Included in my pastor’s sermon last Sunday was an announcement that our church, largely a white congregation, would be holding a joint service that evening with the predominantly African-American Cornerstone Baptist Church across town.
He would bring our large choir with him and invited anyone interested in participating in a conversation on race and the alt-right to join the occasion.
Considering the racial upheaval after the Charlottesville tragedies and resulting demands for the removal of Confederate statues and the like, I thought this was a very good idea appropriately convened by some of the community’s spiritual leaders.
Then I was reminded of those who held the opinion that the “religious right” was at least partially responsible for the rise of the ultra-right ideologies that reject mainstream conservatism in favor of white nationalism.
Never miss a local story.
It would seem that any initiative to address the racial discord in our country is wrought with peril, and perhaps the best thing to do maybe should be nothing at all.
Undaunted by the risks, the gathering occurred and produced a large crowd that appeared to me to be as diverse as any with the variety of skin colors and nationalities that define our community.
We heard from ministers and pastors across the city who reflected that diversity and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who joined the occasion from Memphis at his own expense.
Each of the speakers addressed biblical foundations upon which some resolution of all the controversy facing our nation could be achieved.
Cornerstone Pastor Dwight McKissic exclaimed that we are all of only one race — the human race — consisting of various groups of people who can look very different.
For those not familiar with how such a conclusion could be reached, McKissic traced through scripture how we all came from the first man and woman created by God.
Later there were but the eight members of Noah’s family who survived the great flood and from his sons and their wives, all the nations of the earth were spawned.
Yeah, I fully realize that some who are reading this will reject it all as a fanciful notion from a book of fables.
But for people of faith it all makes perfect sense and brings us to the certainty that the God of love is where to turn at times of trial and tumult such as our society is currently enduring.
The panel discussion that capped off the evening saw many people at the microphone with questions and declarations of how they thought some positive outcome could be achieved.
There were those who decried what they believed to be an inadequate response from President Trump and some who offered other reasons for the turmoil.
Only one member among the nine panelists called for the removal of Confederate statues, saying that he didn’t want to be reminded of that era of American history.
Speakers from the audience, however, did not mention the statues.
Arlington Police Chief Will Johnson was asked why police officers involved in incidents where race was an issue were suspended instead of being fired.
He explained that the protections we all have to be adjudicated for alleged violations of the law via our justice system also applied to police officers.
After joining hands in prayer across the aisles and bridging the differences of the diverse audience, I sensed that most left with an enhanced realization that we have more in common than we might have thought.
The experiences shared by a couple hundred people that evening might just be the route to healing the racial divide that separates us.
It is, at the very least, worth a try.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.