One of the last times I cried was during a visit to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. There were reminders of past oppression by white citizens against black citizens of these United States: of murders and lynchings and “white only” and “colored only” segregation. It showed the vast array of discrimination and unjust practices in education, employment, housing, and voting—and those beaten or killed trying to gain those rights. Other visitors, both black and white, reacted similarly to me. And, when I sat on the bus seat made famous by Rosa Parks, I just lost it and sobbed. The tears flowed, so saddened was I by these horrible reflections of cruelty and the continued effects of racism today.
In 1995 Tenth entered a process of racial reconciliation. I teamed up with a core group of black and white members who committed themselves to honest communication with each other. In this Bible School class we discovered that within Tenth’s walls were many who possessed deep-seated prejudices and others who felt pain from prejudices from generations past. In our group, God brought together a woman whose grandfather was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan, a white woman whose only contact with black people was “the help,” a black man whose family passed as white using the “brown bag test,” a white man whose family was involved in the civil rights movement, and others. The goal was to create a “safe” place for black and white Christians to discuss racism, to demolish racist stereotypes, and promote understanding and community.
We began by studying the history of racism in America and used resources including More Than Equals; What White and Black Christians Need to Know About Each Other; Free at Last; The Disease of Racism; Purging Racism from Christianity; and Reconciliation: Our Greatest Challenge, Our Only Hope. We encouraged more cross-cultural relationships to help make Tenth and our homes places for racial reconciliation.
We also hosted monthly breakfasts where people with African, Latin, Asian, and Jewish ancestry helped those in attendance understand the personal and systemic effects of racism and oppression. This dialogue was a place where Christians of diverse ethnicities could share with one another—and even confess their sins to one another and repent.
We wanted to show to Tenth and the world our unity in Christ—that we indeed are one people from many nations with a radical love for all. We were listed among President Clinton’s Promising Practices; National Public Radio did an interview, and World Magazine did, too.
Recent tragic events have brought more attention to race, racism, and justice. Respected Reformed and Evangelical leaders have once again become active and vocal (see www.live.kainos.is and http://vimeo.com/92836726). Tenth also is revisiting its previous ministry—bringing diverse ethnicities together as one—to show the world that we are a reconciled community in Christ.
The late Rev. Tom Skinner once said, “Racial reconciliation is surgery, and surgery is never painless. But the point where we feel pain is the beginning of the surgical process. A doctor can’t do open-heart surgery on you unless you are willing to get onto the operating table, allow him to cut beneath the skin and expose your most sensitive and vital organs to his healing knife. Racial reconciliation is whites and blacks holding on to each other, not letting go, and doing surgery on each other. Reconciliation requires exposing our vital organs to the truth that we speak to each other. But, when we build trust, and stay on the table until the end of the surgery, there is hope for healing in the most delicate and vital places of our racial residue.”
Scripture provides us with the vision for such healing: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). “The love of Christ controls us . . . . From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 16–18).
Reconciliation begins with me. Reconciliation begins with you. Let us, therefore—together—build the bridges of trust, involvement, and hope. Join us on February 14, 9:00 AM–12:00 PM, for the renewal of Tenth’s dialogue on race. Contact David Apple to reserve your place.
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