We asked this week's Religion Roundtable writers to answer the question: What role can churches play in racial reconciliation?

The place where conversation starts

Perhaps I’m getting cynical in my old age. When I pass by a church sign that reads, in big letters, “All Are Welcome,” I ask myself, “Really? Is everyone really welcome there?”

How would we respond to the disheveled stranger who comes into church in the middle of the sermon and takes a seat in our midst? I’m not crazy about the overused saying, “What would Jesus do?” But it does beg the question: How should we treat others (who aren’t exactly like us)?

I preached recently about the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery. A solemn reminder of the inhumanities to thousands of blacks at the hands of whites from roughly 1877-1950, it is, as The Anniston Star called it, “a place of reckoning.” The deaths of 4,400 men, women and children in 800 counties across our country have been documented thus far. It’s an emotionally tough thing to confront and to talk about. But we must. As the philosopher George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

We have to be open to the conversation in our congregations. We have to get over our embarrassment and awkwardness and be willing to sit down with each other and work on reconciliation – on understanding – both individually and collectively.

We need to get over our piety and our pride. We need to move beyond our own selfish needs and practice genuine and intentional love with our neighbor – regardless of the color of their skin.

It’s not easy. Racial reconciliation is more than just black and white. It extends to all races, all ethnicities, all religions, all classes. We need to come to the table and act like adults – the children of God. The church is as good a place as any to start the conversation.

— Robert Fowler, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Jacksonville


Pray for the walls to come down

Recognizing that Christ is our peace, as Ephesians 2:14-16 describes, is a great place to start in our quest for racial reconciliation:

“For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity … the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two (Jew and Gentile), thus making peace,and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

Praying for racial and religious walls to come down is the first step in walking together to accomplish the mandate of establishing heaven on earth.

According to Psalm 133:1-10, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity, it is like the precious oil upon the head … it is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing — life forevermore.”

In this directive, living in unity means that we are aligned in proper position, fulfilling God’s plans for our lives. Galatians 3:28-29 tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ … you are … His heirs according to the promise.”

-- Beverly Mattox, Word Alive International Outreach