Commentary: It’s time for churches to step forward and heal national wounds

Police officers from New York City and Boston stand outside Prestonwood Baptist Church as they attend the funeral of slain Dallas Police Department Senior Corporal Lorne B. Ahrens in Plano July 13. (Photo courtesy of Reuters/Rex Curry)

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Brian Williams is an African-American trauma surgeon at Dallas’ Parkland Hospital. He was in charge of Parkland’s emergency room July 7 when seven officers arrived.

Jim Denison 130Jim DenisonHe choked back tears as he described to the Washington Post how three officers died at the hospital: “I think about it every day—that I was unable to save those cops when they came here that night.”

But there’s more to his story. Williams told the Associated Press he has been stopped by police over the years and lives in fear he could be killed each time. At a traffic stop, he ended up “spread-eagle” on the hood of a cruiser. A few years ago, he was stopped by an officer and questioned as he stood outside his apartment complex waiting for a ride to the airport.

After describing his grief over the officers who died, Williams said: “I want the Dallas Police Department to see I support you. I defend you. I will care for you. That does not mean I will not fear you.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In the aftermath of the events in Dallas and other tragic events in Louisiana and Minnesota, Christians can take steps to help our nation become the “United” States our founders envisioned.

Step 1: Admit our problem

Seventy percent of Americans say race relations are bad in our country. Six in 10 believe race relations are growing worse, up from 38 percent a year ago. These facts prove racism persists in America:

A black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop and six times more likely to go to jail than a white man.

Blacks serve up to 20 percent more time in prison than white people for the same crimes.

Blacks are 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to death than white people for the same crimes.

Racism persists in America’s churches as well:

Only 32 percent of white pastors strongly agree that “my church is involved with racial reconciliation at the local level.” Fifty-three percent of African-American pastors strongly agree with this statement.

Only 56 percent of evangelicals believe “people of color are often put at a social disadvantage because of their race.” Eighty-four percent of blacks agree with this statement.

• A recent study showed 86 percent of America’s churches are composed of one predominant racial group.

Martin Luther King Jr. was right: Sunday morning at 11 o’clock still is the most segregated hour in America.

Step 2: Be the church

Former President George W. Bush spoke at a memorial service in Dallas for our city’s slain police officers. He made this remarkable point: “Americans, I think, have a great advantage. To renew our unity, we only need to remember our values. We have never been held together by blood or background. We are bound by things of the spirit, by shared commitments to common ideals.”

Many nations find their unity in a monolithic racial heritage, culture or history. But America never has been about such uniformity. From the beginning, we were home to Protestants and Catholics and Jews, immigrants from across Europe and around the world.

Bush went on: “At our best, we honor the image of God we see in one another. We recognize that we are brothers and sisters, sharing the same brief moment on Earth and owing each other the loyalty of our shared humanity.”

In other words, the closer we draw to our Father, the closer we draw to each other.

That’s why the gospel of God’s reconciling love is the only transforming answer to the challenges we face. Legislation improved life for those who faced legalized discrimination. But laws cannot change people. Only the Spirit can do that. As a result, Christians are on the front lines of this spiritual battle for the soul and future of our nation. The time has come for the church to be the church.

Step 3: Never give up

Scripture is clear: God created man in his own image. Early Christians believed this transforming truth. In the second century, Justin Martyr said of his fellow Christians: “We used to hate and destroy one another and refused to associate with people of another race or country. Now, because of Christ, we live together with such people and pray for our enemies.”

Clement of Alexandria described the true Christian: “He impoverishes himself out of love, so that he is certain he may never overlook a brother in need, especially if he knows he can bear poverty better than his brother.”

Tertullian, a second-century theologian, reported that Romans would exclaim, “See how they love one another!”

Now it’s our turn.

Jim Denison is theologian-in-residence of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and CEO of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture in the Dallas area. Religion News Service distributed this column.


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