(Photo: The Elephant Room/Alyssa Armour)
Two megachurch pastors from the Dallas, Texas-area, who both witnessed segregation between whites and blacks in the U.S. decades ago, took a closer look at the racial divide still existing today inside the Church during a pastors' conference Webcast from Harvest Studios in Aurora, Ill., on Wednesday.
While taking part in the Elephant Room Round 2 – a gathering of seven prominent church leaders in the Christian community – Pastors T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House and Jack Graham from Prestonwood Baptist Church agreed that racial hatred still exists both inside and outside the Church.
Although both are based in the Dallas area with thousands of members attending, the Potter's House congregation consists of nearly 100 percent African-Americans and other minorities, while Prestonwood Baptist is nearly all Caucasians.
Pastor Mark Driscoll, one of two moderators for the conference (Pastor James MacDonald was the other), led the discussion between Jakes and Graham. The two pastors first joined together in an effort that combined the churches' choirs 10 years ago.
"We put our lives together in this. It was an incredible experience," said Graham during the conference. "Contextually, for me, I was born in 1950. So I'm old enough to remember in a small town in Arkansas asking my mother why one water fountain said 'white' and one said 'colored' … segregation at its worst."
Graham said that inside his home while growing up there was prejudice and misunderstanding.
"You have to overcome your upbringing, grow as a Christian, and then as a pastor learn how to seek progress. We see progress in the coming together of people in the last couple of decades at a much faster rate," he said. "We have a long way to go. There is still so much racial hate in people's hearts and lives, and churches. Some churches are dead because of hate. [There is] no other way to describe it. The churches do not welcome everyone."
Earlier in the discussion, Graham began by saying, "The way to destroy the racial divide is to get the roof off and the walls down."
Jakes said that church integration begins within members' own lives.
"I don't think you can successfully integrate your church until you integrate your life," he said. "If all your friends are one color and you invite people of other colors in, they feel like props in a stage for your life."
Caucasians are no longer the dominant race in Dallas as they were 20 years ago, Jakes said.
"Today, over 50 percent of the population is Hispanic and Latino. Either you evolve or your church will diminish. Racism still does exist and is pervasive in religion and politics, and the way we think," he said.
Jakes insisted that although most Americans are not racist, it is their comfort zones that keep them from integrating.
"The Body of Christ will never be what it needs to be until others challenge her truths with their experiences," he explained. "The embarrassing thing is that we as churches are not doing as well as the nightclubs are at integrating. We have to challenge that. There's more to it than racism. It's comfort. It's the natural inclination to be in environments where people act like you, dress like you, think like you."
Graham agreed with Jakes on the issue of the races primarily not straying from what is familiar to them.
"The main problem we have today on this issue is apathy, going back to our comfort zone. It's indifference. Not intolerance, but indifference, which may be in some ways even worse," Graham said. "If you always grade your own paper, you get an A. If we look at ourselves and write our own paper, we think we're doing good."
To counter this apathy, Jakes said that Christians need to fulfill the Great Commission by going out into the "whole world," not just within their own communities.
"You can't pick the houses you're going in. At a certain level, it's sin. But it's not always easily identified. I don't want to use terms that are counterproductive. When you label something as racist, they have burning crosses in their mind and think, 'They're not talking about me.' But when you ask, 'Who's in your life? Who do you run with?' then all of a sudden, I have to come out of my safety zone and enter your atmosphere," Jakes insisted.
"All of us got here from generational ideologies. You are looking at it from your Presbyterian, Catholic, or Lutheran ideas," he continued. "You have to become a student again and have the humility to do it. The sin is the pride that stops us from admitting we don't know everything. That's where the sin is. The arrogance that we must always be the teacher and not the student. Of all things that we blog about and tweet about, the thing that God hated the most is pride."
In addition to the topic of segregation within the Church, the all-day conference included five other topics of discussions (and a "lightning round" of several one-sentence answers to questions) with pastors Steven Furtick, Wayne Cordeiro, and Crawford Lorritts. DVD copies of Round 1 (2011) and Round 2 are available at theelephantroom.com.