A Call to Racial Reconciliation in the Church

Janet Chismar | Senior Editor, News & Culture | Tuesday, September 17, 2002

A Call to Racial Reconciliation in the Church

Garland Hunt says that if someone had told him 25 years ago he'd be writing a book on racial reconciliation, he would have reacted with laughter or rage.

"Growing up in the newly integrated South, the people I looked up to and listened to came in only one color: black. As a student at Howard University, I remember introducing Louis Farrakhan at a campus event and receiving personal words of encouragement from him with great excitement. I not only loved black people," says Hunt, "but like many others, I harbored hatred and anger for whites."

Even after he gave his life to the Lord, Hunt clung to an internal distrust of anyone who wasn't black. He listened exclusively to black preachers and ministers, and fellowshipped in racially segregated environments.

"But the Lord would not let me stay there," Hunt remembers. "He wouldn't allow me to call myself a Christian and remain comfortable in my sin of racism."

Now the executive vice president of the Fellowship of International Churches and associate pastor at The Father's House in Atlanta, Hunt has also worked as an attorney. The church he led from 1993-1999, Raleigh International, was founded to promote racial reconciliation.

During those years, he and a white pastor from Raleigh discussed contemporary issues affecting the church on a television broadcast called "The Gospel in Black and White." Hunt has spoken about race at Promise Keepers events, on college campuses and as a consultant in South Africa.

His booklet, "The Mandate: A Call to Biblical Unity," serves as a succinct call to action. "It challenges the reader to understand that our nation, as a whole, must do something about this incredible racial divide that still haunts us as we go about internationally and proclaim ourselves to be a nation of peace," says Hunt.

In the book, Hunt outlines how the people of God can bring real reconciliation, especially between the black and white communities, through radical obedience to the Word of God.

"The mandate for the church is to bridge the divide that exists, because without that, it is going to be very difficult for the church to accomplish what needs to be accomplished," explains Hunt.

He points out that a generation after the end of government-sanctioned segregation, the new millennium has already provided vivid illustrations of continuing race-related tension in the United States. "From widespread controversy over racial profiling, to disputes over school vouchers for inner-city children, to continuing arguments over the death penalty," says Hunt, "the politics of race is being rewritten for a new era."

According to Hunt, American society is growing more integrated and racial groups work and play side-by-side more than ever before. Yet, "hidden behind this facade of coexistence lies a history of turmoil, reflecting the reality that becoming integrated does not necessarily imply that racial groups have become reconciled.

"The distinction is subtle but important," Hunt adds. "Integration represents an outward conformity; reconciliation represents an inward heart condition."

A number of pastors who attended the annual conference of the Union of Black Episcopalians (UBE) last year seemed to agree with Hunt that racial groups have merely tiptoed into the waters of reconciliation.
During her keynote address, UBE's president, the Rev. Sandye Wilson, reminded the audience that UBE was formed because of racism and oppression. "We have to remember that the sin of racism is still alive. What we are doing on the inside to ourselves is worse than what's on the outside."

She said there are almost 8,000 Episcopal congregations in the United States and only five black priests who are in charge of white parishes.

The Rev. Dr. Lynn Collins, staff officer for Black and Urban Ministries, said that it wasn't until the 1930s that the church allowed black men to attend Episcopal seminaries. "The system is so racist, we can't get through the process."

"Globally, the Anglican Church is a church of color," said the Rev. Butch Naters-Gamarra from the Diocese of Los Angeles. "We know that in the next 15 or 20 years, the majority of the population in Los Angeles will be people of color. The church needs to be prepared to welcome whoever wants to come," he added.

Sometimes dubbed "the most segregated hour of the week," Sunday mornings indeed have a long way to go. One New York Times poll said that 90 percent of whites said there were few or no blacks at their religious services, and 73 percent of blacks said their congregations had few or no whites.

According to Norman Anthony Peart, the founder of Grace Ministries and founding pastor of Grace Bible Fellowship, a multiracial church plant in Cary, N.C., a primary reason Christians haven't been able to heal the wounds of racism "is that many evangelicals do not understand the race problem from a biblical perspective."

In "Separate No More," Peart attempts to help concerned Christians discover "their role in the ministry of racial reconciliation" - a ministry too often viewed by evangelicals as optional.

As a sociologist, Peart acknowledges that race can be seen as a social construct. But, he writes, "Because race is an aspect of how we view ourselves and also shapes our social interactions with others, we cannot trivialize the concept's significance and still minister effectively to the whole person."

He contends that real biblical reconciliation is a working of the Holy Spirit and not the result of carefully crafted strategies. Nevertheless, "Those who wish to pursue it must do so intentionally."