For two United States senators, a solution to America’s racial division could start simply with a meal in a home.
Sens. James Lankford of Oklahoma and Tim Scott of South Carolina are continuing to promote the Solution Sunday Initiative, a now 15-month effort to encourage Americans to invite a family of another race into their homes to eat and to visit.
Screen capture from CNN
U.S. Sens. James Lankford and Tim Scott continue to promote the Solution Sunday initiative, an effort to encourage Americans to invite a family of another race into their homes to eat and to visit.
They launched the initiative in 2016 after the police shooting deaths of African American men in Baton Rouge, La., and St. Paul, Minn. – as well as the killings of police officers in Baton Rouge and Dallas – again brought racial tension to the forefront. The Republican senators are promoting the effort with a new video in the wake of the August demonstrations in Charlottesville, Va., that resulted in violence between white nationalists and counter-protesters.
“The birth of [Solution Sunday] for me was hearing once again people on the news saying we needed to have a national conversation on race,” Lankford said in the video produced by his office and released Oct. 10.
“I think sometimes we think we need to get elected officials and media people and famous people around a big table and have a camera around and to say they’re going to talk about race and the whole country is going to go follow. That’s not how it ever happens.
“I tell folks all the time, ‘I think the only way that we’ll get all the issues on the table is if we get all of our feet under the same table,’” said Lankford, a Southern Baptist.
Scott said on the video, “We typically grow up in pools that are homogenous – that everyone that’s in your circle of influence looks like you, talks like you, has similar values, come[s] from similar backgrounds with similar experiences. So your natural inclination is to stay within your comfort zone. What this asks is for those folks who come from that homogenous pool to take a step out of it and venture into someone else’s territory and learn as much as you possibly can about someone else.
“I’d say lean in. Don’t just dip your toe into it,” said Scott, the Senate’s only African American Republican.
Christian leaders have applauded the initiative.
“I’m thankful for this very practical idea from two leaders I greatly respect,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We have massive issues of systemic injustice to address in this country, and one of the obstacles is this time of polarization. We cannot love others, and bear one another’s burdens, if we remain in silos away from one another.
“I pray this initiative helps to chip away at the walls between Americans,” Moore told Baptist Press in written comments.
In the video, Barry Black – the Senate’s first African American chaplain – said his first thought was: “It may not be the solution, but it certainly is the beginning of a solution.”
Solution Sunday is a simple idea that began with a question he asked people he met in Washington, in Oklahoma, on an airplane or wherever he was, Lankford said.
“Have you ever had another family of another race at your home for dinner?” Lankford said in recalling the question. “Most people smiled at me and said, ‘I know friends of another race,’ or ‘I work with people of another race.’ But I had almost no one, maybe one or two, in over a couple of weeks that answered, ‘Yes,’ to the simple question: ‘Has your family every invited a family of another race to your home for a meal?’”
Lankford approached Scott about joining him to lead the effort.
“Honestly, my first thought was: ‘Wow. Here’s a white guy from Oklahoma who cares enough to address an incredibly important issue to America that is oftentimes seen simply through a lens that happens to be black, and the reality of it is this is an American issue that could lead to an American crisis,’” Scott said.
“And so when he asked me to partner with him on a solution, I thought that was just a wonderful opportunity for me to live out the biblical worldview,” he said.
Both senators have heard reports of real progress from people who have accepted the Solution Sunday challenge.
With near consistency, people who try Solution Sunday for the first time “are surprisingly excited, and they are almost blown away by how easy it was and how much they have in common and how much they shared in laughter and jokes,” Scott said. “And they both shied away from the tougher issues, but then they through time became more comfortable with each other … and were able to dive into deeper topics that were really important.”
Lankford said, “What I hear from people all the time is: ‘I just had something that was a barrier in my life that I didn’t realize was there. We broke through it, and it’s freeing.’”
Some people participate in Solution Sunday with the recognition “this has always been a problem” for them and they are going to “try to be able to understand someone else,” Lankford said. “And they develop friendships, and those friendships last.
“For those of us that are Christians, it’s not about tolerance,” he said. “It’s about love, and you can’t love people at a distance. You’ve got to get to know people to be able to actually engage in those issues.”
The video is available at youtube.com/watch?v=MGQJ558s-f4.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)