I had the privilege this week of participating in the Abilene Racial Unity Leadership Summit. From Monday, June 1st through Wednesday, June 3rd, a diverse mix of racial reconciliation thought leaders within the Churches of Christ gathered at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, to continue a dialogue and formulate actions steps toward racial reconciliation in the Body of Christ.
An outgrowth of the Freedom in Christ Conferences started in 2011, this particular summit was developed as part of the one year sabbatical project of Abilene Christian University professor Dr. Jerry Taylor.
“We are a loose alliance of people, congregations and religious institutions primarily related to, though not exclusive to, Churches of Christ,” Dr. Taylor says. “It started as my sabbatical project that has evolved into something with a life of its own.”
The vision of the summit: To be like Jesus Christ, transformed by the Holy Spirit with no confidence in the flesh, but anchored in a contemplative community. We look forward to the day God heals the church, the body of Christ, from the sin of racism. Our desire is to join Him in that healing.
From the outset, program director Don McLaughlin said, “This is a learning group. There will be some conversation. There will be some education. There is no sense in coming in with our toolboxes locked.”
And so, for three days, we were challenged by presentations like “The Art of Scapegoating” (David Fleer), “Round Midnight: A
Prophetic Response to Social Disorder” (Ray Carr), “The Intersection of Church, State, and Race Relations” (Royce Money), “Healing the Soul Wound” (Sara Blakeslee), “Racism as a Science” (Alisha Winn), “Developing the Vocabulary for Racial Unity” (David & Arlene Kasselman), “Beyond Nonviolence: Peacekeepers and Peacemakers” (Tyrone Talbert) and several more.
Given so many recent events highlighting unjust treatment of African-Americans by our nation’s police, and given the refusal of so many of my white evangelical friends to acknowledge a problem, perhaps the most powerful presentation for me was that of Barron Jones and Booker Gatson: “The Unlawful Arrest of an African-American Pastor.”
Jones, with Gatson, recounts his own personal testimony about being pulled over, arrested, and jailed for a DWI. Did I mention that Jones hasn’t had a drop of alcohol in his entire life? Below are two YouTube videos in which Jones tells his story:
A visit to Jones’ Facebook page will also show you convincing answers to the typical objections people might raise who are determined to find fault on Jones’ part in this incident.
The end result – where Jones had to pay $5000 in legal fees to clear his name – led to a powerful summary statement on Jones’ part. “Think about this,” Jones said. “The police can say, ‘I smelled alcohol,’ and round us all up. Those who were in fact drinking get a record. Those who weren’t drinking get a $5ooo bill.”
Then he added, “Can you understand why black people run? If we resist, they shoot us. If we don’t resist, they tax us.”
Gatson closed out the session by asking those of us in the audience if we all hoped this kind of thing would change. When he received a resounding yes from us, he quoted Augustine. ”Hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage.” And he closed by saying, “If this doesn’t make you angry and cause you to act, something is wrong.”
Jones’ story certainly made me angry. What about you? And how can we act with courage?
And how does such a topic relate to racial unity? It comes back to genuine, committed, meaningful, rooted relationships across cultural and ethnic lines. If you are in the majority culture, you don’t have these rooted relationships, and this testimony doesn’t bother you, it is likely your privilege is showing and your perspective has blind spots only genuine empathy could remedy.
“We need those in the majority culture to stand with us – stand with your power, your influence and your money,” Jones says. “You cannot stand with us and NOT bring your resources with you to stand! It’s not enough to just shake your head and say, ‘That’s a shame.’ There are bonafide injustices that are taking place. It’s a fact. And we need y’all’s help to put a stop to it.”
Jones and Gatson co-pastor Liberty View Church of Christ, a multi-ethnic church plant in San Antonio’s low income area. If you would like to give a gift to support their ministry, CLICK HERE.
Sharing of your resources like this is just one way to stand together. Purusing intentional relationships across racial and socioeconomic lines is another way. And the more we stand together, the more powerful our testimony as the Body of Christ will become.
“The goal is racial unity between believers in spirit and truth,” says Dr. Taylor. “We invite all that have a heart for peace to join us in this work of God, reconciling the world unto Himself.”
For Visible Unity,
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