I was asked recently to write an article for a special insert of my local newspaper for Black History Month. I was asked to write my thoughts about the church and race. The article was printed, but I can’t find it online, so I have reprinted it here. I would be very interested in your thoughts.
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to serve on a panel about racial relationships in our city. The first questioned asked was, “On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being bad and 10 being good, where would you place race relations in Franklin?” No one wanted to answer that question. After a long pause, everyone looked to me, and so I said, “I would give it a 6.” I then went on to explain how, while our city has a persona of being beautiful, just below the surface are serious problems. Gentrification is destroying historically black neighborhoods. Our city is growing by leaps and bounds. Yet, the number of African-Americans is declining significantly. Furthermore, a high number of African-Americans in our city live below the poverty line, and a high number of our jail population are people of color. The fact is, even though the traditionally black communities are all within walking distance of downtown, very few African-Americans visit downtown. Last but not least, most of our churches are still segregated. While things might be better than in 1989, when I moved to Franklin from Nashville, we still have a lot of work to do.
I have been involved in racial reconciliation in Franklin since the 1990s. Over the past 10 years, on an almost daily basis, if have been in the community walking, working, and talking with people about this very issue. As a pastor, I believe the primary responsibility of reconciliation lies at the feet of the church. Yet most churches are hesitant to wade to deeply in the waters of race. Doing so gets muddy quickly. As a white pastor, leading a congregation that is close to 50/50 black/white, I know first-hand the difficulties of crossing racial barriers. I also know the joys of seeing reconciliation take place. I believe all of us—red, yellow, black, or white—need to be more intentional about integrating our churches.
But as churches, it’s not enough to simply talk about reconciliation, we have to walk it out by getting out of our comfort zones and speaking out against things like gentrification. We have to take a stand and demand that our leaders address affordable housing, healthcare, education, crime prevention, immigration protection, substance abuse, homelessness, justice, and equality. We have to admit there are systemic issues of race in our city. Our churches’—black or white or Hispanic or mixed—main programs should not be children and youth and bigger buildings. Rather, it should be preaching “good news to the poor” and proclaiming “freedom for the prisoners” and offering “recovery of sight for the blind” and releasing “the oppressed” (Luke 4:18). I believe one of the main jobs of churches is to be the conscience of the community. We need fewer small group meetings and more social activism. We need fewer serving Saturdays and more bridge building and deeper relationships. All of us, who claim to follow Jesus, have the responsibility to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).