By Allen Allnoch
More than 300 people gathered – converged – in Columbus over the weekend to hear a powerhouse lineup of speakers and have conversations about unity in diversity.
The occasion was the Converge 2:14 conference, inspired by the words of Ephesians 2:14 – “For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.”
Dr. John M. Perkins, civil rights pioneer and founder of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation, spoke at the conference’s closing session Saturday night, and again during morning worship services at Christ Community Church Sunday morning.
At the latter, Dr. Perkins shared the story of seeing his brother die, shot by a law enforcement officer, and of his own unjust jailing and torture at the hands of police in his native Mississippi. He saw two choices before him: Retribution and hate, or forgiveness and love.
“If I had a grenade, I would have pulled the plug and killed us all,” he recalled. “Then I saw that my heart was just as bad. I saw that white people were broken and black people were broken. I said, ‘God, forgive me first. I want to preach a gospel that is about love.’”
Simply put, Perkins said, only the redemptive power of Jesus Christ will overcome the sin of racism. He reminded listeners of how Peter was forced to confront his prejudice against Gentiles, as related in Acts chapter 10. No “equal opportunity or affirmative action” program would do; Peter “needed the Gospel,” Perkins said. “The Gospel calls us to a higher standard.”
Likewise, Christians today must look to Christ and, in His power, invest in each other’s lives.
“We gotta do more than drink coffee together,” Perkins said. “We gotta do more than wash each other's feet. I like to drink coffee and I like foot-washing, but we gotta do more. We need to confess our sins one to another. Instead of looking for somebody to hate, we need to look for somebody to love. Then people will know we are Christians.”
Other takeaways from Converge 2:14 speakers included:
And this from a conference attendee, who tweeted, “I was so fired UP from the @Converge214 conference, I skipped the [closing session] to hit the block in my hood with the Gospel.”
May we all be so motivated to put our faith in action and seek to break down the dividing wall of hostility.
CCC took the day off from morning worship services on Sunday, April 24, and instead went out to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the community that surrounds us. The work included:
Anja Staten is Executive Assistant to the Senior Leadership Team at Christ Community Church, and a member of the planning team for Converge 2:14. Here she shares her heart – and our collective heart at CCC – for the conference.
Our dream for Converge 2:14 is to gather the people of God from their scattered places in our region and converge in one place with the purpose of exploring the promises of Ephesians 2:14 – unified peace in Christ Jesus.
Some of us are still wrestling with why we need diversity. We are reaching the lost and seeing people commit their lives to Jesus, but the faces around our dinner tables and in our churches look like our own. Aiming for diversity can feel awkward, out of our comfort zone, and artificial. There can be underlying feelings of racial guilt or even frustration that this still seems to be an issue.
For this group, we will have a conversation centered around what we believe the Bible teaches about diversity – that it is good, even vital, for the health of any church. We will talk about the consequences of “separate but equal,” and lay a Biblical foundation for this as a social justice issue. It is our hope that those wrestling with this would leave with a desire and hunger to converge.
Some of us are already convinced that we need diversity. We desire it, but we are having a hard time living out this value. Our Facebook friends and dinner guests tend to look like us.
For this group, we will have a conversation about what has worked in various community contexts. There will be personal stories of hardship and triumph. There will be practical breakout sessions detailing current ministries. It’s our hope to draw as much diversity as we can to this conference, and hope that people not currently engaging in life together can continue to converge.
Some of us are already living a diverse life. Our Facebook friends and dinner tables reflect diversity. We know the challenges and advantages of opening our lives to people who don’t look like us. In this process, hurts and challenges can cause us to retreat to our comfort zones. New challenges arise we have never encountered.
For this group, we will have a conversation about how to maintain this openness and expand it into more areas of our lives. We will provide opportunities to continue to converge.
There is intrinsic value in these conversations. There is even more value in moving from these conversations to concrete actions. Our desire is to converge around the richness of the unified, diverse and abundant life that Jesus Christ died to purchase for us, and before a watching world, to be living epistles reflecting the beauty, power and peace of lives and communities that, empowered by the Prince of Peace, are Separate No More.
Our dream is to see this conversation result in opportunities to continue to converge:
We need your voice in this conversation.
Come to Converge 2:14!
By Allen Allnoch
Never discuss religion or politics in polite company,” goes the old saying. Whoever came up with that maxim could have added race to the list of taboos. All three topics are fertile ground for harsh words and hurt feelings.
But facing, rather than ignoring, the difficult issues can result in much good. Such was the case here at CCC, where a small but diverse group of members had the courage to launch an extended discussion about race relations.
Indeed, there were painful moments. But those conversations ultimately produced deeper, richer relationships, as well as the groundwork for an event that promises to impact not just one church body, but also the city and region that surround it.
On May 6-7 CCC will host Converge 2:14, a conference on unity in diversity in the Church. The idea is to “Converge” around the promises of Ephesians 2:14 – “For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” – and lay a foundation for a Church that is “Separate No More,” the conference’s tagline.
Converge 2:14 features a lineup of influential voices on the topic, including Dr. John Perkins, Rev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah, Pastor Bryan Loritts and his father, Dr. Crawford Loritts, Dr. Korie Edwards and Dr. John Fuder. CCC Lead Pastor Keith Cowart also will speak, Executive Pastor Derrick Shields will serve as conference host, and worship leader Dewayne Creswell has assembled several teams from a variety of backgrounds and musical styles.
Throughout its nearly 20-year history, one of CCC’s core values has been “Unity in Diversity.” Cowart and Shields have preached sermon series on racial unity, and Shields, on several occasions, has led a class called “In Loving Color.”
One of those occasions was in fall of 2014, with the class reading and discussing a book edited by the younger Loritts, “Letters to a Birmingham Jail: A Response to the Words and Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” About 20 participants had “some great conversations, and some hard conversations,” Shields recalls. “As we continued to work through that book together, we got past the hard conversations and got to be good friends.”
During that process, the group learned of a conference on multi-ethnic churches, Kainos, that would take place in Memphis, Tennessee the following spring. Sixteen people from CCC attended and were encouraged by what they heard – so much that, Shields says, “we just couldn’t get away from the idea of creating something similar in Columbus. So the first call we made was to Bryan Loritts [who had spoken at Kainos], to see if he would even be able to come, and he said yes. We started contacting other speakers and they said yes, and it’s just continued on from there.”
Just as Converge 2:14 was born out of a series of conversations within CCC, Shields hopes it generates further dialogue on a larger scale.
“We want to get people talking to one another,” he says, “to get some practical ideas on how we, His church, can start to remove this dividing wall of hostility and minister to our communities.
“Since the Free Methodist Church is growing and making some headway in the South, I think this conference is timely for our denomination as well,” Shields adds. “The Free Methodist Church was born out of a belief that slavery wasn’t right, so it’s in our heritage as Free Methodists, this whole social issue of racial equality and unity.”
To learn more, visit converge214.org.
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