“Never discuss religion or politics in polite company” goes the old saying. Whoever came up with that maxim could have added race to the list of taboos. All three topics are fertile ground for harsh words and hurt feelings.
But facing, rather than ignoring, the difficult issues can result in much good. Such was the case at Christ Community Church (CCC) in Columbus, Georgia, where a small but diverse group of members had the courage to launch an extended discussion about race relations.
Indeed, there were painful moments. But those conversations ultimately produced deeper, richer relationships, as well as the groundwork for an event that promises to impact not just one church body, but also the city and region that surround it.
On May 6-7, CCC will host Converge 2:14, a conference on unity and diversity in the church. The idea is to “converge” around the promises of Ephesians 2:14 — “For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (ESV) — and lay a foundation for a church that is “Separate No More,” the conference’s tagline.
Converge 2:14 features a lineup of influential voices on the topic, including Dr. John Perkins, Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Pastor Bryan Loritts and his father, Dr. Crawford Loritts, Dr. Korie Edwards and Dr. John Fuder. CCC Lead Pastor Keith Cowart also will speak, CCC Executive Pastor Derrick Shields will serve as conference host, and worship leader Dewayne Creswell has assembled several teams from a variety of backgrounds and musical styles.
Throughout its nearly 20-year history, one of CCC’s core values has been “Unity in Diversity.” Cowart and Shields have preached sermon series on racial unity, and Shields, on several occasions, has led a class called “In Loving Color.”
One of those occasions was a fall 2014 class reading and discussing a book edited by the younger Loritts, “Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”
About 20 participants had “some great conversations, and some hard conversations,” Shields said. “As we continued to work through that book together, we got past the hard conversations and got to be good friends.”
During that process, the group learned of a conference on multiethnic churches, Kainos, that would take place in Memphis, Tennessee, the following spring. Sixteen people from CCC attended and were encouraged by what they heard — so much that, Shields said, “we just couldn’t get away from the idea of creating something similar in Columbus. So the first call we made was to Bryan Loritts [who had spoken at Kainos] to see if he would even be able to come, and he said yes. We started contacting other speakers, and they said yes, and it’s just continued on from there.”
Just as Converge 2:14 was born out of a series of conversations within CCC, Shields hopes it generates further dialogue on a larger scale.
“We want to get people talking to one another,” Shields said, “to get some practical ideas on how we, His church, can start to remove this dividing wall of hostility and minister to our communities.
“Since the Free Methodist Church is growing and making some headway in the South, I think this conference is timely for our denomination as well,” Shields added. “The Free Methodist Church was born out of a belief that slavery wasn’t right, so it’s in our heritage as Free Methodists, this whole social issue of racial equality and unity.”
To learn more about Converge 2:14, visit converge214.org.
Allen Allnoch serves as Christ Community Church’s communications director.