Saturday, January 24, 2009

"Do whatever we can to combat it"

I almost didn't make it.

I attend a monthly meeting of Baptist pastors and a few weeks ago a member of the group noticed that our regular meeting day in January was also inauguration day. He suggested that we watch the inauguration and that we discuss the church’s role in the issues facing our communities and country and devote a good amount of time to prayer for our governmental leaders. The rest of the group thought it was a good plan and we decided to meet in Wilmington (35 miles away for me) in a church facility that has a wonderful television room. For the purposes of this entry I should point out that all of the members of this group of Baptist pastors are white.

In mid-afternoon on the day before our meeting I learned that an Inaugural Watch Service would beheld at Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church which is a predominantly African-American church just a few miles from my home. I wondered if similar services were being held in Wilmington that our group could attend but I knew that it was too late to explore that possibility and to get the word out to everyone.

On inauguration day I set out for Wilmington to watch the inauguration with some white Baptist ministers. By the time I got maybe 10 miles up Highway 17, what had been rain turned into heavy snow. But the roads remained clear, so I continued my journey. When I arrived I discovered that, besides two ministers from the church that was hosting the gathering, I was the only group member present. Everyone else decided not to brave the snowy driving conditions.

The ministers of the host church, at my request, looked up inaugural watch gatherings in Wilmington. But, after checking my watch, I decided that I should be able to just make the service at Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church as the official inaugural ceremonies began. Fortunately the roads were still clear and I arrived at Cedar Grove just after 11:30 a.m. and found the congregation gathered around a large, flat screen TV in the sanctuary. There was one reporter there who was white. I was the only other white person in the place.

I was welcomed and guided to the best seat left in the place—up on the second row on the aisle. The congregation was in a festive mood and it cheered with crowd on TV. After Obama’s inauguration speech, we sang “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” Following this song the pastor, Dr. Gause, made a few brief remarks and we sang another song, the name of which I do not know. Then the congregation retired to the fellowship hall to eat and I started to make my way out.

As I was leaving I was stopped numerous times by folks that I know and a bunch of other folks who I don’t know. They all greeted me very warmly and expressed their appreciation for my attendance. The only other white guy in the room, Steve Jones, a reporter for the Sun News in Myrtle Beach, caught me in the vestibule and asked me a few questions. He wrote an article on the event that was published the next day.

Among the things I told Jones was that Christians should be leading the way in racial healing. Yet, too often, especially among many evangelicals, we have brought up the rear instead. The Lord created all people of every race in God's image. In Acts 17:26 we read that from one person God made every person--everyone of every race ultimately has the same ancestor. In Galatians 3:28 we see that the gospel tears down gender barriers, socio-economic barriers and racial barriers--we are all one in Christ Jesus. Billy Graham wrote, "Racism is a sin, and God doesn't want us to ignore it or refuse to do whatever we can to combat it."

I have not done enough to promote racial healing. I really am going to try to do better in this area. However, it was my privilege to stand with my brothers and sisters in Christ at Cedar Grove Missionary Baptist Church on inauguration day as we celebrated a milestone together. Many communities in this country, including this one, still have a ways to go in improving race relations. But at least a few of us left a sanctuary here in Brunswick County, North Carolina feeling a little more hopeful.