Some say the church is irrelevant. Others say the church is more powerful than ever. One thing is for sure: Studies and polls suggest that the church has lost the millennial generation and the moral power it once had on issues of civil rights. Whatever the case, the church now finds itself once again at the center of a national debate on race.
And the question is being asked openly in church circles: Can the church be reconciled and help heal America from further racial division?
What does it actually mean to be “reconciled”?
To be reconciled is to be rejoined, reconnected, brought back together again, and to forgive, to rebuild and, most important, to restore. Such is the charge of the Reconciled Church movement, which is a multiracial, nondenominational and apolitical Christian action movement to help create open dialogue around racial divisions within the church.
TRC was founded by four well-known global faith leaders: Bishop Harry Jackson, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Life Today TV host and Life Outreach International founder James Robison and civil rights legend Ambassador Andrew Young. The movement was launched in January in response to protests in Ferguson, Mo., and other locations nationwide over systemic police brutality and mistreatment of African Americans.
“The church must get her house in order first when it comes to race if we want to be taken seriously. No one will listen to us preach at them until we start modeling and teaching them by how we treat each other in the church,” said Jackson during the April 2015 strategy meeting held in Orlando, Fla. His sentiments were echoed by global evangelist Robison: “We can’t just have some mealymouthed commitment to unity. We need a supernatural unity that brings us together as brethren in Christ. It must be real. And it must be from the heart.”
The Root attended the April meeting, hosted by Pastor David Uth of First Baptist Orlando at his sprawling suburban church facility. Uth is a soft-spoken man who shared a deeply personal story about why racism mars not only the souls of blacks in this nation but also of whites like him.
“Relationship is everything,” Uth said. “Relationships build trust, and trust is the key to this whole process. I am not going to put the burden on the black pastors to outreach; I think that we as white pastors need to be the ones to reach out.”
About 200 pastors, bishops and evangelists came, from all around the world, to the strategy meeting. It happened to fall on the very night Baltimore was erupting after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. Something striking occurred at the kickoff dinner when the blessing was offered: These devout men and women of faith got up out of their seats, fell collectively to their knees and prayed out loud for racial healing in our land.
Said Jakes regarding America’s race problems:
In order to be part of the solution, you cannot be a white person telling black people how they should feel. We have to be willing to listen and become a student and not always the teacher. We need to hear instead of dismissing people who raise their voice. Particularly those in our cities who are plagued by poor education, crime, poverty joblessness and ultimately hopelessness. We need a solution. We need to act to change their plight.
Jesus shattered the glass ceiling for those that others rejected—like the woman at the well in John 4. We as the church have that same onus and the responsibility to cross racial and gender lines and get out of our comfort zones—subtle, covert racism that perpetuates itself is every bit as dangerous as is overt racism.”
Jamie and Judy Jacobs Tuttle, who are among the few interracial mega-pastoral couples in America, lead Dwelling Place Church International in Cleveland, Tenn. They believe that building relationships is one of the critical keys to healing our nation’s racial inequities.
“When you have influence, you have to be influential,” said Co-Pastor Judy Jacobs Tuttle. The church has to be the church again. It must speak up. We must turn back to God. We must revisit the innermost place of our hearts as human beings made in the image of God. And we must put the walls down that divide us—selfishness, wanting to satisfy our own egos. We have to start looking out for each other.”
Her husband, Lead Pastor Jamie Tuttle, weighed in: “It is a proven fact that growing relationships grows people! As an interracially married couple for over 22 years, we see the church as a place that God has designed for all men and women of all backgrounds and all colors to thrive. And we have modeled that in our ministry and in our lives. It all gets down to modeling and building relationships.”
But now that everyone is together, working to be reconciled, what’s the action plan?
Former NFL player and community activist Pastor Terrell Fletcher of City of Hope International in San Diego says it all comes down to owning our racial past in the church: “Is history in our face once again? By that I mean the unresolved, unhealed legacy of racism, economic deprivation, criminalization and unjust treatment of black and brown people. Because if it is, we can only achieve reconciliation through repentance. Repentance to God and to one another.
“Repentance starts in the church, and it must come with acknowledgment and action,” he continued. “There has to be an acknowledgment of offense for it to be healed. There needs to be an admission of truth about how we got here. Only then can we heal, unite and be reconciled.”
TRC is growing fast. It has been featured in major news stories, on television and on large Christian-media platforms such as Daystar TV, based in Dallas, which carried the January 2015 launch live. With the sting of the horrific events of Charleston, S.C., in front of us, along with the national debate around Confederate flags, symbols, economic empowerment and how we talk about race going forward, the focus of TRC is on action. One of the presenters at the April meeting, Pastor Miles McPherson of the Rock Church, offered this prescription for how we move forward, both in and out of the church, to heal our nation:
We have a decision to make as a country: Do we focus on the evil and the darkness that took place, or do we focus on the light and the love and working toward unity? Instead of waiting for the next event, we need to be proactive, and we can do that in three ways: Express our sameness as human beings, that we are all God’s children and thus worthy of loving one another as such. Validate our uniqueness so that we can learn from one another about what separates or divides us as human beings. Nurture the sense of belonging—meaning that we all need love, that we all have value and that we are all part of the same human community.