On Friday, November 6, a group of Christians from multiple ethnic backgrounds gathered together to worship God and discuss racial issues in America. In the audience, African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Caucasians listened as panelists grappled with issues involving race and how Christians should respond to these issues. All Things for All Men 922 (ATTAM922) hosted the event at Wake Forest Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
The Race in America panel included Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jerome Gay, pastor of Vision Church; Dwayne Milioni; pastor of Open Door Church; Walter Strickland, special advisor to the president for diversity at Southeastern; and Michael Lawson, director of campus security at Southeastern and auxiliary police officer of Wake Forest Police Department.
Southeastern’s Coordinator of Kingdom Diversity Maliek Blade explained the importance of discussing race issues in multi-ethnic settings like the race panel. “So often when issues of race arise we talk about them in homogenous circles of people who think and look like us,” Blade said. “This can cause us in the body of Christ to have blind spots and biases.”
“Coming together with a diverse group allows us to hear the hearts of people who are different from us and thereafter as believers we can bear their burdens,” Blade added.
Blade served as moderator for the event, which included two rounds of discussion—first with all panelists and then a pastor’s only panel. Listeners were welcomed to tweet or text in questions for the panelists to answer.
When asked why the body of Christ has such different opinions on racial issues, particularly the recent issues involving police, Strickland commented, “It’s important to note that we just get a short snippet [in the media] and we’re left to fill in the blanks.”
Strickland said that most of the time we fill in those blanks with our own experience, whether positive or negative. “It is important for us to be leery of our tendencies,” Strickland said. “We need to know our tendencies and be listening to our brothers and sisters from other experiences.”
Gay brought up the distinctions between racism, racial ignorance, and racial insensitivity, saying, “We need to think about other aspects before we immediately go to racism.”
Gay warned, however, that even with limited information, as in the case with many police brutality incidents, there is still something to mourn. “What African Americans want to see is that there is still some outrage for how [the people] were treated,” he said.
Panelists also discussed the “Black Lives Matter” campaign that has swept the media calling attention to racial discrimination. “I think it is helpful to raise awareness about the plight of African Americans,” said Akin. “I do believe black lives matter, but in the kingdom of God all lives matter.”
Gay gave some statistics that the campaign has brought to public attention. “What black lives matter is doing is bringing attention to these numbers,” he said. “Something’s wrong with these statistics. A disproportionate number of black men are murdered and are we saying that all of them are just? Grace doesn’t mean that we ignore sin.”
Lawson spoke from a police perspective. “The negative side of the campaign is some who turn that around to blame all police,” Lawson cautioned. “It’s causing people to only see law enforcement as a problem.”
Lawson also reminded the panel that law enforcement has been integrated for decades. “I see law enforcement doing things that even until recently the church has not done,” he said. “When I am serving with another officer, I don’t care what color they are, they’re my brothers.”
The panel also discussed race relations in institutions, specifically in the area of theological education. Strickland talked about his own academic journey as an African-American in a predominantly white Christian college. “It did something to me that I didn’t know was happening,” he explained. “Everyone I knew who was an intellectual authority was white. It made me think that anyone of color had nothing to say.”
Strickland said this was one of the main reasons he became a professor at Southeastern. “I didn’t want people to come to a context like this that has so much to offer and think that [African-Americans] have nothing to say,” Strickland said.
Commenting on if white students were willing to study under minorities, Akin said, “You can’t just hope that things come to pass. You have to be intentional about them…We are not nearly where we need to be. We need to try to keep pushing the agenda and cultivate a [multi-ethnic] world [at Southeastern].”
As the discussion moved into the pastor’s-only panel, Gay and Milioni answered questions about their congregations and pastoral issues.
When asked why evangelicals are often vocal about issues such as human trafficking but not racial injustice, Milioni said, “I think we don’t understand racial injustice the way we understand the other issues. That’s why it’s helpful for us to have these discussions. I do feel that social justice is a big deal, even among young white evangelicals.”
Both pastors expressed the desire for their churches to better represent multiple ethnicities. “What’s not allowing us to realize what we could be is preference,” Gay said. “Black people don’t want to sit under a white preacher. White people don’t want to sit under a black preacher. We must try to communicate trans-culturally.”
To wrap up the discussions, the two pastors gave each other words of encouragement. “I’m grateful that I’m still able to pastor at a time when I’m seeing the mystery of the gospel…come to fruition in America,” Milioni said to Gay. “As Christians there is a new culture. We can figure out how to put our biases away to inform this one new man. I think you have enough boldness and passion to make this work.”
Gay spoke of the mutual edification that happens when Christians come together. “Neither of us is the answer, Christ is,” Gay said. “The gospel is not color blind, it’s color engaging.”
ATTAM922 is a ministry partner of Southeastern that brings people together for multi-ethnic experiences. Members come from Southeastern and around the triangle area. B&H Publishing also sponsored the event by donating 100 copies of “One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology” by Jarvis Williams.
Watch a video of this event here.