2005-02-18 Grand Rapids Press Racism fight extends to Churches

Racism fight extends to Churches
Grand Rapids Press

Find the biblical basis for addressing racism, or risk failure. So advised panel members during the “Faith Communities” workshop, one of six held Tuesday at the Ottawa Area Summit on Racism in Holland. “Racism must be addressed through the Gospel. It is a matter of our salvation,” said panel member Bing Goei, former executive director of the Christian Reformed Synodical Committee on Race Relations.

Goei argued unless faith communities attack racism and discrimination issues in their houses of worship, programs and high-sounding statements will lose their impact over time. The Rev. David Baak, another panel member and former executive director of the Grand Rapids Area Center for Ecumenism, recalled historical documents demonstrating how some mainline denominations in North America actually promoted slavery and racism.

Slavery was seen as an “order of divine providence” that “heathen Africans” were brought to Christian America so their souls may be saved, Baak noted, reading from an 1844 document. “What you have is enabling legislation (within the church).” He said, adding parishioners now need to “hold our denominations accountable” to follow through on these commitments to promote diversity and fight racism.

Though much of the panel’s comments on audience questions were centered in a Christian context, both panelists and attendees noted the importance of interfaith dialogue around issues of race and diversity. “We don’t need a broader representation of faith communities,” said the workshop’s facilitator, the Rev. Andres Fierro, adding improvements can and should be made along these lines.

It was noted that although this was the last of five summits, a monthly interfaith dialogue will continue in Holland, with Grace Episcopal Church as host.