Focus Week tackles difficult topics in messages on racial reconciliation

By Hannah Lounsbery, Faith Co-Editor  (Courtesy Photo/okbu.edu)

Many outsiders would believe that on a small, private Christian campus like that of OBU, censorship is king, divisive issues get swept under the rug and silence is golden.
Over the course of Focus Week, two men and a book blew that assumption
away.
Dr. Jarvis Williams, associate professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary, and Dr. Kevin Jones, associate dean of academic innovation and assistant professor of teacher education at Boyce College, brought up quite a few hot-button issues during their combined week on campus; they discussed things from sexual purity to xenophobia. Their main focus, however, was racial reconciliation within the church.

According to Dale Griffin, assistant vice president for spiritual life and dean of the chapel, messages like this aren’t typical for Focus Week.

“Typically, every year Focus Week is a time for us to talk about renewal in our devotion to Christ. Typically we’re talking about quiet time and our personal walk with Christ. That’s been the history for Focus Week for decades,” he said. “But this year, we chose a very important focus for our week, and that is racial reconciliation.”

Jones and Williams were the perfect fit for this conversation, not only for their experience with the issue as African American men, but for the time and research put into their book, “Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives,” published in June of 2017.

While the title may seem daunting, Dean Griffin encourages students and faculty to give the book a try.

“Before you judge the book too quickly, I encourage you to read it,” he said. “It’s a powerful, powerful piece.”

To start out the week, Willams preached on Galatians 5:13-15, reminding audiences that the Bible demands an active love.

“The Bible defines love as sacrificial action on behalf of another,” he said. “If you are a Christian, Christ freed us from bondage to be slaves of love.”

Williams said he believes that this love in action includes dealing with racism head-on in our daily lives.

“Love for one another in the body of Christ means that we fight against racism anywhere it raises its ugly head,” he said.

Throughout the week, William harkened back to the gospel call for Christians to join in the fight.

“This is not a black issue. This is not a brown issue. This is not a white issue,” he said. “This is a gospel issue.”

In addressing the issue of white supremacy, one point that often requires clarification is its definition. For many, white supremacy seems to be about burning crosses, events like the attack on anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville and other overt acts of racism.

“White supremacy is not just Charlottesville, folks,” Williams said. “White supremacy is also believing the lie that black and brown people are only slaves in your history.”

As an educator and father, Jones has seen a lack of education in African American history as a major contributing factor to racism and white supremacy in institutions.

“I go through my K through 12 education and I have to read… about history that totally excludes African Americans except for the little bit where they talk about slavery,” he
said. “It wasn’t until I stepped on the grounds of Kentucky State University, a historically black college, that I realized how many African American scholars there were.”

With children both in public school and homeschooling, Jones sees this ignorance across the board.

“We sit in these home-school circles… and I get to listen to the curriculum… and I get to write back to the publishers and say, ‘Where are the black and brown faces?’ And typically they know of no black and brown faces because they’ve been miseducated,” he said.

This lack of education, according to Jones, not only affects the way people view African Americans, but also gives way to the opinion that racism and white supremacy don’t exist in today’s culture.

“The miseducation is that you don’t know enough about all the people made in the image of God, and until we learn all there is to know, or at least a little bit more, we need to be very careful what we say does exist and does not exist,” he said.

Part of learning more, Jones and Williams believe, is providing a space in which people can learn safely. In his chapel message, Williams told African Americans specifically how to help their white peers along in their journey.

“We allow space for our white brothers and sisters who want to lean into this…to make innocent mistakes when they don’t know what to say,” he said.

Jones said he sees a safe space as a necessity in learning to deal with racially driven issues.

“We ought to seek to be a helpful space where we can love one another and we can help one another walk through what it means for race reconciliation, ” said Jones.

 

Jarvis Williams_1.JPG
Photo by Jonathan Soder/The Bison

 

A version of that space was available to students twice throughout the week as Jones and Williams each led a forum and Q & A for students and faculty. These forums allowed Williams and Jones to speak more extensively on their specializations within the issues as well as providing a platform for students to ask real questions.

One student asked whether it was possible for African Americans to be racist toward white people, while another, a future educator concerned about low graduation rates among African American boys, asked how she could best take care of her students.

These questions did not come with easy answers, and both speakers took time after the formal sessions to talk with students one on one. One point Jones and Williams made
sure to emphasize, however, was that no matter how much work is done, reconciliation doesn’t come through the efforts of man.

“Reconciliation comes through the shed blood of Jesus Christ,” Jones said.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.”
Galatians 5:13-15

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