By Karen L. Willoughby, Managing Editor
STATEWIDE – More than 60 percent of Louisiana’s population self-identifies as “white,” according to U.S. Census Bureau demographics for 2011.
Stated another way, about 40 percent of Louisiana’s population self-identifies as something other than white.
And from another perspective, most everybody who goes to church – about half the state’s 4.6 million population – goes to church where the people look mostly like themselves. What’s that all about? Pastors across the state dealt in different ways to that question in February, which is known for its day of love, Sunday of racial reconciliation, and month of Black history.
“Does God care about racial reconciliation?” Casey Hough, pastor of Waller Baptist Church, asked that question on his blog, accessed through the church’s website: www.wallerbaptist.com. “In other words,” Hough’s blog continues, “does God’s Word teach that people of different races should worship and serve together? Or, is God’s Word indifferent to issues of race, making the pursuit of racial reconciliation necessary?”
Hough used the Southern Baptist Convention’s Racial Reconciliation Sunday on Feb. 10 as yet another opportunity to move his mostly anglo congregation in one of Bossier City’s most multicultural neighborhoods toward inclusiveness.
“I want them to see this is more than us getting along in our neighborhoods,” Hough said. “The most heaven-on-earth experience we can have is worshipping together all the time.”
Patrick Morgan, pastor of First Baptist Church of Florien, Bruce Garner, pastor of Bright Star Baptist Church in Florien, and Arturo Us, pastor of El Aposento Alto in Florien, brought their congregations together for a three-night Jericho Revival Jan. 28-30 to foster a sense of inclusion.
“We believe that God is not going to send us revival until all the walls of our strongholds – including racial intolerance – come down,” Morgan said. “The only way for the walls to come down is through our obedience to God and allowing Him to tear them down.”
Joe Wiggins, pastor of Old Zion Hill Baptist Church in Albany, and Lonnie Tucker, pastor of Still Water Baptist Church in Ponchatoula, gathered their congregations together at Old Zion Hill on Sunday evening, Feb. 10, to decrease the amount of “unspoken division that there seems to be between the races when it comes to worship,” the pastor said.
“We’re all on the same team; we’re all working toward that ministry of reaching people for Jesus Christ,” Wiggins said. “Our methods may be different and the way we worship may be different, but we can celebrate what we have in common.”
Across Louisiana, churches continue to seek out and have new and ever-more-effective ways of becoming one body of Christ, says Keith Manuel, associate director of the LBC evangelism/church growth team.
He wrote on his Facebook page of Georgetown Baptist Church, where Carl Griffith is pastor. Manuel had been invited to speak at a Wild Game Supper in early March at the church in Big Creek Baptist Association:
“A family broke down traveling from St. Martinville to Monroe,” Manuel wrote. “Church Member picked them up off the highway. Brought them to the meal. They won several door prizes and the mother got saved. Great story of being the church. No wonder others made decisions for salvation and getting right with the Lord. Great leadership Pastor Carl Griffith!!!”
What he did not say on Facebook was that the family – a woman, two daughters, a young man and an infant – were black, and the congregation was white.
“Their tire blew out,” Manuel said. “They came in and everybody welcomed them. … Had I not been told, I wouldn’t know they weren’t members.
“This was a great example of the church being the church,” Manuel continued. “It’s certainly God’s ideal for the church.”
God’s ideal for the church is what is driving his insistence that Waller Baptist be “a Christ-centered, multi-ethnic, multi-generational community of believers that reflects the power of the Gospel to the world around us,” Hough said. “At the very core of our strategy is the conviction that our mission is to glorify God by reaching the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ, as we obey His commands and fulfill His commission.
“In other words,” the pastor continued, “I believe – along with the congregation of Waller Baptist Church – that the basic, yet powerful, message of the gospel of Jesus Christ possesses the power to overcome and tear down the racial tensions that exist, and build a church upon the culture of Christ, as opposed to the cultural preferences of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians or any other culture, for that matter.”
Hough preached from Ephesians 2:1-22 on Feb. 10, Racial Reconciliation Sunday across the Southern Baptist Convention.
He spoke of racial ugliness in the Shreveport/Bossier City area during the 1960s Civil Rights era, and of Sam Cooke singing It’s been a long, long time coming, But I know a change gonna come, after he and his band were not allowed to stay in a whites-only hotel in Shreveport.
“The impact of these types of events on the generations that were raised by those who witnessed and endured such discrimination and violence is no doubt still a contributing factor to racial tension in our area,” Hough preached about the church that is located in an area with 52 percent White, 34 percent Black, 13 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian. “If we care about the future of this church, if we care about the glory of God, if we care about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we will care about racial reconciliation.”
Even though fewer than 1,000 people live in Florien – and no more than 25,000 live in Sabine Parish – racial separateness, if not tension, permeates the landscape, said First Florien Pastor Morgan. Florien is about 71 percent White, 27 percent Black and 2 percent Hispanic. Similar figures hold true for all of Sabine Parish, which borders Texas.
“There’s probably no more [racial] problem here than any other town,” Morgan said. “I know there was some opposition to what was happening [with the joint Jericho revival services] but Bruce and I said, ‘Let’s follow God and not man.
“We took our services from the wilderness to the promised land and to Jericho, to knock down the walls of racial intolerance,” the First Florien pastor continued. “We have to realize that we couldn’t knock down the walls. God is the only one who can do that.”
It wasn’t the first time the Black, White and Hispanic congregations had gotten together for a service, but it was the first time the entire parish was invited, Morgan said. He preached the first night. Garner preached the second. Both preached the third, and for each of the services, Hispanic Pastor Us translated for his congregation, led in prayer and gave the invitation.
Buster Jordan led traditional hymn singing for the first half of each service, accompanied by First Florien musicians: base guitar, piano, organ and viola. Halfway through the service, the Black choir led by Pastor Garner’s wife led in praise and worship from a Black cultural perspective.
“We had an awesome time. Our services lasted for a couple of hours. No one wanted to leave,” Morgan said. “People responded big time to the invitation – for healing … confession of sin – all of what we wanted, happened, plus more.
“The great thing about having a service like this is everybody is out of their comfort zone, and when you’re out of your comfort zone, you can become closer to God,” the First Florien pastor continued. “Many said it was like an Upper Room experience.”
The Northshore racial reconciliation experience came about as two pastors and their wives got to know each other better as a result of being involved in Northshore Baptist Association gatherings, said Joe Wiggins of Old Zion Hill Baptist Church of Albany.
“We shared a burden for the unspoken division that there seems to be between the races when it comes to worship,” Wiggins said. “We [Christians] don’t talk about it a lot but … we worship with folks that look like us and they do the same. … We thought it would be good for two congregations to get together and worship and focus on not our differences but our common goal: We worship the same God; we serve the same Lord; and we share the same command: the Great Commission. It applies to us all.
“We saw a lot of folks come together for the evening service on Feb. 17, and a meal followed,” Wiggins continued. “We realized we have a lot more in common than we have different. We’re looking at doing a reverse thing in a couple of months – the Old Zion Hill folks going to the Still Water church.”
Pastor Hough of Waller Baptist in his Feb. 10 sermon summed up the joint desire of all the pastors involved with Racial Reconciliation efforts:
“The glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake in how Christians handle the issue of race,” Hough preached. “Resolve to pursue heaven on earth by inviting all races of people to worship with you at church.”