Correction: Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton’s academic credentials were left off when the story was first published. It has been corrected in the story below.
Responding to recent incidents of police violence, 77 Church of Christ ministers and scholars penned a letter to church members expressing concern of racial issues across the country – specifically within Churches of Christ. Several ACU faculty members and local ministers were among those who signed the document, which was published in the Christian Chronicle in early September.
Dr. Doug Foster, professor of church history and a cosigner of the letter, said it came about as a response to the deaths of multiple unarmed black men who were killed by the police.
“A number of members of Church of Christ and other Christian bodies have been working on issues of racial unity in our churches and nation for some time,” Foster said in an email. “The recent series of killings of black citizens and white police officers convinced many that it would be wrong for us as Christians to say nothing about this deep division and state a commitment to heal it.”
The letter provides the history of Church of Christ and its virtual silence during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, points to racism and bigotry that emerged in the 2008 election of President Obama and more recently the response to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The writers acknowledge in some ways Church of Christ have come a long way from the segregation of the ’60s, yet “in other ways, we have not come far at all.”
“Once again,” the letter reads, “the nation finds itself in racial turmoil based, in turn, on persistent segregation patterns. And Churches of Christ reflect the same patterns of segregation that prevail in the larger culture. So the question cries out for an answer: How will we respond?”
The letter concludes saying, “as Christians we can, and must, do better.”
Those who signed include several from ACU, including board president Dr. Barry Packer, former president Dr. Royce Money and board member Eddie Sharp. Faculty members who signed include Dr. Mark Hamilton, Dr. Christopher Hutson, Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton, Amy McLaughlin Sheasby and Dr. Joey Cope. Mike Cope, former minister at Highland Church of Christ, and current minister Jonathan Storment also signed.
Since its publication, Foster said he believes the message has been well received.
“While I am certain that some people have been unhappy about the statement, the only responses I have received have been from people who are deeply grateful for it, most saying something like, ‘It is about time something was said publicly,'” Foster said.
When Amy McLaughlin-Sheasby learned of the letter, she knew it was something she wanted to put her name on.
The letter was penned in part by a mentor and former professor of Sheasby – Dr. David Fleer, professor of preaching at Lipscomb University, a Church of Christ-affiliated school in Nashville.
“When I saw an email from him saying here’s a letter we’ve penned, I figured I would agree with it because I knew who had written it,” said Sheasby, instructor of Bible, missions and ministry. “I took some time to read and meditate on it and think it over and I was in.”
Racial reconciliation is an important matter to Sheasby starting when her family adopted her black brother.
“There was a point that these conversations all became very personal,” Sheasby said. “It shifted from a lofty theological idea of reconciliation to a down-to-earth necessity.”
Sheasby said she hopes to carry the conversation into her classroom at ACU.
“One of my passions as an educator is to equip my students to have difficult conversations, to think diligently, and to direct that thinking towards making a better world, and this conversation plays into that,” Sheasby said.
As the letter continues to be circulated, Foster echoed Sheasby, noting the importance of engaging the matter on ACU’s campus.
“I don’t know how many know about the recent letter, but whether they are aware of that specific effort or not, such discussions must happen – even when unpleasant or uncomfortable – to allow us to open our hearts and minds to the transforming power of Christ,” Foster said.