By Dan Crain, REMERGE Pastor and Connector, and also co-leader with the One Race Movement Southeast Pastor’s group with Pastor Arthur Breland of Woodland Hills Community Church.
I wanted to record my thoughts from this weekend while they’re still fresh. This was for me personally, a significant step for the body of Christ of what I’ve been learning, praying for, reading about and dreaming for twelve years since Pastor Reggie Smith had me read Divided by Faith while in Seminary.
Thanks to Josh and Hazen of the One Race Movement for facilitating such an amazing day of worship, prayer, teaching and repentance around systemic racism on the top of the mountain, which was used by white supremacists to subjugate and perpetuate the system of whiteness for over forty years. In 1915, a Methodist Pastor burned a cross on top of the mountain to reignite the KKK in that area. They had free reign of the park until the 60’s.
These are my personal reflections from this weekend;
Reflection one: Saturday was about Jesus’ heart for His church to be one. I heard Jesus’ prayer in John 17, “that they may be one”, repeated many times during the day. Every pastor and ministry leader that I know at this day loves and knows the risen Christ and wants others to know and worship him. Dr. John Perkins talked about intimacy with God as the primary driver towards racial reconciliation. Christ is in the reconciler. Reconcilation is on Christ’s heart and for His body to be one, and as a result of this, the world will know that he is God by our love for one another.
Reflection two: It was such an honor and joy to stand with John Perkins, an African-American Pastor and the pioneer of the Christian Community Development Association whose 88 years young and has been fighting for racial reconciliation his whole life. He was almost beat to death by a racist white police officer in the 60’s. A short film was done about it here. Dr. Perkins helped develop the three “R’s” of CCDA; Relocation, Reconciliation and Redistribution in low income communities. What Dr. Perkins said to Pastors and Millennials on top of Stone Mountain had the sense of Jesus addressing the multitudes two thousand years ago. He said, “You have fulfilled my dream. This is what I’ve been hoping and praying for.” What Dr. Perkins shared with us on the top of Stone Mountain needs to be watched and re-watched. It was such an amazing speech. The Facebook video can be watched here:
Read anything and everything that Dr. Perkins has written.
Reflection three: It was such a joy to watch the body of Christ be together around this one very important issue, repenting of and confronting systemic racism. There were Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Pentecostals, non-denominational, and many other followers of Jesus there. So many people connected to be able to work together to begin to dismantle this system of white supremacy. I am not a big fan of large scale, corporate worship and prayer events that have a tendency towards being emotionally driven, but I am quickly realizing from my co-leader Pastor Arthur Breland, the importance of being together worshipping, praying and truly leaning into the spirit. In one such meeting, Arthur leaned into me and said that he sensed the Spirit say to me that I needed to repent to a young brother that was bi-racial for the racism he’s experienced from white men. I followed his leadership and the leading of the Holy Spirit and it was an amazing time of naming what had happened to this young man as a result of white supremacy. This is the beauty of dignified interdependent relationships within the body of Christ from Dignity Serves. Everyone has something to give within the body and this was on full display at One Race Stone Mountain. Reformed folks need Pentecostals and Pentecostals need Reformed folks.
Reflection four: At the end of the day, Bishop Flynn Johnson shared about the need to “walk out what was proclaimed.” Pastor Flynn – Walk it out
This point cannot be emphasized enough. There have been other large scale events that have tried to deal with systemic racism within the body of Christ. Promise Keepers did this in the 90s. Divided by Faith speaks to this, “Gentlemen,” the Promise Keeper speaker bellowed from the podium to a crowd of 60,000 largely evangelical men, “we have grieved our brothers and sisters of color. We have ignored their pain and isolation. We have allowed false divisions to separate us. We must reconcile our differences, and come together in the name of the Almighty God! Turn now to a brother of a different race, confess your sins and the sins of your fathers, and pledge to unite!” All across the expansive domed stadium, small groups formed around men of color. A great murmur of confession rose and reverberated off the stadium top, further amplifying the sounds. Soon, weeping could heard, first only in pockets, then spreading like an uncontrollable wave, until the entire crowd was shedding tears of lament. “What we have witnessed here, men,” the podium speaker said once the sounds began quieting down, “is the power of God’s unity. You have tasted it. Now pursue it with a passion! Commit to forming a friendship with a brother of a different race. Be yokefellows, carry each other’s burdens, and demonstrated true reconciliation.” Nothing substantively changed within the body of Christ in the 90’s.
When our pastors group in the southeast started to meet, Pastor Willie Clinksales, an older African-American pastor and evangelists that’s seen it all and done it all said in our first meeting, “You realize we were doing this back in the 80’s and nothing changed then either.” There’s s system of white supremacy that has been put in place in the history of our country and still plagues the church. It was a joy to stand with Latasha Morrison, which wrote the Be the Bridge Curriculum. This content deals with confronting systemic racism head on with the gospel and practical ways to walk it out. Saturday was very important, but it’s just the beginning.
