On the other side of the country, Dr. Richard Smith pastors The Movement Church in Baltimore. The mostly black church is small, with about 100 members, which allows it to respond nimbly to crises in the community. Smith, who is black, and many of his congregants have been marching with protesters in Baltimore: They want to identify spiritual needs among demonstrators. He told me that most of the pastoral conversations he’s having at the protests are with white demonstrators eager to listen. He encourages them and thanks them for taking the “huge step of coming out of their comfort zone when for years maybe they’ve felt like they don’t really have to.”
Churches and faith-based groups are also making some efforts to harness technology to safely minister to believers as the coronavirus remains a threat.
In New Orleans, faith-based nonprofit Mission Reconcile aims to connect and integrate “one-race churches,” primarily black and white. The group is hosting online events, through Zoom, to help virtual attendees understand implicit biases and how to “love our neighbors.” The Revolution Church in Muncie, Ind., will have weekly discussions of Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise, a book about the American church’s role in creating and resolving racial divides.
Social media increased visibility of travesties like Floyd’s death. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have allowed churches and prominent Christian leaders to share digital resources about racism and systemic discrimination.
Jackie Hill Perry and Beth Moore both used Twitter to promote Sunday’s message by Pastor Charlie Dates of Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church. He titled his sermon “I Can’t Breathe,” referencing Floyd, and covered Genesis 2:7 and John 20:21-22. “We who are of the human race are breathing the breath of God’s life,” Dates preached.
He was among about 50 faith leaders who participated in a “peaceful demonstration of solidarity,” marching through the historically black Bronzeville neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side district Tuesday evening. Church members of different ethnic backgrounds marched as day turned to dusk, chanting, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
In New York City on Tuesday night, churches from around the city gathered for a prayerful protest, using the hashtag “#PrayMarchAct” as a virtual rallying cry. Demonstrators concluded the event in front of Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, and lifted their hands in corporate prayer. The peaceful march ended before the citywide 8 p.m. curfew.
Atlanta has seen days of protests, with riots sometimes following. Be the Bridge, a Christian racial literacy organization based in Atlanta, has used social media extensively to promote resource guides and other content to facilitate conversations and understanding about racial wounds among believers. Speaking at a press conference in Atlanta Monday, Be the Bridge founder Latasha Morrison urged white Christians to listen to black voices.
“As white people, what you have to do in this … take a step back and let black people lead. Let us use our voice in this season,” Morrison said to the multiracial crowd.
That’s a sentiment Allen Holmes, who pastors Daystar Church in the most racially diverse part of Greensboro, N.C., has tried to promote through his church. Minorities make up about 40 percent of his congregation. Holmes, with a deep Carolina drawl, recalled a black, male friend telling him of his personal experience: “Every time I’m in public, I have to smile a lot, and laugh a lot, and kind of look like the jolly black guy, because if I don’t, everyone’s going to be scared of me.”
Holmes moderated a community discussion on race Tuesday night from the stage of his church, with black and white church members as panelists. He said honest discussion about race within churches is often more challenging than a prayer service, joking, “Sometimes I think people pray because they don’t really want to talk.”
But Holmes doesn’t discount the importance of prayer, calling it “essential.” Joey Tomassoni, lead pastor of Annapolis, Md.’s Downtown Hope Church, is trying to put that principle into practice. The church’s executive pastor, David Bempong, is a second-generation Ghanaian. They’ve made inroads into the racially diverse neighborhood that surrounds the church by providing meals and pop-up pantries.
Together, Tomassoni and Bempong took time Wednesday to lead Anne Arundel County’s multicultural pastor prayer network—with nearly 100 member pastors—through a time of online prayer. Pastors asked for “healing through this tragic death of George Floyd,” Tomassoni said, and followed the prayer with discussion among pastors about race relations.
“Most of the time the white evangelical church is pretty silent on these things, but maybe this is a moment where we can make a statement on why we want to reject that precedent moving forward,” Tomassoni said.