Fifty-nine years ago today, Rev. Paul Turner walked with a group of 10 African-American students into Clinton High School. Rev. Turner was the Pastor of First Baptist Church of Clinton, Tennessee. Through his work and many other civic and religious leaders, Clinton was the first high school to integrate African-American students on December 4, 1956. Turner risked his life and was mocked and beaten by thugs. Dr. Keith Parks of the Foreign Mission Board and Rev. Billy Graham both commended him for his bravery. He’s one of my ministerial heroes, and I preached about him Sunday. You can find a podcast of the message here.
Despite how far many people have come since the days of Paul Turner and the “Clinton 12,” our nation continues to realize that our racism is much worse in many places than ever before. Even though we claim to be a very tolerant nation, moments like these reveal a very rebellious intolerance toward each other. Nothing can excuse the vandalism and violence in Ferguson. The family of Eric Garner on Staten Island suffer from grief, loss, and injustice. We cannot overlook the very deep wounds that are exposed in these days. Advent is the perfect opportunity to admit where we are, look very deeply in our hearts, and talk to people who grew up differently than we did.
I was blessed to grow up in a family where I wasn’t judged by the color of my skin. We typically spent most of our holidays complaining about everyone that was not like us. No one has ever locked the doors when I walked down the street or wore a hooded sweatshirt. Even today, if anyone sees my sons running in the neighborhood, they just assume the best about them. It took a long journey through seminary to uncover my blind spots and prejudices.
What we need, of course, is the gospel of reconciliation offered through the cross of Christ. As Paul said in Ephesians 2, he has broken down the dividing walls between us. Through his resurrection, he has offered us new life. This new life where there is neither “Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” requires a liberating message of freedom as well as a redemptive message of hope. We need Christ to help us confess our sins so that he alone will be faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). This takes more than a “let peace begin with me” approach. Peace begins with Christ and his work to bring us together.
In 2008, I facilitated a panel at the New Baptist Covenant gathering in Atlanta. I learned so much by listening to minority ministers and laypeople. I listened to a former prosecutor, Mark Osler, professor of law at the University of St. Thomas, on the need for more Christian prosecutors and Christians willing to serve on grand juries when called. I’ve also listened to your feedback, members of our community, and read about the work of Terrell Carter in St. Louis. He’s the Minister of Administration at Third Baptist Church. He’s a former police officer and writes from the experience of being an African American police officer and citizen. As a result of my journey, let me suggest a few places to begin intentional listening sessions with people who are different than you. You’ll find several things that cause much of our communities to remain torn by sin. While no one factor can fully explain what’s happening, there are several things worth discussing and learning.
One-third of African American men will be incarcerated in their lifetime.
The culture of professional and college athletics prevents many minority students from getting an education and preparing for a stable life ahead. Many are subjected to a life of poverty. Some are involved in domestic violence and abuse as a part of this culture.
State lotteries focus on minority communities and the most vulnerable in our state.
Check cashing stores and payday lenders target minority communities and prey on the most vulnerable.
Forty percent of children in Leon County are parented by a household with one parent.
According to FDLE, the City of Tallahassee is #2 in our state in violent crime incidents. These incidents primarily happen in minority communities and apartment complexes among males age 18-29.
These are good starting points to help the church become even better at being the church. We don’t merely tolerate one another; we treat each other equally with humble service extending the freedom that comes through Jesus Christ. I’m grateful for the work our church is doing in these areas. We are not alone in these efforts, but we’re taking steps. Our work at Sabal Palm is building trust in a minority community. By mentoring underprivileged students and working with faculty, we’re helping to share the good news through good deeds.
Ministries such as Bill Glass Prison Ministries are touching the lives of prisoners. They’re going into places where inmates are trying to turn their lives around. These prisoners are often vulnerable to other religions as well. Bill Glass volunteers are meeting people at their moments of greatest need and sharing the gospel.
Our friends at FAMU and FSU are working to address the problems in our society and providing solutions in the process.
Our partnership this year with Gary and J.C. Montgomery provided a mission outpost in Griffin Heights. The Montgomerys work directly with children of prisoners to break the “cradle to prison” pipeline.
When times seem to be the darkest, light shines the brightest. Pray for God’s light to shine through prosecutors, police officers, parents, and community leaders. Pray for Micah 6:8 to be accomplished to “do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” No one person has all the solutions. We do, however, know the One who is the answer: Jesus Christ.
Seek more information about these issues by clicking on the links in this article or the suggested resources below. In the season of Advent 59 years ago, Rev. Paul Turner took the steps to care for the least of these in his community. This season is a great time to follow his lead. Turn your hearts again to the One who came as a baby in a Bethlehem manger. Let earth receive her King.
Michael Emerson on The Persistent Problem
Pastor Matt Chandler on White Privilege
Christian Practices to Overcome Racism
Lisa Rea on Restorative Justice
Prison Ministry called Reading for Life
Julia Fleming on State Lotteries
The Hidden Social Costs of Gambling