The following article is the third in a series discussing racial issues in the PCA, each one written by an African-American with pastoral experience in the denomination. The authors seek to provide a voice of experience along with wisdom and insight from a biblical perspective.
I have the joy of serving at Faith Christian Fellowship (FCF), a PCA congregation in urban Baltimore, Md., that seeks to reflect the heavenly vision recorded in Revelation 7:9–10:
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. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
Because I am African-American and a pastor at FCF, I am occasionally asked, “What does FCF do for Black History Month? Is it celebrated, or is it ignored?” Our church exists to develop grace-filled followers of Jesus among the diverse people of Baltimore so that both the vertical and horizontal implications of the cross are clearly understood. God has reconciled believers to himself (vertical) through Christ and reconciled believers to one another (horizontal). The unity that we share at the foot of the cross is more important than our racial, cultural, gender, or socioeconomic diversity.
Therefore every February is “Unity Month” at FCF. During this time our congregation reflects on the horizontal nature of reconciliation. Rather than focusing solely on the powerful story of black history in America, we choose to focus on the powerful, unifying cross of Christ (Ephesians 2:11–18). It is my duty and privilege to create the annual Unity Month agenda. Because I have witnessed incredible shifts during the past 50 years, I want the month’s activities to remind us of several things.
Remember and Celebrate
First, I want us to remember that racial tensions have been a sad reality of American society and church life. Unity Month at FCF is a time to remember and celebrate where we have come from. We cannot disconnect from our heritage. I recall one particular Sunday morning during my childhood when we were driving to the black Baptist church in northwest Washington, D.C. As dad, mom, my three sisters, and I traversed the streets of DC past the Capitol building, we heard tragic news on the radio: Four young girls had just been killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala. As a 9-year-old hearing this, it seemed like just another crazy event in a weird world. I remember thinking about words I had heard from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during our visit to a local elementary school where he was speaking. I had the privilege of shaking his hand there. I recalled the message of non-violence that he proclaimed in that speech, just as in all of his speeches.
As we entered church the Sunday of the bombing, I asked my mom, “Why did this happen? Are there any white people who are truly Christians?” Her wise answer—as usual—took me back to the Christ of Scripture who gives the command: “Love one another, love your neighbor, love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Sadly, I have come to realize that those who did this shared a common perspective and common theology of race with some who were once a part of 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.
Examine and Discuss
Second, I want us to recognize that 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 (Jeremiah 17:9). 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, look into our hearts and ask tough questions. At our panel discussions, members share family, church, and society experiences. 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 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.
Reflect and Plan
Third, I want us to recognize that the nature of tension surrounding racial issues is changing dramatically.
As we look beyond the unfolding 21st century, we see that the predominant issue of black/white racial tension is becoming secondary to newer ethnic realities that have risen as large numbers of people from across the seas come into all regions of America. Therefore, at FCF, Unity Month is a time to strategize, a time to ask the difficult questions that a strong commitment to the Great Commission always brings. For example: Do I as a black man love my Korean brother in the congregation? Do I love the Hispanic neighbor who comes across my path in my neighborhood? 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. We realize that with new immigrants, there are fresh tensions that warrant a new era of multiracial 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 PCA church profiles look like in 30 years? Will we reflect the diverse nation in which we live? Is that even a goal of the denomination? If it is, how will we get there?
The Jesus of Scripture did not come solely for the Israelites, the Samaritans, the Greeks, or Gentiles. As John 1:12 states, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Heaven will be a place where all God’s children worship the Lamb of God together. It is the prayer of Faith Christian Fellowship that Unity Month activities can be a reminder of this wonderful reality.
Co-Pastor Stanley J. Long joined the FCF staff March 1, 2000 after serving as solo pastor of Forest Park Reformed Presbyterian Church, an African American PCA congregation in West Baltimore, for almost nine years. After his 1976 graduation from Frostburg (Md.) State College with a bachelor’s in history, Long served university students in Maryland through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Black Campus Ministry for 11 years. He then went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Ill., where he earned a Master of Divinity in 1989. Married to Terri since 1981, the couple has five children.