By Denton Josey, Features Editor
Southern Hills will host a conference on racism and reconciliation this weekend. The event, ‘Erasing Racism: Reconciliation of the Races in Christ’ takes place Friday evening and Saturday.
Jack Walker, former missionary in residence at ACU and Bible professor, is one of the organizers of the event, as well as Dr. Jerry Taylor, assistant professor of Bible, missions and ministry.
Walker, who spent 20 years as a missionary to Uruguay, is the missionary in residence at Southern Hills and director of Bridges to the World, a ministry that works mainly with Latin America. Walker and Taylor are part of an ethnically diverse group of 15 people, students and faculty, who have planned the event for several months.
The group from ACU that meets every month to discuss race and the church is known as United By Faith. The group began as a reading group, and after reading both “Divided By Faith” and “United By Faith” the group decided to name itself after the latter book. The conference at Southern Hills is the result of the group wanting to do more than just discuss the issues within the group.
“It’s just a natural outflow of what we’ve been doing on a monthly basis,” Taylor said. “We didn’t want to be just a discussion group, but do something in addition to that.”
“This is the first stab at getting out of our group and into the churches,” Walker said.
Walker said the focus is inward and outward.
“This is an attempt to get churches to discuss how we can, No. 1, internally have better relationships with Christians in the Church of Christ, and secondly, become better agents in the community to promote better relations between ethnicities,” Walker said.
Though only Church of Christ congregations received invitations, the longterm goal is to include more people in the community.
“That’s the natural place where we start, and we thought it would be a good place for us to start,” Taylor said. “It’s not where we’re going to finish; we hope to do something next year that would have a broader outreach in the community.”
One of the goals of the conference is to gather Churches of Christ in the community and discuss issues of ethnicity and how Christians relate to each other.
“The goal is to, hopefully, arrive at a deeper and more accurate understanding of the nature and spirit of racism, to see how it functions, and operates within a persons spirit and sometimes how it operates on an unconscious level,” Taylor said.
Walker said all the area Churches of Christ are invited.
“This is not an attempt to be exclusive or wall ourselves off from other churches in town – we hope it becomes an ongoing event, but we feel like we first need to focus on ourselves and ask ourselves some questions before we go out into the community,” Walker said.
While there have been improvements in racial relations in the Church of Christ, Walker said, there’s always room for improvement.
“I think one of the ways we’ve all missed out is there are basically three fellowships within the Church of Christ: African American, Hispanic and Anglo.”
Walker said a lack of communication and fellowship among the groups is detrimental and impoverishing to all three groups.
“It is by our unity that we show people how to solve the problems of the greater community.”
Walker said despite overcoming physical segregation, such as businesses and schools, each ethnicity tends to stick to its own group and that is the kind of barrier he hopes to see come down.
“I’ve lived around the world; I’ve been fortunate to travel to many nations, and that’s only enriched my own life by not just meeting people from different ethnicities and cultures, but becoming friends with them,” Walker said.
Walker, whose own genealogy includes both Choctaw and Cherokee ancestry, married a Uruguayan, Beatriz Walker, assistant professor of Spanish. Beattriz, who has Lebanese, Spanish Portuguese and French ancestry, is scheduled to speak on Saturday about the Latino heritage.
In addition to increasing communication on the subjects of racism and issues of ethnicity, Walker said the conference organizers want to promote a dynamic within participants that will equip them to change not only their home congregations,
but also the community.
Walker said he hopes students come and do more than listen to the speeches, but ask themselves questions, such as “What does this mean for me, how can I act? How can I be a catalyst for more open communication and closer relationships on campus?”
The conference material was first introduced during a retreat with the Richland Hills Church of Christ on their New Wineskins retreat.
Taylor said it is important for Christians to discover how to deal with racism and learn how to communicate and cooperate with all races because the world needs an example.
“The goal is to listen to one another, more than anything else,” Walker said. “Each of us has to give the other person the occasion to speak, we have to demonstrate that we want to hear what the other person has to say.”
Southern Hills will provide two free meals; attendance is free. Participants are asked to RSVP by Thursday at www.wecareabilene.org or 692-2670.