As promised in the last blog post, I am continuing a series about white church leaders who are listening to the issues faced by our racially diverse membership. This series will likely consist of at least three articles, and perhaps more. As with the first one in the series, some backstory information will help us understand the needs more fully and show us how to listen and then act upon listening. These lessons are not just about getting more in touch with our members of color about racial issues; they fit other important subjects as well. We will discuss how leaders can really hear what their members are thinking in different areas, even if they are not saying it initially. We must give them an opportunity to speak, within an atmosphere that encourages it.
My introduction to the need to address racial issues more directly was provided by white church leaders in my home church, the DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth) church. Our congregation is one of 20 in our family of churches that has more than 1,000 members, and is increasingly gaining the attention of other church leaders. We are far from perfect, but our leaders are doing many things right, and this shows up in the joy level of the membership and in our growth. Thus, when the Dallas leadership has something to share, many other leaders who are in a learning mode are listening. I pray that this is the case with what I am about to share.
On July 7, 2016, Micah Johnson ambushed a group of police officers during a Black Lives Matter rally in Dallas. Five officers were killed and nine others were wounded, along with two civilians. Johnson, an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran, was angry about police shootings of black men. He said that he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. A series of events took place in the church that led our congregational evangelist, Todd Assad, to send out an email to the congregation.
That in turn led to another of our region leaders, Mark Mancini, inviting me to speak about racial issues in our Southwest region. Both Todd and Derik Vett, our other main evangelists, then had me deliver the same basic lesson to their regions. This ball kept rolling until my involvement in such discussions became my passion and ultimately led to the beginning of this blog. I am so grateful that our ministry staff and elders are fully on board with Todd’s very astute comment in his email letter about the effects of the atmosphere in society upon our churches: “This atmosphere can’t help but affect those of us in the church.” AMEN to that!
In rereading Todd’s initial email, I am impressed with his desire to both hear and act. I will continue to share in this article and those following exactly how Todd and our other leaders have continued to pursue ways to help all of us understand the underlying issues faced by our membership and to work on improving our interracial relationships. I am hereby requesting that leaders in other congregations (plus any members) please write me to share what they have done, and I will in turn share about those efforts in this blog. We all can help each other to help all of our church members, those of color and those like me who are white. With that introduction, let’s hear from Todd.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
For many of us, the past week has been filled with deep emotions as a number of significant events have occurred both here in Dallas and throughout our country including Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. From killings of African American men to the retaliation shooting of police officers in our own backyard, these actions have created an environment of fear, outrage and distrust in our nation. Words cannot adequately express the feelings so many disciples from various backgrounds are experiencing. Even as I write this, reports are coming in from Nice, France where a terrorist killed 84 people and left 50 more fighting for their lives. Hatred in any form is a heinous sin. These actions have added to an environment of fear, outrage and distrust in our nation. This atmosphere can’t help but affect those of us in the church.
This past Sunday, while Patty and I were in St Louis, a brother who is a Dallas Police officer shared during the collection of contribution for the NW and SW regions. This gave the appearance of the church planning a quick response to the shootings of the officers in Dallas, but neglected to respond to the other shootings. That was not the case. The brother had been asked to share two weeks prior to the shootings. His sharing was an outpouring of his emotions because he personally knew some of the officers who died and his wife, also a Dallas police officer, was called in to work that night in the aftermath.
However, I would like to use this opportunity to bring to the forefront how some of these issues are impacting our church members so that we can have discussions to strengthen our unity. I do wonder if this was from the Spirit to bring racial tensions in our church to the forefront so we can discuss them. First, I want to apologize for insensitivity in the past in regard to these issues. A clear example occurred the week after the terrible shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. A young, white man killed nine African Americans at a church Bible study. Two sisters, who at one time lived in that area, expressed in a very humble way, their frustration and hurt because of the lack of prayer for this tragedy. At the time, I did not fully understand their pain, and probably still don’t, but I’m grateful that God has given me opportunities to grow in my sensitivity to the pain others feel.
Over the past few weeks, lives were lost in Minneapolis, Baton Rouge and Dallas; loved ones were brutally separated from their families. As our black brothers and sisters grieve and fear for their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, our brothers and sisters on the Dallas Police force also grieve the loss of their fellow officers and fear for their own lives. No matter our background, we must find a way to grieve together and carry one another’s burdens.
Galatians 6:2 (NIV84)
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
While I have not experienced overt discrimination because of the color of my skin; I must strive to grasp the issues that affect my brothers and sisters and to fathom the emotional pain. As African Americans have died, this has added to the despair of many in the face of a systematic atmosphere of racism. It is imperative that all of us attempt to understand and show the compassion of Christ so that our brothers and sisters will never again have to feel alone.
1 Corinthians 12:26–27 (ESV)
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
Recently a brother emailed his thoughts in a very constructive and helpful way, “The struggles of being black in America are nothing new; and we are used to living in a world in which those struggles are marginalized, mocked and doubted. So in this we learn to adapt, from naming our children to styling our hair or going to work and school, we do so cautiously, deciding what to do with our blackness. I won’t claim that for everyone this is a conscious burden, yet it still is a burden that if neglected can mean career, social and even physical death. Nonetheless; in the world these are “black issues”, and we all develop different mechanisms to be reconciled as Americans despite not being full partners in the ideals.”
I am very grateful to this brother for expressing his deep feelings, but indignant that this is the world in which he lives. I am proud that he is my brother. We are trying to navigate these deep and complex issues in a way that God will find pleasing. Given all the toxic opinions on social media and the volatile political situation in our country, it would be easy to let the world shape our views. Our prayer is that God will show us how to love so that the church can truly be a light to a hurting world.
Next week, the elders and senior staff will meet to discuss how the DFW Church can address the cultural needs of our wonderfully diverse church. This diversity is a gift from God to reach out to all nations, including those here in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. If you have thoughts on how to handle these issues, please feel free to contact an elder or a staff member with your ideas. A few brothers and sisters have already done that and their input has been invaluable. Please join with us in prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide us in all his wisdom.
1 Peter 1:22 (ESV)
22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
I am so proud of Todd and our other leaders, white and non-white, who are not only in tune with the realities involved, but desiring to become more in tune and to help all of us under their leadership to do the same. We are only a few days past the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. As a white person, I am extremely alarmed to know that such radical, publicly expressed racism exists in our country and extremely saddened by my increasing understanding of the systemic racism that is less public, but yet is the very root of racism in all of its forms.
I can only imagine what my black brothers and sisters must be feeling right now. I believe that God has had quite enough of the denial in far too many of our churches, a denial that this is a significant enough problem and need to address it head-on. Please listen to the leaders of a congregation that is already considered a good model in many other areas. Please let it become an example that leads you to find ways to address these pressing issues that we can no longer afford to ignore in any of our congregations. More to follow soon…