Thursday, August 1, 2013

Investing in People

by Jim Hill

I am serving as President of Missouri Faith Voices, an ecumenical and interfaith network of congregations seeking to address needs and justice issues in their congregations and communities across our state. Missouri Faith Voices is a part of the PICO national network of faith-based community organizations assisting congregations as they put their faith in action in their communities. PICO stands for "People Improving Communities through Organizing." Churchnet is committed to helping congregations engage their communities as they seek to share the hope they have found in Christ.

This past week I had the privilege of participating in the PICO National Leadership Training event at a retreat center in Los Altos, California. It was a wonderful time of learning and growing as leaders from across the nation shared about their faith, their communities, and the needs God is helping us to see with fresh eyes. The Community Needs Ministry Team at First Baptist Church in Jefferson City where I am a member is currently involved in a "listening campaign" as we seek to hear from individuals in our congregation and community about needs and concerns.

What do you hear when you "listen"? The fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman last year in Sanford, Florida, brought racial issues back to the forefront of our national discussions. As tragic as the shooting was, we need to have the conversation. Our nation has a painful heritage of racial injustice which has its roots in hundreds of years of slavery and incredible brutality.

While the Civil War brought an end to the institution of slavery, it did little to deal with the generations of pain, fear, anger, and distrust between the races in our nation. For nearly 150 years since the slaves were freed, millions of African Americans have continued to experience repression and at times oppression economically, educationally, politically, and through our criminal justice system.

While I was attending the National Leadership Training last week, I had the opportunity to see the powerful and tragic film Fruitvale Station. It is the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. Oscar was killed by a BART police officer in another tragic clash of races in our nation. It is a story repeated way too often on the streets of our nation.

While some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go. Why should a white person feel ill at ease when they meet a black person on the street? Why should a black person distrust someone they do not know just because they are white? How do we overcome the fear, hatred, and anger that lead to these tragic events? Obviously, there are no simple or easy answers, but if there is any group who ought to be seeking answers it is people of faith. Somehow we need to find the courage to have real conversations about racial issues with our congregations.

People of faith need to stand up and lead the efforts to help our nation heal its brokenness as we learn to understand and trust one another. I remember singing the song as a child: Jesus loves the little children—all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white—they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Churchnet has copies of a documentary about Baptists and racial issues produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics (called Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism). It is a helpful resource to help congregations begin their discussions about these difficult issues. I hope you will encourage your church to have a conversation. Are you listening for justice?

You can contact Jim Hill, Churchnet Executive Director, at (888) 420-2426 ext. 705 or at jimhill@thechurchnet.org.

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