Editor’s note: This article is the first two parts of a series describing the journey to focus on African-Americans in the Denver Church of Christ. In the coming week, we will publish Parts III,IV, and V. Chris Jacobs is an elder in Denver, and lived in Tokyo for many years, serving as an administrator for many of the Asian churches in our fellowship. These articles can be found on his blog.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. ” John 17:20-23
Jesus’ prayer for unity recorded in John 17 compels Christians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Jesus’ dream is for complete unity, a calling and standard against which our enemy, the devil, constantly prowls, seeking to destroy. As disciples we strive for this perfect unity in the church, yet understand that because of our sins, weaknesses or lack of awareness, we often fall short of the goal. Praise God for his unfailing grace and limitless patience which teach us to love one another deeply, understanding that love covers over a multitude of sins.
America has been called a melting pot due its multiplicity of racial and ethnic groups, which to some degree blend into the fabric of our great, yet flawed nation. There are tremendous strengths and synergistic opportunities which proceed from variant views, perspectives and convictions. And as anyone who has experienced America can attest, there are also great challenges and tensions, which accompany the attempt to blend these sometimes conflicting cultural values into a unified whole. The church is not immune to these same challenges and as we strive for unity, it is important to be aware that different groups within the church view and experience American life differently than others.
One distinctive cultural group within the Denver Church of Christ (DCC) are our black brothers and sisters. Generally speaking, the treatment of blacks in our nation’s history is abominable and even today, there are lingering effects that impact many lives. Over the past couple of years, the elders and evangelists of the DCC, among them this author, have been learning and growing in our understanding of some particular struggles of these dear brothers and sisters. In this article, I’d like to share with you a brief summary of our journey toward unity, which I believe is just a beginning.
I’ve been a part of our interracial fellowship for more than 40 years. My walk with Jesus began in Gainesville, Florida, where as a college student, I was “clothed with Christ” in baptism and joined an incredible loving fellowship of Christians of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. It was truly a mind-blowing testimony to God’s power; I had not experienced nor imagined possible this kind of humble, warm and sincere human interactions among people representing the entire rainbow of cultures and backgrounds. I had found the treasure, and my stubborn and unbelieving heart was compelled to put my faith in a God who could do the impossible. Understand, this was the heart of Dixie in 1975 – wind the clock back 11 short years and no self-respecting southern white proprietor would dare serve a black person in his restaurant. Blacks had their schools and had no business thinking they should be going to school with white folk. And the most segregated hour of the week was and continued to be Sunday at 11:00 am.
Enter the Crossroads Church of Christ and every day, there were blacks, whites, Asians, Latinos praying, laughing, talking, crying together and enjoying fellowship as only we can in Christ. The cross of Christ had taught former Confederate flag-flying “good-ole boys” to develop close friendships with former “militant black power” disciples. For many years throughout America and the world, these kinds of testimonials have been the fulfillment of the words from the prophet Isaiah:
“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” — Isaiah 11:6
As inspirational as are the stories of reconciliation and love among former foes, there are also challenging issues that have needed to be addressed in our churches. One of those that is particular to the U.S. churches are the feelings and needs of our black brothers and sisters. In Denver, as well as all of our U.S. churches, we value the love, sacrifice, faith and maturity of these wonderful disciples. As an elder of the Denver church, I’ve heard from time to time that there have been expressions that we, who are not black, needed to grow in our sensitivity toward issues that affect blacks in our congregation and nation. For example, when the nation faces crises such as the killing of Michael Brown by a policeman in Ferguson, Missouri or the controversial death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, we were told that leaders in the church should speak up. As a leader, at the time, I viewed such statements as political and did not feel the church should address the issue. Frankly, I also just did not know what to say.
For many years, since I’ve been in Denver, we have had special presentations to honor the historical contributions of black Americans during the month of February, which has been designated Black History Month. We’ve honored American heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver, Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. These have been encouraging and educational not only to our black members, but also to many of our non-black members as well. In February 2014, some or our black leaders, principally Alex Haley, volunteered to do a more extensive presentation of black history and issues affecting blacks today for the Denver church. The messages were Biblical and powerful, yet also heartbreaking as we heard the struggles many of our black brothers and sisters face even today because of the color of their skin.
I invite you to listen to two of those messages linked here from DCC website:
Many courageous and caring black brothers and sisters poured themselves out to help all of us understand the black experience better. I am reminded of the words penned by our forefather Peter, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22). There is much sincere love among brothers and sisters in the DCC, but deep love stems from a true understanding of one another’s joys and burdens. I learned that there are burdens that are carried by most of my black brothers and sisters that I simply do not. We became more devoted to helping our brothers and sisters carry their burdens. Read Part III here.