The following post was written by Rob Daniels, Executive Pastor of Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook, Illinois and one of the thought leaders behind the creation of the Race and Restoration Summit.
Interestingly, while the communities (and places like my home church, Deer Creek Christian Church) where I was raised were very racially and economically diverse, it wasn’t until my decision to attend a Restoration movement, Christian college that I found myself immersed in a virtually mono-ethnic setting.
One incident that in many ways confirms this observation occurred during my first year on campus. It was during an all student gathering that featured a special guest speaker who had come to the college to tell us of the work he was doing internationally. The speaker worked for a non-governmental organization (NGO) that provided emergency disaster relief in the form of food, water, clothing etc. At one point, while sitting on the front row next to my friend Bill (one of the only other students of color on campus) and watching this gentleman’s slide presentation, he showed a picture of someone holding some sort of nut. It turned out to be a Brazil nut, however the presenter never skipped a beat as these two young black men sat in on the presentation and referred to them as, “N-word Toes”. He went on to be completely unapologetic for using this derogatory racial slur because, “that’s what everybody called them… it was no big deal”. Bill and I got up and left the presentation only to be scolded later for being rude to our guest and leaving in the middle of his presentation especially after all “he (the racist presenter) had done for the Kingdom”! Never mind that he used the n-word in front of the entire student body while the only two black men in the room sat there as well. Needless to say, while I was a pretty young man at the time, it was made painfully clear to me that something was wrong within the independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ that this could be seen as not necessarily that big of a deal.
In the 30 years since, as I have served in independent Christian Churches from Calgary, Alberta to Indianapolis, Indiana, it is also quite clear that with regard to the issue of race, the Restoration Movement has some unfinished business to attend to. The Restoration Movement, like many other evangelical movements in the United States, was very hesitant to fully engage the issues of racial segregation, integration and civil rights in the mid 20th century. That reluctance is evidenced years later by virtue of the fact that while independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have been some of the fastest growing and most influential churches in various regions of our nation, they do not reflect the rapidly changing demographics of our nation in terms of those who attend those churches and/or those who lead those churches. Some of our most influential leaders have privately and publically commented that our churches must figure out how to intentionally and redemptively reach across the historical ethnic and racial divide that still characterizes our nation and continues to segregate our churches. In the face of this incredible challenge has come a great opportunity.
When I originally spoke with Travis Hurley several months ago, I shared a frustration that while other church movements have had or are in the midst of creating spaces and on-going opportunities where they speak truthfully about the historically difficult topic of race, it didn’t seem that independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ have had much interest in doing the same. I have seen powerful commitments made to national and international church planting, re-doubled efforts to take the gospel across the globe and on-going conversations with shared movement heritage background, acapella Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ. While there have been many who have attempted to have independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ engage in an in-depth discussion regarding race over the last few decades, their voices, calls and recommendations have fallen on mostly deaf (and frankly, resistant) ears. Add to this my experience of having been in the same room at the moment what is known today as The Mosaix Global Network came into existence, I have always hoped, believed and prayed that a group of men and women with a similar purpose would come together among independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. It is quite clear that, irrespective of where you may stand on the political spectrum, seen through the eyes of Christ, our nation’s racial tensions, frustrations and division are a renewed call and an incredible opportunity for Restoration movement churches to engage these issues in a manner that has been previously for whatever reasons, avoided.
My deepest hope is that the Race and Restoration Summit will in fact lay the groundwork for further opportunities in the coming years to substantially engage the subject of race and faith in our churches, in our nation and across the globe. When it comes to the issues of racial strife, animosity and division it is the church that holds the key for healing our national soul. That is what I believed when I left for that Christian college all those years ago and still believe to this day.
The Race and Restoration Summit will be held in the Don DeWelt Prayer Chapel, on the campus of Good News Productions International, as an adjacent event to the Preaching-Teaching Convention at Ozark Christian College, February 22-24, 2016. Register today!
About Rob Daniels
Rob Daniels serves as Executive Pastor of Westbrook Christian Church a growing, vibrant multi-ethnic church in Bolingbrook, Illinois. Having grown up in an ethnically diverse community and having a multi-ethnic family has shaped a unique perspective on issues related to race and ethnicity. In addition, having served on the staff of churches in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Naperville and Carol Stream, Illinois and Indianapolis has provided a wealth of practical insight on leadership issues in the local church.