PHILADELPHIA (BP) — Pastor K. Marshall Williams has experienced what researchers term “post traumatic slave syndrome,” the trauma and pain African Americans suffer from societal and institutional racism and marginalization.
Racial conciliation, the process of empathizing with this trauma and pain, is necessary to achieve racial reconciliation, Williams told Baptist Press in advance of a forum he’s hosting Feb. 23 on the subject at his pastorate, Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia.
“Listening, learning, understanding and empathizing with the deep hurts and wounds of generational trauma due to our history of slavery, racism, oppression, injustice and its repercussions,” is conciliation, Williams said. “After being reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the next step.
“Authentic forgiveness, healing and adherence to the biblical mandate of reconciliation are then possible as a catalyst to usher in inexplicable unity in the body of Christ,” Williams told BP. “Then we can be true ministers of reconciliation!”
Mark Croston, director of National Black and Western Church Partnerships with LifeWay Christian Resources; Barry Whitworth, executive director of the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania and South Jersey (BRN); and Stanley Williams, BRN’s director of student ministry, are among program speakers and panelists.
The type of trauma Williams describes is real, confirms psychologist and forum panelist Philip Monroe, a trauma specialist with the American Bible Society.
“When we are overwhelmed with fear, horror and helplessness in the face of what seems like life-threatening experiences, we can become traumatized,” Monroe said. “Alternatively, chronic stress found in every day events such as living in a society that favors one group over another can lead to the same trauma symptoms.
“Healing begins when traumatized people discover they are not alone,” Monroe said, “and that God and their neighbors are able to hear and lament with them their deep losses.”
The event, “Trauma Healing and Racial Conciliation/Reconciliation,” will examine “how the Gospel can demolish and break the strongholds of sin, core wounds and hurts that manifest in personal, systematic and institutional racism and oppression,” according to promotional materials. Essence Magazine bestselling author and award winning journalist Solomon Jones will moderate.
Christians are responsible for responding to such sin, wounds and hurts, Croston told BP.
“We love to pray, Matthew 6:10, ‘Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…,” Croston said, “but we often don’t make the connection with Revelation 7:9 that says in Heaven, … I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.’
“So if we truly believe both these texts we have a divine obligation to fight against racism, systematic injustice and oppression,” Croston said, also offering James 1:27 and Matthew 23:23.
The trauma of systemic injustice and oppression can linger for generations, Monroe said.
“If the church is to become one body and not divided by race, then she must lead the way in the conversation about the problem of prejudice and racism,” Monroe said. “Conversations about how to change systems of prejudice and ungodly privilege begin by acknowledging where the church has not been like our Savior, where her culture must come in line with God’s love for justice.”
Williams discusses generational and personal trauma in the 2017 Emmy-nominated documentary, “Unchained,” supported by the American Bible Society and viewable at nazarenebc.org.
“Many of our people are still suffering from the memories, and they’ve buried them so deep, that they can’t even talk about them,” Williams said in Unchained. All Christians, regardless of race, have been “victimized, broken by sin and are in need of healing,” he told BP.
“As Kingdom citizens, we need to repent, in attitude and action, in humility and brokenness over our sin, pursuing passionate prayer, fasting, surrendering to instantaneous radical obedience to His Lordship in our lives,” he said. “Our calling is to be conduits of His unconditional love, justice, healing and empathetic blessing, which will enable us to consistently authenticate the power of Greatest Commandment living in our daily lives which will lead to the fulfillment of the Great Commission!”
Repentance and recovery will strengthen the church’s witness, Williams said, enabling Christians to effectively call the nation “in its public square, in its private sector and in its pulpits to repentance and to the manifestation of fruits of repentance for America’s original sin, the sin of slavery, that built this country over 200 years on the backs of black free labor.”
Panelist Whitworth and Williams have been holding monthly gatherings with 16 Philadelphia area pastors over the past year, focusing on education, relationships and service.
“We’re learning and understanding about racism and the systemic issues that continue to foster racism in our culture today,” Whitworth said. “We have learned that education is a key component to addressing ignorance about racism.
“We’re building relationships to help foster and build trust amongst pastors and within the body of Christ,” Whitworth said. “We’re exploring and creating ways to serve together in order to build unity for the sake of the advancement of the Gospel in Philadelphia and beyond.”
Croston, who communicates with thousands of pastors in his LifeWay post, gave BP several tips pastors can use in building cross-cultural appreciation.
“Love Your church culture without seeing others as inferior. Red and yellow, black and white all are precious in His sight,” Croston said. “Celebrate every member of your congregation.
“Sometimes we have members of our churches who are of other ethnicities and we unconsciously force them to conform to the dominant culture,” Croston said. “Know that God sent them to your congregation to add some of their flavor, thus moving us all to be more like Heaven here on Earth.”
Register for the Nazarene Baptist Church conference by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Life Focus Communications will video the event, Williams said.