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What Can We Do Together?

Terry Hunt
I was born sixty years ago in the United States of America, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” In our Declaration of Independence, it says, “all men are created equal.” But in my childhood, I saw the opposite.

My parents were both African American, but my mother was so fair skinned that she could easily pass for a White woman all day long. Mother would share stories with me from the 50s and 60s of how she would frequent a local drug store that served lunch. In those days, Black folks were not allowed to be served at the counter or sit at a table. But she looked so white that they never asked her if she was Black.

Another time, Mom and her sister (my aunt) went to a restaurant and seated themselves in the “Colored Section.” Immediately, the waitress came over and told them that they were in the wrong section and asked them to move to the section for “Whites Only.”

As a child, I went to school by bus and I remember passing by two White schools that were close to our home, but we kept driving for seventeen miles until we reached an all-Black school. When our schools were desegregated in 1968, I was bussed to the closest school. But all of the Black students sat at the back of the bus.

The first year our schools were integrated, over fifty percent of the Black students were held back and asked to repeat the year. In part, it was due to the outdated schoolbooks that we were given to use. One of my schoolbooks had my mother’s name in it! She is twenty-four years older than me, so that would tell you how far behind the Black schools were. Later we learned that some of the White teachers didn’t really want the integration policies to be successful, so by not promoting Black students it gave them the right to say, “I told you so.”

By the mid 70s when I was in high school, most of my closest friends were White and I didn’t feel much racial tension. From time to time, I would hear my parents talk about inequality in the workplace and how it was extremely hard for people of color to advance. Growing up, they used to tell us that we needed to work twice as hard as White people in order to have a chance at a decent life.

Other people said that we already had two strikes against us: we were poor and we were Black. As a teenager, that was a big pill to swallow because I knew that in baseball you only had three strikes and you were out. But despite that, God allowed my three siblings and me to become productive citizens.

I have spent the last thirty-six years as a pastor, half of those as bi-vocational and fifteen of those as the Conference Minister of the Eastern District of US Mennonite Brethren Churches. Other than my devotion to Christ and my family, my passion now is to engage with Christians about what I feel is the number one cause of disunity in our churches and nation: racial injustice.

The American church should be the voice of Jesus in every situation and should be the one embracing God’s plan for the Church as revealed in Revelation 7:9, “a great multitude… from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” The Christlike church should be leading the charge and not following a particular political party or movement.

There are so many things to divide churches in America today, from denominations to worship styles. In terms of race, the Church is still the most segregated institution in America on Sunday mornings. I often ask myself, why is that?

I invite you to ask yourself the same question as you think about the make up of your local church. I would also invite you to begin praying with me and asking God to look deep into your heart and to oust anything that is keeping our churches from reflecting his plans for his Church. May I encourage you to make friends with people who do not look like you and learn to listen to their stories as you share your own. What can we do together?

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