By Glen Elliott
The church has struggled to find ways not to settle with the comfort of sameness. Significant portions of the New Testament letters deal with racial division (see Ephesians 2 and James 2 as examples) and the unity that is to be a hallmark of God’s people. That’s why Paul reminds us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Paul says those who have been baptized and put on Christ are one in Christ regardless of ethnicity, economic status, or gender. That is the great egalitarian statement of the New Testament.
That was the question a group of black and white pastors asked themselves (see the main article). The group called Pastors’ Partnership in Tucson, Arizona, had grown to love and trust each other. They decided there had to be a way to help the largely segregated churches in our city begin to bridge the racial divide. The group of pastors had gone to some movies that spotlight racism, movies like 42 (about Jackie Robinson) and Selma. The pastors decided their congregations could do the same.
So I, as pastor of Pantano Christian Church, along with Pastor Elwood McDowell of Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, agreed to pioneer the idea. Together, we developed a set of discussion questions and each recruited discussion leaders from our churches.
In August 2015, the churches gathered together at the Pantano campus. Pastor McDowell introduced the movie Selma (2014), the powerful film about the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. After the movie and dinner together, those in attendance had discussions around the tables. The discussions were honest, at times raw, very helpful, and always respectful.
It worked so well, the entire Pastors’ Partnership agreed to watch the film Woodlawn (a movie about racism, faith, and football in the early 1970s in Birmingham) and invite their congregations to come together using a format similar to what was used with Selma. That occurred in March 2016.
The films are not the end, just the beginning and a means toward racial reconciliation. As a result of the Pastors’ Partnership, the films, and other events, we are intentionally seeing a growing unity that we believe will lead to presenting the gospel to our city through racial reconciliation.
Glen Elliott serves as lead pastor with Pantano Christian Church, Tucson, Arizona.