As protests against police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men continue from coast to coast, religious leaders are spearheading church-based gatherings to find ways to bridge America’s racial divide.
On the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Baptists from different traditions convened by former President Jimmy Carter met in Atlanta, as Christians from a range of perspectives gathered in Dallas in a meeting hosted by Bishop T.D. Jakes. In March, a racially diverse group of Southern Baptists will meet in Nashville, Tenn.
Religion News Service asked leaders from each of the gatherings to talk about the root causes of the nation’s racial divide and possible next steps. Here are their responses:
FORMER PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER
It is good for all of us to remember that the glorious achievements of Martin Luther King, Andy Young and other civil rights heroes have not been permanent and always need to be in the forefront of our national priorities. Equal rights must be a continuing concern and commitment. Religious groups and communities can be an avenue for better communication and understanding.
The recent dramatic reminders in Ferguson, New York City, and other places of biased treatment of African-Americans by some police forces should be treated as positive opportunities for improvement, as an incentive for more equitable hiring policies and careful training in law enforcement. Proposals for cameras to be worn by police officers and for a more reasonable approach to tanks, personnel carriers, and other wartime armaments being channeled into local police forces are worthy corrective steps to be considered.
We must also appreciate the very difficult challenges being faced every day by police, firefighters, and other people who protect our lives and safety.
RUSSELL MOORE, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
We have seen with renewed clarity over the last few months that a “post-racial” America is a myth. That idea is especially contradicted by a criminal justice system in which young African-American men are, by almost any measure, disproportionately more likely to be arrested, sentenced, or even killed when compared to white peers. So what should we do? We cannot shrug reality off with apathy. Working toward justice in this arena will mean consciences that are sensitive to the problem. But how can we get there when white people do not face the same experiences as do black people?
The answer for the Body of Christ starts with a robust doctrine of the church lived out in local congregations under the lordship of Christ. In the church we belong to one another, we are a part of one body. We ought to be reminded that in a racially divided world, the church of Jesus Christ ought not simply to advocate for racial reconciliation; we ought to embody it. We ought to speak to the structures of society about principles of morality and righteousness, but we also ought to model those principles in our congregations. The quest for racial reconciliation comes not just through proclamation but through demonstration.
BISHOP HARRY JACKSON, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md.
The race problem in America is complicated by the fact that America envisions herself as a meritocracy. This means that gifting, skill and personal ability will allow any American to climb out of poverty into the promised land of opportunity. Unfortunately, class, poverty, and race obscure minority Americans’ vision of the American dream. In our divided society, only the church can model unity. We must lead the way in erasing the disparities in U.S. education, our criminal justice system, and in urban economic development.
We, as a church, must own the fact that we have been divided along racial lines. We’re nearly 400 years in this great land. We must recognize that Hollywood is more reconciled than the church. The NBA, NFL, and other professional sports leagues are more reconciled than the church. In both arenas, if you can sell tickets you will be compensated. Our closed-door sessions focused on developing strategies and hearing from pioneer ministries that are leading the way in healing the racial divide in our land.
We plan to showcase their best practices on our website, while believing God to multiply the number and impact of churches and ministries. In addition, we also want to increase the diversity seen by the unbelieving world. In conclusion, we believe that the Lord has entrusted the church in this generation with an opportunity to preach the gospel to the world against the backdrop of the darkness of this present age.