TE – Stan Long
I have had the joy of serving at Faith Christian Fellowship, a PCA congregation in urban Baltimore that seeks to reflect John’s heavenly vision in Revelation 7:9-10:
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
As an African American pastor at FCF, one question that we have to occasionally answer is: “What does FCF do for Black History Month? Is it celebrated? Is it ignored?” Our church exists to develop grace-filled followers of Jesus among the diverse people of Baltimore in such a way that both the vertical and horizontal implications of the cross are clearly understood. God has reconciled believers to Himself through Christ and reconciled believers to one another. The unity that we share together at the foot of the cross is more important than our racial, cultural, gender and socio-economic diversity.
So at FCF each February is “Unity Month” where we reflect upon this horizontal nature of reconciliation. Rather than focus only on the powerful story of black history in America, we choose to focus upon the powerful, unifying cross of Christ. (Eph 2:11-18). It is my duty and privilege to create the annual Unity Month agenda. Having watched the incredible shifts of the last 50 years, I want the month’s activities to remind us of several things:
Racial tensions have been a sad reality of American society and our church life.
Unity Month at FCF is first of all a time to remember and celebrate from where we have come. We as PCA people cannot disconnect ourselves from our history. I recall as a child riding one Sunday morning to the black Baptist church in Northwest Washington, DC where our family worshiped each week. As Dad, Mom, my 3 sisters and myself traversed the streets of DC past the Capital building we heard tragic news on the radio. In Birmingham, Alabama 3 little girls had just been killed in a church bombing. As 9 year old kid this was just another crazy event in a weird world. I remember thinking about words I had heard earlier when we went to see Dr. King at the local elementary school and I even had the privilege of shaking his hand. I recalled the message of non-violence that he had proclaimed in that speech as in all his speeches. So that Sunday morning I asked my mom as we entered church “Why did this happen? Are there any white people who are truly Christians?” Her wise answer as usual took us back to the Christ of scripture who commands us to “love one another, love your neighbor, love your enemies.” Sadly I have grown to realize that those who did this kind of thing shared a common perspective and common theology of race with some of the Fathers and Brothers that created our denomination. For many of us those images and realities are not ancient history but sad memories which we have had to process before coming to this denomination and committing ourselves to this communion.
Racial tensions are still a big problem in our world.
Though legal segregation no longer exists Jeremiah still accurately reminds us that the human heart is desperately wicked.” We as a nation have national pledges and religious creeds that urge us to live in love, peace and harmony. Therefore Unity Month at FCF is a time to discuss the present, looking into our hearts, asking the tough questions. At our panel discussions members share experiences in family, church and society. We believe that racial prejudice is not just a thing of the past. Our theology tells us that sin has affected us all very deeply. If we believe we are sinners then we should not be surprised that racial tensions creep to the surface of our hearts in subtle and in overt ways. We should not be surprised that unintentional sins of prejudice and preferential treatment are still part of the fabric of what it means to live in America.
The nature of tensions surrounding race is dramatically changing .
As we look beyond the present as this 21st century unfolds we see that the predominant issue of black/white racial tension is becoming secondary to newer ethnic realities that have arisen as people from across the seas come into all regions of America in large numbers. So Unity Month is a time to strategize – asking the many hard questions that a strong commitment to the great commission always brings. For example, am I as a black man loving my Korean brother in the congregation? Or the Hispanic neighbor who comes across my path in my neighborhood? Or how can our church do a better job of embracing the new immigrants among us?
Unity month is a not only a time to celebrate progress but to strategize for a better future. Realizing that with the emergence of new emigrants there are fresh tensions in the air which warrant a new era of multi-racial dialogue, our denomination needs participate in the discussion. The Obama presidency has caused some to declare that America is a “post-racial nation.” Has Dr. King’s dream that men be judged solely by the content of their character become a new reality? What will be the profile of PCA churches in 30 years? Will we look like the diverse nation in which we live? Is that even a goal? If it is then how will we get there?
The Jesus of scripture did not come for Israel only, the Samaritans only, the Greeks only nor for Gentile people only. “To as many as received him he gave the right to become sons of God, as John 1 states. Heaven will be a place where all God’s children worship the Lamb of God together. It is our prayer each year that FCF’s Unity Month activities can be a reminder of this wonderful reality.