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A Symphony of Brotherhood

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Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have a dream that one day . . . the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope . . . [and] transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Though the United States has come a long way from the days when Dr. King spoke these words, the Equal Justice Initiative seeks to close the remaining divide through their memorial and museum on former slave trade sites in Montgomery, Alabama.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice depicts the horrors of the 4,400 reported lynchings that occurred between 1877 and 1950, while The Legacy Museum provides more than a decade’s worth of research on the connection between the slave trade, Jim Crow laws, and today’s racial inequalities, namely the projection that one in three black boys will be incarcerated in their lifetimes.

This hope for racial reconciliation is impossible without the work of God through His Church. I was excited to speak with four Alliance church leaders about their raw emotions after attending the dedication of this memorial. I couldn’t include the entirety of my conversations with them but tried to capture both their fears and hopes for the future in an authentic way.

—Emmy Houk

Alliance Life: Describe how you felt as you walked through the memorial.

Jelani Pinnock: A thousand feelings rushed at me. I actually found myself drowning in my emotions—a feeling I can’t remember ever experiencing.

The memorial is made up of 800 six-foot monuments dedicated to the lynching victims, with their names and the counties where they were killed. Photo courtesy of Equal Justice Initiative / Human Pictures

Jonathan Schaeffer: There was a hushed silence among the hundreds of people who were walking through the memorial grounds. It was sobering to read all of the names of those who had been lynched and to see cities I’ve visited among the places where the atrocities occurred. There was injustice upon injustice. I felt similar emotions to when I’ve walked through holocaust memorials.

Kajavius Wilson: I was very angry. Multiple generations of people were treated like they were less than human and died not ever being free. It made me see even more how the system of slavery is from the pit of hell. When the enemy does something, it’s like chess—his one move does multiple things. The chess move of slavery created division and hostility between races, systematic oppression, and broken family structures.

Calvin Dorsey: My first feeling was utter disbelief. Being educated in predominately black school systems, a lot of my teachers, as well as my parents, took it upon themselves to educate me extensively on the history of segregation and racism in America, but this was different. There is an immediate visceral response that happens when history leaves the pages of books and becomes visible.

As I made my way through much of the museum, my most pronounced feeling was sadness. Every advertisement for humans being sold, every story of families being ripped apart, and every video on false imprisonment compounded the fact that America has come a long way but also has a long way to go when dealing with the issue of equality.

Why is this memorial important for our country at this time?

Calvin: This museum and memorial serve as an invaluable resource that can be used to educate current and future generations about the struggle of equality in America and in the Church.

Jonathan: In too many places in our country, there’s a lingering racial divide. Adding to the problem are polarizing voices that push people further apart. Followers of Jesus have an opportunity to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (Js. 1:19).  A memorial like this gives us the opportunity to grieve together what many in our country endured.

Jelani: Jesus left heaven because He could not bear to see the weight of judgement fall on us, deciding to take the punishment of death so we could have freedom from our past sins. Why should we, as believers, avoid sharing in that same suffering? Why should we not bear with one another in love?

As polarized as we are, if we claim to be called by His name, then we have no choice but to share each other’s burdens. We are compelled—better yet commanded—to move toward a holy empathy. This memorial is our chance to barter an ugly, hidden history and trade it for revival.

How might this memorial help heal the wounds of racism and set a new trajectory for racial reconciliation?

Kajavius: To heal, you have to speak truth. That means looking at your past, being challenged by it, and taking a stand. That’s what this memorial is allowing us to do. It’s acknowledging that black history is our history—it’s not separate from white history but should be integrated into the bigger picture. This will help us take the next step forward.

Calvin: The memorial helps heal wounds in two specific ways. First, it gives a visual to the history of America that many people would like to forget. It is difficult for a wound to be healed if we don’t first acknowledge any injury has taken place. Second, the museum serves as a reminder to never repeat the sins of mankind and keeps us from consistently agitating the wound of oppression and discrimination with more prejudice and bigotry.

Has this memorial changed the way you approach your life and ministry?

Jelani: It grounded me deeper in thankfulness for where God has placed my family and encouraged me to remain reconciled. Without a church like Grace, I do not think I could survive the harsh realities within our nation today. However, I am supported on every side, which helps me to know I am not alone in this battle toward reconciliation.

This bronze statue depicts the connection between the slave trade and the racial inequalities that many in our country still face.

If I do not constantly desire reconciliation, I may miss out on the change God desires to take place in me, and people may miss out on the life the Lord has given me to share with others. It has not been hard for me to bring up these issues—the hardest thing will be remaining in the fight for equality and justice. I cannot be tempted to “grow weary in doing good.”

