TIME faith

Multi-Ethnic Churches Lament America’s Racial Injustice

Ferguson church rally
Rev. Al Sharpton speaks during a rally for justice for Michael Brown at Greater Grace Church in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 17, 2014. Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT/Sipa

The American church must do better in providing spiritual leadership toward a healing response.

Throughout this past week the attention of our nation has been rightly set on Ferguson, Missouri. Tragedy and tensions in this small town have served to highlight troubling trends elsewhere, too, in the United States, in what remains for us a very long and sad history of racial tension and strife. As followers of Jesus and evangelical pastors of multi-ethnic and economically diverse churches we lament and mourn the death of yet another unarmed citizen, in this case the death a young black man. Furthermore, we lament the fact that our country, and our world, remains deeply plagued by racial and systemic injustice.

At its core the scourge of racism presents a spiritual crisis with real life and death repercussions. And while government and educational programs, together with the efforts of countless individuals, groups and agencies, have long-sought to eliminate prejudice and the disparaging consequences of systemic racism still deeply embedded within our society, it is long-past time to recognize that systemic racism cannot be overcome apart from the establishment of local churches which intentionally and joyfully reflect the love of God for all people beyond the distinctions of this world that so often and otherwise divide. For not only does God require of governments and institutions the work of justice, we, too, the local church, the bride of Christ, have been ordained by God to this task. With this in mind, the American Church can and must do better in providing spiritual leadership toward a healing response. Indeed, we call immediately for it to do so.

As pastors representing diverse men and women who walk, work, and worship together as one, we today repent on behalf of the American Church for in no small measure contributing to the perpetuation of racism in society due to acceptance of systemic segregation within our own ranks. The fact that 86.3% of local churches throughout this country fail to have at least 20% diversity in their attending membership is one reason the American Church has been rendered impotent in attempting to speak on what is, perhaps, the most critical issue of our time: lingering, systemic, racial injustice in a supposedly post-racial society. More than this we believe the credibility of our message, the very Gospel, itself, is at stake, otherwise undermined when proclaimed from segregated pulpits and pews in an increasingly diverse and cynical society. It is for this reason that we lift our collective heart and voice to point the way forward, together. For when tensions, conflicts, and perennial misunderstandings along the lines of race and class persist silence is no longer an option.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is so extraordinary that it should inform and transform every aspect of daily life. Stated another way, we talk to and in our churches about race and racism because we believe in our message; the Gospel, itself. Through our daily experience in leading Gospel-centered, multi-ethnic, and economically diverse communities of faith, around the country, we have seen first-hand the hope of reconciliation, justice, and peace play out in our communities. Here and now we want to spread the message of our hope beyond the walls of our own churches so that it might soon transform the American Church, and society, as well, for the greater good and glory of God.

Having so labored, collectively, for more than sixty years we are not naive to think that the transformation of an otherwise homogeneous American Church into a multi-ethnic one will be easy. Still, our experience has proven that prayer, patience, and persistence, coupled with intentionality, can bring about significant progress in pursuit of cross-cultural relationships and competence that can bring us to a place of genuine love for others, for our neighbor, for those of varying racial or ethnic backgrounds.

Our call as ministers of reconciliation is to prophetically and pastorally call for Christ-like responses. We believe that this must be filled with two irrefutable elements of the Gospel; grace and truth. We want to encourage every church and pastor, indeed society, as well, to embrace justice, mercy, humility, and begin to move forward, together, regardless of race or class distinctions. Indeed our faith in Jesus unites our hearts towards a grace and truth-filled path.

Here are several ways we have addressed the current pain and tension within our own congregations:

  1. We have not ignored it. We have spoken openly and freely about it with our people.
  2. We have prayed for others: for peace, justice, and yes, forgiveness and truth.
  3. We have listened empathetically to one another and to the stories of others.
  4. We have continued to serve one another and our diverse communities.
  5. We have committed to engage our churches and our communities in a way that transforms, heals, and leads to a more just, humane, and loving life together.

Believing we have been invested with hope and called to lead beyond rhetoric to results for the glory of God, we will continue to respond to the question once raised by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Where do we go from here; chaos or community?” We will continue to pursue the dream of building healthy multi-ethnic churches for the sake of the Gospel. We will continue to call upon pastors everywhere to join us on the journey. And we will continue to lament systemic racism in the local church and in society, as well, until one day they do.

Signed:

Dr. Gabriel Salguero, Lead Pastor, The Lamb’s Church, New York, NY

Dr. J. Mark DeYmaz, Lead Pastor, Mosaic Church of Central Arkansas, Little Rock, AR

Rev. Le Que Vu-Heidkamp, Lead Pastor, Mercy Vineyard Church, Minneapolis, MN

Rev. Jeanette Salguero, Lead Pastor, The Lamb’s Church, New York, NY

Rev. Bryan Loritts, Lead Pastor, Fellowship Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee

Dr. David Anderson, Lead Pastor, Bridgeway Community Church Columbia, MD

Rev. Eugene Cho, Lead Pastor, Quest Church, Seattle, WA

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