This is not the first time that Bishop Michael Cummings of Greater Love International Church has asked me to say something at an event like this. And every time, I sort of wish he wouldn’t.
The sun is just starting to go down in Founders Park in downtown Johnson City, Tennessee, and people are gathered for a prayer vigil in response to the police killing of George Floyd and the racism that continues in this country. Here’s one thing I know: I am a white minister. In most of my life, I succeed by talking. In this conversation, I succeed by listening. When I talk about race and racism, there are so many ways to say something wrong. Others know more than I do. I sit here and I am afraid I will say something that will hurt or offend people. I don’t want to make a mistake and I know that I might.
But I have a rule that when Michael asks me to show up, I will show up. He asked tonight, so I am here, even though I’m nervous.
When I took the position of senior minister at First Christian Church in Johnson City in 2016, I knew I wanted to connect with a black church in town and develop a relationship with an African American minister. I asked around about a pastor who might work with me and several people pointed me to Michael. We both went to Emmanuel Christian Seminary, so while we didn’t know each other, we had friends in common.
I remember in our first conversation, I said, “I want to work against racism but I don’t know how. If I can be your ally, please let me.” We began to meet and eat and talk. As I said, I’m good at talking. But with Michael, I learned I also needed to listen. Sometimes I needed to just show up and stand in the crowd. Out of our relationship, our churches …
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