"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." — 2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV
Days after President Donald Trump’s Twitter tantrum a couple of weeks ago, instructing four Democratic congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries, Bishop Garland Hunt, Billy Humphrey, Joshua Clemons and Hazen Stevens met me to talk about their vision for America.
They were the last of nearly a dozen historians and religious leaders I’d spoken to over the past few months, seeking an answer to the growing racial divide in the country. Surprisingly, they all agreed that because the church is to blame for racism in the first place, it is uniquely equipped to name the sin, to call for repentance, and to bring about reconciliation.
In this fifth and final installment of the Race and Religion series, I wanted to leave you with at least one concrete thing each of us can do to help turn the tide once and for all.
Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
THIS LIFE: RACE AND RELIGION
This is the last of a five-part series analyzing race and religion by AJC columnist Gracie Bonds Staples.
For Hunt, Humphrey, Stevens and Clemons, the short answer can be found in Jesus’ summary of the Law — “love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Without that love, there will be no “beloved” community, no sustained peace and harmony, and we will continue to stray from the path of justice for all.
But they are hopeful.
And so in a conference room on the campus of Lawrenceville’s International House of Prayer, the men talked about the beginning of OneRace, co-founded in 2016 by Hunt and Humphrey in the wake of a growing number of police shootings of unarmed black men and the subsequent Black Lives Matter movement.
Up until that moment, Humphrey, who is white, and Hunt, who is black, had been working separately to facilitate racial healing in their communities. Humphrey, director of the International House of Prayer, had been instrumental in helping build Victory Church, one of the nation’s largest multicultural churches, where he was youth pastor. And Hunt, senior pastor at the Father’s House in Peachtree Corners, was advocating for racial healing; he was a former co-host with a white pastor of “The Gospel in Black and White” television program and founder of Pastors for Reconciliation and Revival in Raleigh, North Carolina.
They met in the early ’90s and began to forge a friendship born of Christian brotherhood and a mutual respect.
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By the spring of 2016, the country seemed mired in racial upheaval not seen since the 1960s.
Indeed nearly eight years after the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first black president, profound differences between blacks and whites were emerging around race, reigniting national conversations.
A Pew Research Center survey that year found that 88% of blacks believed the country needs to continue making changes for blacks to have equal rights with whites; the figure for whites with that view was 53%.
Hunt and Humphrey believed then as they do now that the answer could only be found in the church.
In a retreat with their wives, the men began to pray, and out of those prayers emerged OneRace, a movement to displace racism with racial reconciliation across the nation through prayer, fasting and relationships.
They immediately began work organizing OneRace Stone Mountain and the “Millennial Ascent,” a nondenominational prayer and worship service at Stone Mountain Park, once a meeting place for the Ku Klux Klan and other white power groups.
Last August, it drew more than 1,000 young adults and Christian leaders. In a series of sermons, they were called to be the peace they want and thus, like Christ, break down the walls of hostility and hatred that separate us.
What happened that day at Stone Mountain was one of 35 multicultural events OneRace has held this past year across metro Atlanta and Columbus, calling congregations together in continual prayer for racial reconciliation and spiritual revival.
They are not done.
Come Aug. 2, OneRace will host the 400Conference at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, intended to commemorate the 400th anniversary of slavery in America and raise awareness about that racial history, the role of the church in it, and the part the church must play in bringing healing.
Following a 21-day fast, Aug. 4-25, they will host a Day of Remembrance, at which time more than 30 churches are scheduled to hold simultaneous worship services across metro Atlanta.
Clemons, co-director of OneRace and a member of the New Bridge Church, a nondenominational church in Lawrenceville, said the solution for racial disharmony is outlined in John 17, in which Jesus prays for his disciples and believers who will come after them to be one as he and the father are one so that the world might believe in God.
That, Clemons said, serves as a mandate for the church to model oneness to the world.
Because 11 a.m. Sunday remains the most segregated hour in the nation, he realizes OneRace faces an uphill battle but one that can be overcome if the church can first improve its relationship with God and then with one another.
“All of us, black and white, have to confess we have harbored racial hatred toward one another and that is a sin,” he said.
OneRace isn’t exactly unique, they said. There have been other attempts like Promise Keepers to bring about racial reconciliation, but the “Lord is inviting us to go deeper,’’ to lament, repent and replace division with a new testimony.
Said Stevens, co-director of OneRace and missions pastor at the House of Prayer, this is a kairos moment, an ancient Greek word meaning the opportune time, in which he believes God is inviting us to address the issues of our heart and to be spiritually transformed.
Although we’ve made a lot of progress, Clemons said the president’s recent Twitter storm is an indication we still have work to do.
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“That kind of supremacy needs to be called out,” Clemons said. “The church has to use her prophetic voice to speak truth, to speak correction. We have to speak up about the dehumanization of some and the over-empowering of others.”
If the church fails in this, Clemons said, it will lose not only its influence, but credibility in the world.
Racism is a public problem, but more than that, it is a spiritual one.
“The church has to step up,” Clemons said.
Since the launch of OneRace a few years ago, he said, more than 250 congregations from every denomination and ethnic group and city have been engaged with the movement’s regional prayer gatherings.
The 400Conference is a grand opportunity for the church to lean in and speak truth to the pain that exists and finally fully embrace the teachings of Jesus, who was willing to cross cultural lines to create bridges.
“We’re calling the church to know the story about race and culture in America, own its complicity, lament, repent and to change the story for future generations,” Clemons said. “That means putting feet to their prayers, money behind their proclamation and live differently in their sphere of influence.”
Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at email@example.com.
ONERACE MOVEMENT SCHEDULED EVENTS
400 Leadership Summit, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 2. $30. Ebenezer Baptist Church, 101 Jackson St. NE, Atlanta. oneracemovement.com.
400Conference, commemorating the 400th anniversary of slavery in America. 6-9 p.m. Aug. 2 and 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Aug. 3. Free. Ebenezer Baptist Church, 101 Jackson St. NE, Atlanta. oneracemovement.com.
21 Day fast, Aug 4-25.
Day of Remembrance. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Aug. 25. Participating metro Atlanta churches.
This is the fifth of a five-part series analyzing race and religion by AJC columnist Gracie Bonds Staples.
Intro: Why columnist Gracie Bonds Staples felt compelled to write the Race and Religion series
Part 1: The church's role in perpetuating racism
Part 2: The Rev. Raphael Warnock on how racism continues to reinvent itself
Part 3: Racism: Stupidity, stoicism or sin?
Part 4: One man's journey from indifference to enlightenment
Part 5: Reimagining the future
If you have ideas about how we might foster racial healing and transformation or are aware of efforts underway in metro Atlanta or elsewhere that are working, I'd love to hear from you. Please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read all of the series, go online to www.ajc.com/staff/gracie-bonds-staples/.