A few weeks ago I had a discussion with Jason Alexander, a teacher here at Gateway City Church. Jason brought up the issue of racism and its painful effect on the church. We had a great talk about the necessity of addressing this need in a straightforward, meaningful way. The next day Lori and I received an email from Yolanda Suber, an amazing sister here in St. Louis. Recent events in the United States have caused great pain in our cities, our neighborhoods and our churches. Yolanda asked if she could get some time with us to talk.
Here’s an excerpt from her note.
"Right now, I’m not sure how I should feel. What I do know is I need to express those feelings, I need to talk……
With the racial tensions growing, I think some of these issues need to be addressed. I personally believe, there cannot be a national outcry from a group of people, and we go on as a congregation as if nothing is happening. I’m not blaming anyone for anything, I just need to talk, because the hurt, the fear, and the anger is real.”
Yolanda encouraged me to listen to a recent sermon preached by Gordon Ferguson in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Church of Christ. Our staff listened to it together at our meeting that Friday. Gateway’s staff is racially diverse and the sermon had a powerful impact on us. It was clear we needed to find a way to share this message with the entire congregation.
Because I know Gordon and was aware that he was drastically cutting down on his travel, we made the decision to have the church listen to a recording of his sermon. (Imagine that, an entire congregation sitting in their seats listening to an audio sermon!) I announced the plan on Sunday and the excitement in the room was electric. It was clear that God was moving and we needed to do more.
After a quick talk with my dad, John Mannel, we made the decision to have him call Gordon to see if he would fly to St Louis. Dad called and asked Gordon if he would help us address the issue of racism and do so this coming Sunday. Gordon and his family had holiday plans for the weekend, but after hearing about the need Gordon’s son told him he needed to go to St. Louis, “It’s important.” So, six days later Gordon was preaching the Word on stage with a packed room overflowing into the fellowship hall.
Later that Sunday afternoon following Gordon’s sermon we gathered once more for a panel discussion on racism in St. Louis and how it creeps into the church. It was an honest, brave, eye-opening discussion that was full of grace. I was and still am so proud of everyone who shared their lives. If the reaction on social media is any indication, their impact reaches far beyond St. Louis. These discussions have already been viewed in over 40 countries.
This is certainly not a fix. It’s not a substitute for face to face challenging conversations. It is a hard look at ourselves. It is honest. It does open the door for more understanding, openness, and it seeks to provide validation for past and present pain. It is one sermon, one man’s perspective based on his life’s experiences mixed with the truth of scripture.
It is a conversation starter. Now It’s up to you to continue the conversation, adding your experiences, your history, your heart and as always weaving into the conversation grace and mercy.
One of the greatest lessons we walked away with is the understanding that we live in two realities simultaneously. One, the earthy cities we live in, including our neighborhoods, schools, and nation. The other is the greater reality, that we are “in Christ,” set apart, broken and forgiven. This is our true reality and we must strive to live lives worthy of the calling we’ve received.
Thank you, Yolanda for your heartfelt email and desire to talk. If it weren’t for you the weekend would not have happened. Thank you, panel members, for laying it all out there for us to see. Thank you Gordon and the entire Ferguson family for making the sacrifice for Gateway.I hope you’ll take the time to watch both presentations. My prayer is that they will have a similar impact on you and whatever group you experience them with.