It’s been more than a half-century since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urged white religious leaders to join the civil rights movement in his famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” an essay that helped spark an interracial wave of nonviolent protest. Perhaps inspired by King’s strategy, nationally renowned pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes last week assembled a multiracial group of pastors from across the country to address social justice issues during a tense time in America.
“Healing the Racial Divide,” a one-day forum held on what would have been King’s 86th birthday, drew about 150 pastors from various religious denominations. The meeting was not open to the public, but several pastors said there was a frank discussion of how religious leaders could promote “peaceful reconciliation” as protests continue across the country over the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.
Jakes organized the forum with Bishop Harry Jackson, chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md. The two men said they wanted the forum to highlight areas of agreement among pastors of various races on issues involving the economy, schools and the poor.
“In Ferguson, I really saw how extensive the racial problem was,” Jackson said, referring to protests that erupted in Ferguson, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a police officer. “The churches are doing a lot of good work in the region, but it’s not multicultural and it is not multiracial.”
The event was held at Jakes’s Dallas sanctuary, the Potter’s House, and the assembled leaders represented more than 40 million people.
Among the other pastors who attended were Andrew Young, the former civil rights leader, ambassador and Atlanta mayor; the Rev. Bernice King, one of King’s daughters; Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; and conservative TV preachers John Hagee and James Robinson. Also in attendance were Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Leigh Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Jakes said that at the conclusion of the event, the pastors signed a covenant of reconciliation and committed themselves to healing racial rifts within the church. They also developed a seven-point plan that encourages the organization of regional prayer summits, forums and outreach campaigns led by diverse clergy members.
Jakes sat down with The Post to discuss what he hoped to achieve by convening the group.
What was the vision behind the event and how important was it to reach across the racial lines?
First of all, it was the most racially diverse conference that I have ever seen hosted at a black church in my life. Because of Ferguson, New York and all of the atrocities that have happened in the headlines . . . there is a tremendous urgency to alert pastors across all spectrums that this we needed to weigh in on.
We started dealing first with the racial divide that exists in terms of how we worship in this country. Dr. King alluded to this [in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail”]. We talked about that, then we went on to the more significant issues in regards to how our combined strengths could be leveraged to better serve people in black and brown communities across this country who are living under the poverty lines.
What do you expect that this interracial group can do in the long term? Is this the formation of a new organization that wants to have more political influence?
As I shared in the meeting, we cannot have the kind of change that we need in this country without the inclusion of white people and black people and brown people working together, and that begins, in large part, with clergy. There is a lot that can be done because many of the people who sat in that room at our church are people who pastor some of the candidates who are running for office or pastor some of the elected officials.
We agreed that we would focus on education and the criminal justice system and the politicians who we would give the most access to would be the ones who were on our agenda rather than the other way around on their agenda.
Traditionally, you have not wanted to get involved in politics. What has changed?
I don’t know that I am getting involved with politics, but what I am getting involved with is doing something to make this country better. I am getting involved with giving a voice to underserved people. I still have no agenda to get involved in politics.
The conference was criticized by some leaders in the civil rights community as too exclusive. Why didn’t you invite the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others to the table?
I would argue that Andrew Young embodies the civil rights movement as well as any of the names that you mentioned, and then we couldn’t bring in every person that we would have liked to bring in. There are 600,000 pastors in this country, and we only had 150. We did get representation from all camps and schools of thought.
In the next couple of months, where do we go from here?
We are inviting all pastors to go to thereconciledchurch.org and see how we can start, in every city in America, to build bridges between pastors and churches that normally don’t talk to each other and help churches right in the hood that don’t have the resources.
SOURCE: Hamil R. Harris
The Washington Post
Hamil Harris is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of The Washington Post.
PASTORS, FAITH LEADERS FROM AROUND THE COUNTRY GATHER IN DALLAS TO PROMOTE RACIAL HEALING
Bishops Harry Jackson, T.D. Jakes and Pastor James Robison host multi-cultural gathering to discuss practical solutions for racial reconciliation
DALLAS, Jan. 16, 2015 – A racially, denominationally, geographically and generationally diverse representation of nearly 100 pastors, civic and faith-leaders from across the country gathered for an unprecedented summit on racial reconciliation at The Potter’s House in Dallas Thursday. Convened by Bishops Harry Jackson and T.D. Jakes and Pastor James Robison, “The Reconciled Church: Healing the Racial Divide” summit focused on Seven Bridges to Peace and included four panel discussions in which the participants shared practical solutions that they have successfully implemented in their respective communities. They also strategized other initiatives that can be scaled for national roll out.
