June 10, 2017
By Blake Tommey
ATLANTA — After a year of modeling racial justice and reconciliation together, Patricia Griffen, clinical psychologist, and Ray Higgins, executive coordinator of CBF of Arkansas, engaged Cooperative Baptists with methods and resources for just race relations at a workshop during the 2017 CBF General Assembly.
Offering both personal and institutional models, Griffen and Higgins highlighted their interracial partnership in Arkansas and encouraged the Fellowship to continue pursuing the work of racial reconciliation.
“All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others; we are only human in relationship,” Griffen said, quoting Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the theological foundation for partnering cross-racially in reconciliation.
Throughout 2016, Griffen, then moderator for CBF of Arkansas, established a guiding theme for the state fellowship of “building an inclusive and diverse community through relationships and advocacy,” Higgins said. Under that guiding principle, the pair began modeling the work of racial reconciliation by touring CBF churches across the state as well as creating a “Let’s Talk Race Summit” to bear witness to the reconciliation initiative, which begins by provoking an earnest conversation about oppression in the black community and white repentance.
“Many go through life without even thinking about oppression,” Griffen said.
“Unless you’ve walked that journey and unless you’ve experienced oppression, you may not fully understand the impact of it. What does repentance look like for the white church? Lisa Sharon Harper says we have to get beyond race and awareness and look at this as a social justice issue. ‘Justice is authored by God, not white people’ she says, ‘and quite honestly, racial justice should be dependent upon them…it is looking at the bodies of brown and brown, Asian and Native American, indigenous people, looking into their eyes and seeing the image of God.’ It’s a process that’s going to involve changing the political system.”
Griffen and Higgins also bolstered the relational work of Together for Hope Arkansas and strengthened their presence on the campus of Arkansas Baptist College, a historically black college that has hosted the offices of CBF of Arkansas for 10 years. As of 2018, CBF of Arkansas will have repaid the college for their initial investment in renovating a new building, Higgins said, which facilitates the crucial movement of CBF resources in the HBC community and establishes a vital partnership.
Additionally, Higgins and Griffen organized a group of Arkansas pastors to engage in ongoing conversation about how to foster racial justice throughout the state and commissioned a collection of race narratives to help illuminate the process, Higgins said. The project features stories by a diverse group of pastors and professionals throughout Arkansas.
Ultimately, Higgins said, the process of improving race relations will bring churches through stages of showing up in the black community, building authentic relationships, engaging in advocacy and finally initiating concrete expressions of reconciliation and reparation. Those expressions will come, he added, but our faith communities must first and fundamentally seek to be a presence and a partner alongside the black community while we sit and “soak the stains” of injustice.
“It’s simple — find ways to show up in the black community, in groups, in meetings, in families,” Higgins said.
“Howard Thurman said that this process takes time. ‘Some stains don’t come out without first soaking them.’ And so we’ve been soaking ours at CBF Arkansas. It’s the presence of showing up in that community and being engaged in that community that allows us to take the first steps in working on improving race relations.”
CBF of Arkansas resources for improving race relations, including the Stories About Race Project, are available at www.cbfar.org
CBF is a Christian network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry efforts, global missions and a broad community of support. The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.