Race is one of the primary relationship issues in our lifetime and in our daily lives.
Some of us lived during segregation. Some of us remember the first years of integration.
We have personal experiences that have shaped us, bothered us, challenged us, inspired us, changed us and now compel us to lead the way, in whatever ways we can, to help us overcome what Jim Wallis calls “America’s Original Sin.”
To address this reality, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas (CBFAR) launched in January a project titled “Our Stories about Race.”
Pat Griffen, CBFAR’s moderator, and I invited people related to CBFAR to share stories from their experiences about race relations.
The result was 23 writers shared 25 stories from eight women and 15 men, five African-Americans and 18 Anglo Americans, and 12 lay persons and 11 clergy.
Since we offered our stories, deeply disturbing public events related to race relations have occurred, with the latest major event happening in Charlottesville.
It is most important in these times that Christ-followers stand for the equal worth of all persons created in God’s image.
It is most important for us to stand in the spirit of Christ against the evil and sinful nature of prejudice, racism, white supremacy and Nazism, and those who advocate for and embody these anti-Christian philosophies.
It is also most important that our president and our leaders – religious, political, business, educational – speak and act clearly and consistently for the equal worth of all persons and against the evil of both explicit racism and racism in disguise.
Reading these stories, many of them from a more distant past, reinforced for me the truth that prejudice and racism are real and alive.
The series offered inspiring examples of individuals and groups who live courageously, graciously and fiercely in the face of prejudice and racism – specific acts and social systems.
And, there are inspiring examples of individuals and groups who see prejudice and racism, at the time, in action and join with those who are treated unjustly in support and solidarity.
The actions of both of these individuals and groups, sometimes quiet and personal, sometimes bold and public, are powerful witnesses for our day.
In addition to sharing our stories and reflecting on them, I see four ways that we can be engaged in positive race relations efforts:
The first practice is “the presence of showing up,” as Texas Baptist pastor Kyle Childress calls it.
It’s a very significant first step. Begin attending some of the events in your community that include a diverse group. Simply show up, meet the people who are there and listen and learn.
A second practice is to build relationships with individuals and families that naturally develop when one shows up for gatherings that reflect the diversity of one’s community.
These relationships offer opportunities to learn about each others’ life stories, have conversations about daily life experiences and share meals and activities together that create relationships and communities of love, respect, empathy and mutual support.
A third practice is to engage in advocacy for social justice and against prejudice and racism.
You must show up, listen and learn about what life is like in your community for others. You must build relationships with people whose experiences are different from your own. As you do, you will notice specific injustices and can work with others to address and correct them.
A fourth practice is to hold up the ultimate goals of repentance that lead to restitution, reparation and reconciliation.
There is a strong biblical case for this response in both the Old Testament and New Testament. In the Old Testament, the concept is called the Jubilee Year (Leviticus 25).
The New Testament example comes through the story of tax collector Zacchaeus and his encounter with Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).
Statements of apology are insufficient responses.
In the past, our country has resolved to rebuild nations that were destroyed during war. That same commitment should be envisioned toward citizens, groups and communities who have been the subjects of injustice and oppression for generations.
I hope that “Our Stories About Race” helps you and your church to be the presence of Christ on the issues of race relations in our time.
Ray Higgins is executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas. A version of this article first appeared in CBFAR’s e-newsletter. It is used with permission.