My passion for racial reconciliation really began when Karen and I were leading a church in Memphis, TN. Memphis is unique in that, tragically, it’s the place where Dr. King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968. The greatest sin of America is racism, and to have the greatest leader of racial reconciliation assassinated in our city created a painful scar for all people of Memphis. About three years before Dr. King’s 50th anniversary, I began to approach pastor friends of mine. I knew that, on the 50th anniversary, the world was going look at Memphis and wonder what had changed. If we didn’t start building relationship across racial lines, we could show up for a photo op without experiencing true transformation. So, as community leaders, we got together and we put on a three-day retreat called, “Healing Wounded History.” With an almost even number of white and black pastors, we began to retrace the history of racism in our country.
Authentic relationship is the first step of long-term change, and that was an intentional part of our process. But, we also began to identify the top issues of systemic racism in our city. Together, as white and African American leaders, we began to verbalize the problems and brainstorm solutions for things like early literacy, prison re-entry, vocational and leadership training. We started a network of around 75 churches and, together, we began to bridge the trust gap, the education gap, and the economic gap in Memphis.
I was praying about racism one night and I heard the Lord say the phrase, “Race for Reconciliation.” I knew He was giving me a tool. As I prayed, God downloaded the blueprint of nationwide 5K and 10K races. These events were to educate about racism, opening up the discussion within communities, and give back 75% of the money raised to local nonprofits already invested in racial reconciliation.
The discussion of racism is at a climax right now because the death of one man was captured on camera. But racism has been happening all along. The fact that we haven’t always seen it has to break our hearts. In the story of the Good Samaritan, the priest passed right by the injured man. Much of the American Church has done the same with racism. We have to repent of that, because God meant for His Body to be compassionate first responders, known by love.