MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–Although Montgomery often is described as the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement, First Baptist Church and other area congregations are working to show the city’s progress toward racial reconciliation.
In connection with a yearlong series of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, black and white leaders in the Christian community launched an initiative -– named the ONE Movement — for “building bridges of racial reconciliation that will facilitate a great spiritual awakening,” as First Baptist pastor Jay Wolf described it.
“Montgomery and Alabama are regarded as places of division by many people in other parts of the world,” said Wolf, First Baptist’s pastor since 1991. “It is exciting to see Montgomery change because of the power of Jesus and have the courage to become known as a place of reconciliation.”
Wolf noted, “We should have the courage and faith to tell the world that our bold goal is reconciliation that will spark a massive revival. When we are one in Christ, the world will be won to Christ.”
Wolf said he began to see prejudice as a sin as a Christian teenager. Years later when he came to First Baptist, “I felt the Lord was doing a great work in the heart of a spiritually strategic city and part of that work was racial reconciliation.”
Wolf became involved in the cause several years ago when a group of black and white ministers came together for prayer and fellowship under the banner of John 17.
“Our prayer focus [has been] linked to John 17:21, where Jesus instructed and interceded, ‘Be one so the world may believe,’” Wolf said. “Growing out of God’s heart and the John 17 minister’s fellowship, the ONE Movement was born.
“I have shared the opportunities with the … FBC family, and we have embraced the cause of seeking to model racial reconciliation in order to spark a spiritual awakening,” the pastor said.
The bus boycott commemoration included a citywide Women of Wisdom prayer breakfast Dec. 1 hosted by Montgomery’s first lady, Judge Lynn Bright, also a member of First Baptist. Bernice King, daughter of the late Martin Luther King Jr., was the keynote speaker on the day when, in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus, sparking the bus boycott led by a young pastor –- Martin Luther King Jr. -– who would later rise to the forefront of the nation’s civil rights movement.
First Baptist hosted the city’s prayer service and remembrance walk Dec. 3 to honor heroes of the civil rights movement. Martin Luther King III, Juanita Abernathy, Jesse Jackson and Otis Moss were among the event’s speakers.
A key facet of the ONE Movement is fellowship among black and white churches, with First Baptist already having taken a leading role.
“Eating together, praying together and praising the Lord together dissolves misconceptions and provides a powerful bonding cement to build bridges of relationships,” Wolf said.
Working closely with Wolf and First Baptist are pastor Kyle Searcy and the Fresh Anointing Church International in Montgomery. Searcy said the year-long bus boycott anniversary helps celebrate the progress made over the past 50 years and challenges Alabamians to continue the works of Rosa Parks, taking them to a new level.
“It is a tremendous moment and I’m glad it’s happening,” Searcy said of the ONE Movement. “My heart’s desire and prayer is that ongoing and lifetime relationships across the races develop from it.
“Reconciliation is not just coming together in one meeting. That is the beginning. We have to carry it on to the end.”
Searcy hopes other churches also will begin to reach across racial and denominational lines to form friendships. “There is a genuine bond that’s happening between Fresh Anointing and First Baptist,” he said, “and I’d like to see that happen more often.”
Because the 1955 boycott continued for 381 days, the ONE Movement is calling for people to wear black and white wristbands for 381 days to symbolize racial reconciliation. More than 25,000 wristbands have been distributed so far, and people from other cities have expressed interest in beginning a similar effort.
Volunteers from various churches also have distributed 6,000 black and white crosses for people to display at their homes during the 381 days to show their desire “for Montgomery to be a model of racial reconciliation and revival,” Wolf said. The 4-by-2-foot crosses feature a black hand and a white hand joined together with the words of Jesus proclaiming, “Be ONE so the world may believe.”
“God put on my heart John 12:32, where Jesus promised, ‘If I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself,’” Wolf said. “We wanted to use the platform of the 50th anniversary of the bus boycott and the publicity it would generate to boldly proclaim that transformation does not come at the foot of a judge’s bench but at the foot of King Jesus’ cross.”
Although the cross became a controversial symbol during the civil rights movement, he said community response to the crosses connected to the ONE Movement has been positive.
“Some non-Christian and non-evangelical friends expressed a concern about displaying a cross because they linked it to the disgusting KKK [Ku Klux Klan] practice of burning crosses as a symbol of intimidation and hate,” Wolf said. “But we have utilized the discussion to explain that the cross is the ultimate symbol of love and inclusion. We refuse to let anyone hijack the cross. We also believe that the cross is a magnet that draws people to God’s loving and liberating heart.”
The ONE Movement has garnered national and statewide attention, including segments on ABC’s “World News Tonight” and “Good Morning America.” During the 2005 annual meeting of the Alabama Baptist State Convention, messengers gave support to the bus boycott commemoration and denounced racism in all its forms through a resolution on racial reconciliation.
Like the ONE Movement’s purpose, the resolution stated, “… we as Alabama Baptists intentionally seek to destroy barriers of racism and build bridges of racial reconciliation to unify the Body of Christ and facilitate a great number of people coming to know Jesus as their Savior and Lord.”
The ONE Movement plans to further encourage racial reconciliation through other collaborative events, including a citywide crusade. Although Wolf believes reconciliation will never be perfectly achieved “this side of heaven,” he hopes the world will be changed through efforts like these.
Sondra Washington is a correspondent for The Alabama Baptist, newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.