A local pastor will be among several church leaders speaking out this week on race relations in America and what the church can do to help them improve.
Pastor Derwin Gray, who heads the Transformation Church with its main campus in Indian Land, is one of a diverse group of pastors calling for Christians to take a stronger role in addressing and healing the nation’s racial divide. The effort has taken on added urgency in light of the outcry over recent high-profile cases of black men being killed by white police officers, most notably in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y.
“This is an issue that black and white Christians look at and reach different conclusions,” Gray said. “That won’t change until me move on from a world where most churches are 90 percent ethnically homogeneous.”
Gray will travel to Memphis on Tuesday for “It’s Time To Speak,” an event featuring 10 other prominent Christians from around the nation at the National Civil Rights Museum. The event also will be livestreamed on the Internet. “It’s Time To Speak” – a reference to the Book of Ecclesiastes – will be hosted by the Kainos Movement, an effort to create a more multi-racial and multicultural church community in America, with support from LifeWay Christian Resources and Fellowship Memphis, described as a “multicultural megachurch.”
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“The grand jury’s decision not to indict the officers involved in the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown has left many in our nation angry, saddened and hopeless,” Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Fellowship Memphis, told the Christian Post. “The fact that such heart-wrenching decisions have taken place some 50 years after the civil rights movement have left the children of those who marched in such places as Birmingham and Selma wondering if justice has not only been delayed, but has she finally and permanently been denied.”
Gray was invited because the fast-growing Transformation Church, which also has a campus in Rock Hill, has intentionally built a diverse congregation that stands out when many churches still predominantly draw their worshipers from one racial group.
“We started out with a leadership team that was diverse, both age-wise and ethnic-wise. The music we play is diverse. I just believe the church can be a great unifier,” Gray said, noting the early church spread through the Roman Empire by appealing to both Jewish and Gentile believers. “Jesus reconciles us not only to God, but to each other across the two major barriers of race and economic class.”
In just four years, Transformation has grown from 170 members to around 3,000, drawing notice as one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation.
“It’s Time To Speak” will feature both white and black pastors addressing recent events and the divide in how Americans of different races have reacted to them. Churches, they argue, need to play a bigger role in crossing that divide.
“Right now, I see a lot of indifference,” Gray said. “Predominantly black churches are speaking out, but white churches feel like they have no path to understanding because they fear saying something that will get them called ‘racist.’
“The church can’t continue to silo itself into ethnic tribes, because it’s not going to be effective in a more multi-ethnic America ... Young people will look at that and they just won’t accept it.”
Gray, who played in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers before starting his own church, said he wanted Transformation to be a “Jackie Robinson” in the evangelical world.
“I grew up in a culturally diverse part of San Antonio, Texas, and the teams I played on were diverse, so when I went to church I thought, ‘why does it have to be a black church or a white church?’ ” he said. “It should just be Jesus’s church.”
The live stream is scheduled to run from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and can be viewed for free at live.kainos.is. It will be held at the site of the former Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968.