Host Bishop Jakes welcomed attendees, saying, “The Church should lead the way; we can’t complain about Congress and community if we don’t communicate with one another. We all love our children; let’s talk about how we can make our country better for subsequent generations.
“We have one brief shining moment to say, ‘not on my watch,’” Jakes continued. “We cannot remain silent on this issue, because our silence is costing lives. I’m praying that we would care enough to do better with the resources and influence that we have.
“We can’t fix the problem today, that’s not even the goal,” Jakes added. “This is a forum for discussion and debate, but we need to focus on what we will work on, including education and the criminal justice system. We can do better regarding civic engagement in our churches.”
Bishop Jackson shared his vision for the summit, to encourage the Church to come together to address the three-fold problem of class, race and poverty. “Church leaders need to go up into the gap and be courageous and catalytic to make a difference,” he said. “We want to leave here with a declaration, a challenge and a prescription for our nation.
“The Church is divided black and white, and not as connected as we should be,” Jackson continued. “The first thing we can do is come together united as the Church. A group like this can shake the foundations of the nation – for God and for good.”
“With all my heart I believe the purpose of this meeting is to bring together the Body of Christ without all of the dissension, strife and division that keeps us apart and from fulfilling the will of God,” James Robison said
Other key participants included Dr. Bernice King, CEO of The King Center in Atlanta and daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.; legendary civil rights leader and former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young; Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference/CONELA; and Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, among others.
Several participants admonished the Church for not taking action. “Today’s complacency is tomorrow’s complicity,” said Rev. Rodriguez. “There is no such thing as a silent Christianity.”
This theme was echoed by Pastor Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas. “There are a lot of good people in our churches who are sinfully silent,” he said. “It is our responsibility to engage them on what matters most.”
The timing of the summit was propitious, occurring on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, actual birthday, which was referenced by his daughter. Reminding attendees that her father was a pastor and that the Civil Rights movement originated in the Church, she thought it a fitting tribute to his legacy that faith leaders were once again taking the lead in the area of racial reconciliation.
“The Church was one of the institutions (my father) criticized in his letter from the Birmingham jail,” King reflected. “He was deeply disappointed that there was not more engagement by the Church in the issue of segregation in the South at that time. Unfortunately, we have had a stand-off posture since then, and 11 a.m. on Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.”
Four panel discussions were led by leaders with experience among the key “Bridges to Peace” and covered such topics as community engagement, education policy, economic development and criminal justice system reform. A summary of the ideas and strategies shared will be distributed in follow-up to all of the participants for adapting in their churches and communities.
Economics was identified as a key factor, which Ambassador Young highlighted in a news conference following the panel sessions. “Poverty is probably worse now than in Dr. King’s time,” he said “It’s not a black and white problem; it’s not a black and blue issue; it’s a green issue,” he said.
“Today we had four ‘Cs’ of Christ, conversation and collaboration that will lead to change,” said African Methodist Episcopal Bishop Vashti McKenzie. “The Body of Christ came together in unprecedented conversation. We must be role models for people who look to us for leadership.”
The group also agreed to forward several recommendations to President Obama to address in his State of the Union next week and to members of Congress, asking them to focus on these issues: removing inequity in the allocation of funding for education; redesigning public school funding strategies; and removing the disparity between urban and rural areas in education. Additionally, criminal justice system reforms, such as the REDEEM Act and the Second Chance Act should be given greater emphasis.
“We want to call upon President Obama to address in his State of the Union how to make a difference in the lives of people who need a little time,” Jackson concluded. “We have to understand that hopeless and helpless people do desperate things. We have to understand that people feel like life just isn’t fair. But I’m here to tell you that there is hope in the Gospel. We can turn America around.”
The day’s events concluded with a worship and communion service at The Potter’s House, which was attended by more than 6,000 individuals.
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Note to Editors: For more information go to www.TheReconciledChurch.org; or to schedule an interview with The Reconciled Church spokespersons, please contact Steve Yount of A. Larry Ross Communications at 972.267.1111 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.