In 1981, I was 21 years old and working a summer job to pay for college. I was paired with a black man, Frank Breed, to drive a truck. He was 40, friendly and new to the community. I invited him to attend my home church, First Baptist Church. He nervously declined. He didn’t think his family would be welcomed. I had been taught in church that God loved him, so didn’t that mean our church would love him? I was young and naïve.
He explained that his wife was white, and they had trouble being accepted anywhere. Recently, he had been beaten outside of his car by offended white men, while he begged his wife to lock the doors. This took place outside of a local convenience store. No one intervened, and no one called the police. Hearing his story was my first relational encounter with racial injustice. Frank woke up in that world every day of his life, and yet was still kind towards me. God put some amazing stuff inside of him.
Racial injustices such as these in our nation and communities are well documented. It is also clear that racial injustice has slowly improved, but there remain major areas that need to be understood and addressed by the larger community and its church leaders.
It should not be considered a political issue, rather a humanitarian one for America to provide a fair and level playing field to every family and person.
No nation or community is perfect. Perfection is never a reasonable standard to be judged by. But are we willing to see what is real and do something positive to make it better for those being hurt and disadvantaged?
The entire modern movement of racial justice was launched from the pulpits of black Christian pastors such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others. But most other churches and leaders have remained silent, for a variety of reasons. The reality is that their congregations have no personal experience with racial injustice. And when you don’t experience it, you either don’t know how to talk about it, or you don’t care to talk about it.
Pastors have many important issues to address in their ministries. Primary for them is the duty to share the work of Jesus Christ and the opportunity of forgiveness and grace that He offers for all sins. Family life, divorce, addictions, doubt, loss of hope, fear of the future, encouraging faith and dealing with death are issues in pastors’ congregations on a weekly basis. I am thankful for all they are willing to handle.
But racial justice also needs to be addressed.
The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 31:8-9: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
From 9am to 4pm Saturday, “A Biblical Response to Racial Injustice” will be hosted by Emmanuel Baptist Church at 467 White Road in San Jose. Leaders from the educational, law enforcement, criminal justice system and church spheres will provide an overview on what is happening at a real level in our community. If you would like to attend you can register at www.response-to-racial-injustice.org.
It is time to end our silence and stand with other churches and our community on this important issue.
Dr. Mike Stewart is the executive director of Missions at Great Commission Association of Southern Baptist Churches, which is made up of 117 diverse member churches and ministries across six counties in California. As a former pastor in Arizona, he reached out to the Hopi, Apache and Navajo tribes, launched a Hispanic church plant and led a racial reconciliation project inviting white and black churches to worship God together, sharing pulpits, musicians and times of fellowship. Opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].