By Darrel Rowland
Dudley Rutherford admits it’s his biggest fear: That the recent increasing diversity of the NACC will fade away.
“We took a giant leap forward. We cannot afford to take a small step backward. We need to keep pressing the issue,” said Rutherford, who has led the drive to bring more minorities as speakers and to fill other key roles on the platform.
Rutherford said he already has written letters to future NACC presidents urging them to continue the convention’s blend of races and ethnicities.
“Usually we put one African-American on the stage and call it diversity,” he said.
This year’s convention had four blacks in major speaking slots, with Asians and Latinos also playing visible roles in every service.
The second verse to the third song on opening night (“Shout to the Lord”) was sung in Spanish. Before one service, John 3:16 was recited in Korean, Farsi, Hebrew, Spanish, and English. Mixed in with the usual Chris Tomlin songs were some Kirk Franklin and other tunes more familiar to minority audiences.
“I wanted to show folks around the country how to put on an event and make it diverse without diversity being the theme,” Rutherford said. “All it took was a little intentionality and some perseverance. If we succeeded in this, anybody can.”
But he worries that the people who keep the NACC going year to year lack diversity themselves.
“I stood up before the continuation committee and expressed that I have served my term and one of you has to pick up this mantle and carry it,” Rutherford said.
One of this year’s African-American speakers, Daryl Reed, lead minister of DC Regional Christian Church in Washington, D.C., was chosen as vice president of a future NACC.
During his opening-night sermon, Rutherford apologized to African-Americans, Latinos, Asians, and other minorities. He traced the lack of integration in Restoration Movement churches to decisions by white-controlled congregations immediately after the Civil War that blacks should leave their fellowship and start their own churches.
Nearly 150 years later, “not much has changed,” he said. “Our lack of diversity is more than a glaring blind spot.”
But without a change in heart—without a commitment from churches across the land to put minorities on their platforms, their staffs, and leadership teams—such apologies mean little, he acknowledged.
Rutherford wasn’t the only speaker to talk about the lack of diversity.
During the convention’s breakfast for Dream of Destiny—a national effort to bring unity through diversity—Scott Williams, author and pastor of LifeChurch.tv, said 93 percent of U.S. churches are still segregated.
During a workshop on growing a diverse leadership, Rob Daniels, executive pastor of Westbrook Christian Church in Bolingbrook, Illinois, pointed out that current minorities will actually make up a majority of Americans in a few decades. That means “the 21st century has to be the century of multiracial congregations” if the church is to survive.
Darrel Rowland is an adult Bible fellowship teacher at Worthington (Ohio) Christian Church and public affairs editor of The Columbus Dispatch.