MOBILE, Ala. (BP) – Attendees at the Shrink the Divide racial reconciliation gathering at Redemption Church in Mobile, Ala., Sunday night (Oct. 3) took their seats, perhaps beside those who appeared most familiar. Then they were asked to change.
“The leadership told everybody to move next to someone who doesn’t look like them,” host pastor Ed Litton, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press Monday (Oct. 4). “It was natural. If there was awkwardness, and there usually is, that dissipated rapidly. People really enjoyed being together last night.”
Litton was one of two keynote speakers at the fourth annual event sponsored by the Pledge Group, a seven-year-old Christian multidenominational and multiracial group of Mobile-area pastors committed to working for racial reconciliation in Mobile.
Speaking to the diverse audience, Litton referenced Southern Baptists.
“I’ll tell you what’s hurting us today. Nobody in the Southern Baptist Convention, nobody in my church, and probably nobody in your church would ever want to be called a bigot,” Litton said, “but indifference is killing us.”
In comments to Baptist Press, Litton said Southern Baptists have made tremendous progress toward racial reconciliation in the past 25 years, but said work remains.
“I would say that many of us don’t think of ourselves as bigots. We don’t think of ourselves as prejudiced, and we disdain that, we hate that terminology, which is not a bad thing,” he said. “The problem is, we live indifferent of the suffering or the needs of many of those in our community who really don’t share a lot with us, in common with us, so we have to cross those barriers.
“Listen, this is the leading problem to why our baptisms are down, is that we tend to homogenize, we go with people who look like us, people we feel comfortable with. So racial reconciliation is impossible without the Gospel.”
Pledge Group President Roy Hill, discipleship pastor of DaySpring Baptist Church, said the group has seen progress in Mobile in building cross-cultural relationships and partnerships.
“We have seen a lot of relationships made among pastors,” Hill said. “We feel like the emphasis of the Pledge Group is Gospel-centered, Gospel-driven racial reconciliation. It has to happen in the churches and we’ve believed from the beginning that for it to happen in the churches, it needs to happen with the pastors.
“And so we’ve seen a number of pastors who’ve established really strong relationships with one another across racial lines.”
The Collective, a diverse group of worship leaders in Mobile, led worship at the event and has been effective, Hill said, in leading worship at events across the city. Seven churches were represented in worship at the event. Richie Riles, men’s basketball coach at the University of South Alabama, was a keynote speaker.
Litton used the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 to emphasize that Jesus wants believers to “feel what the victim’s feeling.” Referencing the woman at the well in John 4, Litton showed that Jesus crossed racial lines in ministry, and that His disciples should do the same.
Litton encouraged humility and said personal suffering allows us to connect with others who suffer.
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Ignoring doesn’t heal all wounds. Just praying and saying it’s going to get better doesn’t heal all wounds. Believing in a God Who heals, yes, that’s what heals wounds,” Litton said. “But it also requires that we make intentional treatments of those wounds, that we are persistent and consistent with one another, that we are always a source in the Body of Christ, all of our churches, to experience love and prayer and care for one another.”
The Pledge Group offers Bible studies and videos on its website, ShrinktheDivide.com, and promotes a personal pledge to work toward reconciliation:
- In my daily context, I will recognize and engage with persons of other races, speaking a warm greeting to them as fellow travelers on the journey of life;
- In my prayers, I will pray regularly for racial unity and harmony and for spiritual revival in our shared local communities and in our nation;
- In my personal initiative, I will pro-actively foster and deepen relationships with persons across racial, socio-economic, ethnic and denominational lines.
The full program can be viewed here and on the Pledge Group’s Facebook page.