family issue.
Jesus not only died for people of every race, he saves people of every race and calls them his own.
White Christians should feel compelled to stand up for their brothers and sisters of other ethnicities because that is what they are, our brothers and sisters. If the gospel means anything to us, we must not be absent from these efforts.
Q: Will you offer a brief preview of your plenary talk at the conference?
A: The fundamental things I want to emphasize in my talk are, first, the idea of restoring broken relationships – those that have been distorted by our views of people as less than human, such as white supremacy. Second, how are we going to achieve that? You have to do this work in close proximity to the hurt and pain people are experiencing. That’s rooted in this idea that God leaves heaven and becomes a human being in the person of Jesus, and that model becomes informative to us. Real change comes when we enter into the pain of the people that we are seeking to serve and love. Third, I want to talk about economic issues and disenfranchised communities, which are usually communities of color. Until there is reinvestment in neighborhoods, I don’t think you are going to see many of the dynamics we’re facing change.
Q: How is America’s growing Latino population changing discussions about racial unity?
A: The reality is that, for a Latino to hear racial issues are just about blacks and whites, it’s not going to resonate as true. As we’ve seen, President Donald Trump went after a Mexican-born judge – just because he’s brown, his citizenship or his right to belong in this country was questioned. We’re still seeing a way of thinking that says whites are superior. All the Charlottesville stuff has made that extremely clear, and Latinos are saying, “You know what? We know that because we’re not white, we’re facing similar kinds of attitudes now.” It’s a consciousness-raising that’s happening.
Q: Is “colorblindness” a helpful way for Christians to think about racial reconciliation?
A: I think colorblindness is not helpful. One is saying, “I’m looking over your color. I’m pretending that I don’t see color.” I don’t think it’s healthy, because you miss the essence of God’s beautiful creation; but I understand what you’re trying to say. I would not be harsh with an individual. I would explain that all color has beauty and should be affirmed. Black is beautiful. White is beautiful. To affirm, is to love. We need to develop a language of love, a language of acceptance. We, as Christians in particular, are commanded to love.
Q: Should churches treat racial division and poverty as separate issues in their approach to ministry?
A: We could look at them separately, but try to have discussions collectively. One of our problems has been that we took justice out of the gospel, we took racial reconciliation out of the gospel. Many of these are multifaceted issues, and we’re going to have to learn how to talk multifaceted. Reconciliation should not be a side issue in the church. It is not an elective course. The gospel “commands” us to love one another. Reconciliation is THE ISSUE!