By Carl Stagner
It’s been on the news. It’s all over social media. People are talking about it. Matters related to race are once again hot-button across the country, whether or not we want to admit it. Lives have been forever altered on all sides of the issue. The headlines elicit disgust, disbelief, painful sorrow, and sheer outrage. The pundits and politicians are quick to air their opinions, but we the church know that the wisdom and solutions for such a complex subject can only come from above. After the tragic events unfolded in Minnesota, Louisiana, and Texas over the first week of July, Pastor Josh Deeter of First Church of God in Tallmadge, Ohio, knew the church could not stay silent. By the end of the month, this resolve culminated in an event at the church that brought together a predominantly white church, a predominantly black church, and the community.
On Sunday, July 31, First Church of God and SPAN Ministries (Shepherd’s Pasture for All Nations) hosted a town-hall style forum, potluck, and prayer gathering for the community of Tallmadge. “The Crossover” united culturally and ethnically diverse neighbors under the banner of the cross—with Jesus as the subject around which all believers could rally. The two churches, hardly more than a stone’s throw away from each other, have already been practicing cross-cultural unity through combined community service projects, outreach events, and sports ministries. But this was different. This event would mean both congregations would have to touch tough topics. It’s one thing to sing common worship songs together and shake hands in fellowship and service. It’s another ball game to grapple with subjects that some might prefer to sweep under the rug.
“On the one hand, we simply wanted to stand in solidarity under the banner of our love for Jesus that compels us to love one another,” Josh explains. “On the other hand, we wanted to help guide a discussion that gets people thinking about race and reconciliation in a Christ-centered and biblical way.”
Therefore, Pastor Josh, and Pastor Bryndon Glass of SPAN Ministries, co-chaired the town hall. Questions were submitted by hand-written notes or through text messaging. Questions were asked like, “What can be done to improve talking between the two groups?” “What are we missing when we talk about ‘Black Lives Matter’ versus ‘All Lives Matter’”? “Why are black people feeling that white people are discriminating against them since we even have a black president?” “How can a black person like me have a conversation with a white person without making them feel like I am blaming them for it?” and “What is the church doing to promote reconciliation with Native Americans”? Though such questions don’t always have clear-cut answers, the two pastors did the best they could to approach the discussion from a biblical point of view.
“Although we didn’t hammer down any specific conclusions,” Josh explains, “I believe people left believing that God is for reconciliation and unity. I also believe that we helped communicate that there are often real divides that exist which need to be, and can, be discussed in unpretentious ways. I think people left believing that the gospel gives us the tools we need for the above as we seek unity, peace, and thoughtful dialogue.”
Be a part of the Christ-centered conversation on racial unity and reconciliation. Register for the Church of God Regional Convention and CHOG Table in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 27–29, at www.chogconvention.org. Were you blessed by reading this story? Support the ongoing work of Church of God Ministries with your gift to the World Ministry Fund at http://www.jesusisthesubject.org/world-ministry-fund/.