Jonathan: The overwhelming visual images were a compelling reminder of how people were mistreated even in our nation’s recent history. I gained more compassion for my black brothers and sisters.

What are your hopes for racial reconciliation in the future of our nation? What are our biggest hurdles as a society to move toward healing?

Jelani: Our biggest challenge as Christians will be to divorce ourselves from the idea that our political and governmental institutions can somehow deliver the justice only the Kingdom of God provides. If we accept that they cannot, we can freely embrace the compassion and empathy needed to travel across color lines and cultural boundaries to reconcile ourselves to Christ and others.

Kajavius: Walking through this memorial, I realized I was never supposed to succeed. My ancestors were forced to come here and forced to work. It was never intended for us to be free. In the past it took courageous folks to say, “You can’t do this.” At the end of the day, we need somebody to acknowledge that [the current racial divide] is not right and advocate for what is.

Calvin: For our country to see godly restoration happen among different people groups, it must be led by the Church. Unity in the world always results in opposition to the Kingdom of God. But unity taught from a biblical worldview brings restoration and advancement for God’s Kingdom.

Many churches are trying to educate their congregations on these topics, which I commend, but they are afraid to take real action to change the narrative.

However, God has placed a hope in me through reading His Word and seeing the great things that He can do through sinful men. If the American church continues to emphasize dependency on the Holy Spirit, I believe that God will continue to unite His Church and help us repent in the areas where we need it most.

Jonathan: Jesus wants to use His Church as an agent of reconciliation, and experiences like we had [at the memorial dedication] can move us to fulfill our identity and calling. Because Christ is on the throne and has given us His great and precious promises, I’m always optimistic.

Calvin Dorsey is the planting and lead pastor of Sandusky Life Church in northern Ohio and on the board for TheManifoldGroup, an organization devoted to helping The Alliance achieve greater levels of diversity.

 

Jelani Pinnock is an alum of Nyack (N.Y.) College and has been living in Cleveland, Ohio for the past two years. He serves as the worship pastor at Grace Church.

 

Jonathan Schaeffer is senior pastor of Grace Church. He also serves as the corporate vice president and chair of the Board for The Alliance.

 

Kajavius Wilson, the connections director at Grace Church, is passionate about sharing God's love with others and seeing the Lord lead people to fulfill their destiny in Christ.

 

4 responses to A Symphony of Brotherhood

  1. Black history is all of our history as Kajavius said. Also that it is our responsibility today to be an advocate for those who have no one and help our brothers and sisters succeed. I am so thankful that my pastors felt this was a trip worth going on. I only wish I had been there too. It is my desire to make the trip and be reminded of what atrocities happened and help history not to repeat itself.

  2. A wonderful, enlightening piece. Great job Emmy. May the Lord give our denom the courage to keep moving forward.

  3. I just watched BlacKKKlansman last night in a theatre in Africa. The audience was captivated from start to finish. One person clapped at the end, then caught himself. Nervous laughter ensued. Silently, 150 people exited the theatre. To me it was brutal, comedic, and raw.

    In some ways it reminded me of visits to the holocaust museums in Jerusalem and DC. The last thing you feel is to clap, although inwardly you applaud the lessons learned through the experience. I held mixed emotions of righteous anger, humor, but mostly sadness, not unlike Calvin’s sadness at the National Museum of Peace and Justice. Concurrently, like Jelani, my emotions went inward as the movie offered few resolutions.

    In reflection, I believe our only hope for peace and justice is through shared empathetic experience and reconciliation. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, experienced profound injustice and pain, but through his resurrection reversed the injustice and brought hopeful, final redemption. But, honestly, this sounds too good to be true. The wrongs of slavery, racism, predjudice, and hate seem so dark and evil; they seem insurmountable, irreversible, “unrightable”, and unredeemable.

    But Jesus. He brings me to my knees before Him, in tears, begging forgiveness for the slavery of black Africans that my ancestors perpetrated and for my sins of racist thinking.
    The dark, evil enemy of my soul wants slavery, death, polarization, and hate. Conversely, Jesus desires freedom, life, unity, and love. God help us to love. (1 Corinthians 13, Rev. 7:9-10)

  4. It was a wonderful experience not only participating in this interview, but actually reading it. Emma did a brilliant job playing chess and organizing the thoughts of our hearts we were so humbled to share. Emma’s work through this article in Alliance Life becomes another vital piece of the puzzle in the new narrative of unity being established through the help of the C&MA.

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