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Texas CLC examines models for racial reconciliation

FLOWER MOUND, Texas (BP)–Improved race relations depend upon relationship-building, speakers told the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission and its board of consultants at an April 7-8 retreat.

As part of a day-long discussion of the church’s role in racial reconciliation, the Texas Baptist moral concerns agency examined ministry models based on building relationships through partnerships between ethnically different churches, through blended churches and through community alliances designed to meet common needs.

Two Fort Worth pastors, Stephen Shoemaker of Broadway Baptist Church and Michael Bell of Greater St. Stephen Baptist Church, described an ongoing relationship between their two congregations.

In their case, the relationship developed along two tracks. The pastors shared common commitments and had a natural rapport with each other. And small fellowships within the two churches met regularly to discuss ways to be community peacemakers.

As a result, the relationship moved from routine pulpit and choir exchanges to joint worship services, men’s meetings and women’s retreats involving laity from both churches, and partnership in community ministries.

For example, members of Greater St. Stephen work with Broadway members in serving a meal to homeless people each Thursday evening and sharing the Lord’s Supper with them.

“It’s a nice, sit-down, family style meal with cut flowers and tablecloths that our people share with the homeless people in our community,” Shoemaker said. “When they arrive, they are given a warm washcloth to freshen up, just like flying first class on an airline. And the food is better than what our members eat on Wednesday night.”

The deepening relationship between the two congregations allowed them to grow together even through tense times, such as when Bell spoke out against what he perceived to be racial injustice in the Fort Worth school district and its magnet school program.

When Bell came to preach at Broadway during the school controversy, the church scheduled an open forum after worship services when members could question him and voice their own concerns about his position.

“The forum let it be something we could talk about honestly and not something to whisper about in the corners,” Bell said.

George Mosier described his seven years as pastor of the racially and ethnically blended Beckley Hills Baptist Church in south Dallas as “the hardest and most fun in my life.” The low-income congregation was one-third Anglo, one-third black and one-third Hispanic, reflecting the ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.

“Credibility” in the community is essential for a church in a racially diverse area, Mosier said. He recalled two teen gang members assuring him he was “protected” because he cared about young people in the neighborhood.

“I confess that it is a strange and wonderful feeling to be a protected Baptist pastor,” Mosier said.

Willie Bennett, organizer for Austin Interfaith, and Gerald Britt, pastor of New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, Dallas, described the relationships that develop across denominational, racial and ethnic lines when people of faith work together for a common cause.

“Over and over, you can get people to transcend race when you’re dealing with their interests,” Bennett said.

Three other presenters gave their perspectives on race relations. Foy Valentine, former director of both the Texas and Southern Baptist Christian Life Commissions, provided a historical perspective.

Ellis Orozco, pastor of Corpus Christi Baptist Church, pointed out because of Texas’ proximity to Mexico and the continuing exchange back and forth across the border, Hispanics in the state will always be at various stages of assimilation into Anglo culture.

The aim for Texas Baptists, he said, should be to move from paternalism toward full partnership with Hispanic Baptists, recognizing their cultural distinctives.

“I want to sit together with you at the table of brotherhood, but I don’t want to eat with a fork,” he said. “I want to scoop up my food with a tortilla.”
Jim Culp, director of black church development for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said he believes relations between Anglos and blacks in the United States today are at their lowest point in two decades.

“If our nation is to survive as a peaceful nation and not be torn apart as others have been, the church cannot remain silent,” Culp said. “It cannot acquiesce to what is going on.”

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  • Ken Camp