Reflection five: This builds on reflection four and something that came out of our Be the Bridge group earlier in the year around the important of having a “million more conversations” to understand the complexities of white supremacy and institutional racism. The reality of this system of whiteness is so interwoven in our culture and even in our own hearts that one event or training is not going to end racism. It’s something that needs to be constantly looked at, understand and repented of daily. In Divided by Faith by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith they say this about racialization; “It understand that racial practices that reproduce racial division in the contemporary United States “1) are increasingly covert, 2) are embedded in normal operation of institutions, 3) avoid direct racial terminology, and 4) are invisible to most Whites.”
It’s so important to educate oneself around this topic. Read Joining Lives by Dr. Andy Odle. Take a Dignity Serves training. Immerse yourself in literature written by leaders of color. Proverbs 19:2 says, “Passion without knowledge is not good, how much more will hasty feet miss the way?” It’s really important to educate oneself around racial reconciliation, poverty, homelessness, etc., before jumping in.
There’s a system that needs to be undone that was built on institutional racism. This system affects housing, education, employment, mass incarceration etc. It’s the reason the body of Christ needs to be in the business of affordable housing for those on the margins, understand the dynamics of education in low income communities, advocate and empower people around earning a living wage and know and advocate around mass incarceration.
Arthur and I also had the honor of meeting Will Ford and Matt Locket, which wrote The Dream King. The emphasis of this book and their relationship is to look backwards at institutional racism as a way to move forward. Mat Locket’s family owned Will Ford’s family during slavery. What they shared was deeply powerful and moving.
Reflection six: Earlier in the week I was sitting with an older African-American friend and I asked her what Saturday meant to her. She responded with one simple word, “hope”. For our older friends of color they have been through so much as a result of white supremacy and this event was so important to them as a way of showing that there is hope for the church to get this right. It was such an honor to follow in their footsteps and stand with them and honor them. This friend said to me after the event, “My daily prayer is for God to expand the One Race Movement throughout Georgia and across our nation. The church has to bring about reconciliation and equality.”
Reflection seven: One of the brothers I have the honor of walking with and learning from is Brody. Brody is not a pastor or ministry leader. He works a regular job (as a lawyer!), which is why he describes himself as “just a guy”. If you know Brody, he is more than just a guy. He volunteered with One Race to do whatever they needed the weekend of the event. In the morning I ran into Brody and asked him how he’s feeling about the day. He described in detail that God has finally showed him what he’s called to and he’s overjoyed to be a part of this.
After listening to his passion for Jesus, racial reconciliation and mass incarceration, I shared with him what I learned in seminary about the Narrative Theological Scope of the Scriptures. It’s simply, Creation, Fall, Redemption and Completion. Creation started out well, then the fall took us off course, now through Jesus and the reconciliation all all things we are beginning to get back to what God originally intended as a glimpse of what is to come. I told Brody that his passion for these issues of justice is really just about God’s heart to put everything back to order as a glimpse of what the new heaven and new earth will be.
Reflection eight: Once again back to Dr. John Perkins. We went to hear him preach at Cumberland Community Church and as always, he was amazing. One of the three “R’s” that he helped developed is relocation. The idea behind the Christian Community Development Association’s relocation is that you make a conscious choice to relocate to a distressed community, because as Jesus did in John 1:14, “The word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” Christ moved first, so we move first.
But we don’t move to be the hero of anyone on the margins, we move because God calls us to join Him in His work with the marginalized. We move because our culture worships upward mobility and the call of the gospel is that we moved downward towards those on the margins. Dr. Perkins has given his life to this and discovering the ways in which Jesus is at work with the marginalized. The phrase that we as a community of men from our Be the Bridge group use is learning to be “intentionally organic”. If we are not intentional about where we spend our time, culture and race will divide us. Be intentional about where and who you spend your time with. If you are a leader of a church or ministry, hire people of color and allow them to have power and influence. Don’t let them just be a token for diversity. One of the amazing people I met on Saturday had an emblem on a shirt that said, “Multiculturalism challenges the church.” I couldn’t agree more.
Give leaders of color the opportunity to make changes where they feel Jesus leading them. It’s time for white leaders to give up power and submit to leaders of color. Pastor Matt Mcgue snapped this photo of me listening to Dr. Perkins Sunday morning at Cumberland Community Church. This perfectly describes what I feel Christ has led me to do, submit to and learn from leaders of color. My brother from another mother, Matt Mcgue has given his life to planting multi-ethnic churches, raising up a pastor of color and then handing it over and stepping out. He’s done this twice now in Charlotte, NC and in Jackson, MS and is now in the process of doing the same in Douglasville out of Cumberland Community Church. My friend and ministry partner, Ed Fielder feels the same about investing in the next generation of young leaders of color. Ed’s a white retired Marine that’s worked for the Bush Administration and ran his own company and now is deeply passionate about the Hispanic community and getting behind people of color.
Saturday was a culmination of the fight of so many others for the church to repent of the sin of racism and white supremacy. So many have been in the fight. But, Saturday was just a step. It was a step for the church to take a hard look at the sin of white supremacy that has plagued our country for over four hundred years and has crept into the church as well.
Lead on Lord Jesus, lead on. Continue to unite your church and make us more like what is coming in Revelation 7; “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”