“The Gospel uniquely calls us to be involved in this space of building bridges,” said Pastor Bryan Carter of Concord Church in Dallas during a Monday afternoon workshop on race and the church at the 2019 Texas Baptists Annual Meeting. “No matter what your background is, when we come to the Gospel we now share the same spiritual DNA, the same bloodline, so now we must work together.”
Carter joined Pastor Jeff Warren of Park Cities Baptist Church to describe the growth of their friendship and how it has contributed to their efforts to improve race relations in Dallas.
“Everyone has a racial story or a race history,” Carter said. “Whether you grew up in a rural town, predominantly white, whether you grew up in an inner-city and went through segregation, we have a story that goes through our lives.”
Carter shared that his race story meant growing up in a black and brown neighborhood, but going to an integrated school that was about 50 percent white. After high school, he went to Oklahoma State University, where there were 367 students of color in a student body of 19,000.
“I’ve always had to learn—as most people of color have had to learn—how to navigate in both spaces,” he said. “How to be true to who you are, but also how to navigate in those spaces so that you can be successful professionally.”
Warren’s race story in North Carolina meant growing up in a white neighborhood and being bussed from his suburb to a diverse school in downtown Charlotte. He described growing up in a loving, non-prejudiced home and becoming good friends with people of all races through sports.
Warren said that this history, as well as his spiritual gift of empathy, drew him to focus on the work of racial reconciliation.
“Understanding leads to empathy and empathy is the pathway to peace,” Warren said. “Most people aren’t very empathetic because they don’t have understanding. Another word for that is ignorance.”
The work of understanding almost always begins with a conversation, he said, and that is how Warren’s and Carter’s friendship began. They were introduced by a mutual friend in 2011 and got together for lunch.
In the years that followed, stories of unarmed black men being killed by white men appeared in the news again and again, culminating in riots in Ferguson, MO, in 2014. Warren and Carter took steps to intentionally grow their relationship during this time.
“We came together and one of us asked the question, ‘What if Ferguson comes to Dallas?’” Warren said. “And we realized we’re not ready.”
“We believe the church is the answer to this problem. If a watching world sees the church and we’re not at the center of social justice and racial reconciliation, they will not believe us.”
Carter said that the next step was to invite other leaders into the conversation.
“I invited eight or nine pastors from my side of town, he invited eight or nine pastors from his side of town, and we sat around tables and began to ask each other questions: ‘What does it feel like to grow up in Dallas? How have you experienced racism in this city? Does your church talk about it?’” Carter said.
“These are honest conversations, but, friends, this is where all this starts. Sometimes you can watch the news and watch the media and walk away with an impression of an issue without talking to a real person,” Carter said. “We had to come away from our own safe space and begin to have these kinds of valuable, authentic conversations.”
Carter emphasized that things cannot stop with just a conversation. He gave practical suggestions for steps churches and individuals could take to dismantle the systems that have been set up to oppress people of color.
The disparity in education is one of the most obvious areas for engagement; churches can begin a mentoring or tutoring program to help children of color in underperforming schools succeed.
Economic empowerment is another area for reconciliation work. This might come in the form of providing capital to an entrepreneur or sharing expertise.
“One of the men at Jeff’s church mentored a man at my church that was trying to grow and develop his business,” Carter said. “These may not seem like big things to you, but these are very significant. When you’re a person of color, one of the ways racism plays out is that it limits your access.”
Churches that start ministries to serve formerly incarcerated people are also doing the work of racial reconciliation. Carter gave the example of a legal aid clinic in south Dallas that was a joint partnership between Concord Church and Park Cities Baptist.
“Anything you can do in your city to be able to address these systemic issues where people of color have been excluded, when you run for office, you serve on boards, when you engage in the system to try to represent the gospel in the space God has called you to, that’s what racial reconciliation looks like,” Carter said. “It’s about you imprinting on these spaces and helping to build equitable systems that more reflect the God we serve.”