Religious leaders work to ease U.S. racial divisions

People of different races holding hands and bowing heads in large room (© AP Images)
A service at a non-denominational church in Dallas included a memorial to five police officers killed in the city. (© AP Images)

“Let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.”

President Obama turned to the Bible to describe what is needed to heal racial divisions in the United States. He read from John’s Gospel at the memorial service July 12 for five police officers killed in Dallas.

But closing racial divisions is a challenge.

Many in America turn to places of worship for moral guidance. But LifeWay Research reported last year that 86 percent of Protestant pastors say their congregations are mostly either black or white, leaving little chance for members of different races to talk with each other.

It isn’t much different than 1963, when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. called 11 a.m. Sunday church services “the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Recent shootings raise racial division concerns

It has been a rough few weeks in America.

On July 7, a black gunman shot and killed five police officers in Dallas. The gunman told police he was targeting white officers.

The shooting came the same week two African-American men were shot and killed by white police officers in separate incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota.

The shootings left some people questioning the state of race relations in the United States.

“Instead of pointing fingers, we need to figure out why so many police feel so stressed doing their job and why so many African-Americans feel targeted by the police,” said Curt Harlow, minister at the Bayside Church in Sacramento, California. He said his church has black and white members, offering a chance for honest discussion.

Percell Duckett is minister of the Ross Road Church in Memphis, Tennessee, which also has both black and white members.

“We just had people from Black Lives Matter demonstrate — I called it creating a little bit of civil disobedience,” Duckett said. “And many people wonder why they are doing that.”

If more whites went to church with blacks, they would hear parents express fear their children could be killed by police for a minor car violation, Duckett said.

Pastor Susan Newman Moore of All Souls Church in Washington knows some people are troubled with the name Black Lives Matter. The criticism from some is that the name should be All Lives Matter, she said.

What Newman Moore tells her diverse church is that the Black Lives Matter movement is very much like a parent with children.

“You love all your children. But if one child gets very sick, and has to go to the intensive care unit of the hospital, you are going to put all your attention on that sick child until he or she is better. Right now in America, black lives are in intensive care,” Newman Moore said.

Religious community can help reduce divisions

Traci Blackmon is senior minister at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.

“Integration, diversity is a good thing,” she told Voice of America. “But churches, regardless of whether they are all or mostly black, or all or mostly white, have a role to play because of their moral and religious standing.”

“It isn’t just Christians, but this mandate of caring for those who are facing difficulty is found in the Koran and the Talmud,” Blackmon said. Those are the books that provide the teachings of the Muslim and Jewish religions.

Some churches are trying to help their mostly black or mostly white congregations get to hear from members of other races.

In Hill County, Georgia, members of the mostly white Air Line Baptist Church plan to travel to the mostly black St. John Baptist Church for Sunday services.

The ministers of the two churches do not plan to talk about what is on their minds regarding recent events.

“I think that way too often we don’t listen to one another,” said Scott Moore, minister of Air Line Baptist. “I’ve been guilty of that myself — not listening to other people’s opinions and thinking only about what I’m going to say.”