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Religious Leaders Work to Ease US Racial Divisions


Church goers join hands as they take part in a service at the Potter's House, Sunday, July 10, 2016, in Dallas, that included a memorial to five police officers killed last week in Dallas as well as a town hall meeting discuss recent police shootings. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Church goers join hands as they take part in a service at the Potter's House, Sunday, July 10, 2016, in Dallas, that included a memorial to five police officers killed last week in Dallas as well as a town hall meeting discuss recent police shootings. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

“Let us love not with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.”

President Barack Obama turned to the Bible to describe what is needed to heal racial divisions in the United States. He read from John’s Gospel at the memorial service Tuesday for five police officers killed in Dallas.

But closing racial divisions is a challenge.

Many in America turn to places of worship for moral guidance. But LifeWay Research reported last year that 86 percent of Protestant pastors say their congregations are mostly either black or white, leaving little chance for members of different races to talk with each other.

It isn’t much different than 1963 when civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. called 11 a.m. Sunday church services “the most segregated hour in this nation.”

Recent shootings raise racial division concerns

It has been a rough few weeks in America.

On July 7th, a black gunman shot and killed five police officers in Dallas, Texas. The gunman told police he was targeting white officers.

The shooting came the same week two African-American men were shot and killed by white police officers in separate incidents in Louisiana and Minnesota.

The shootings left some people questioning the state of race relations in the United States.

Curt Hawlow of Bayside Church

Curt Hawlow of Bayside Church

“Instead of pointing fingers, we need to figure out why so many police feel so stressed doing their job and why so many African-Americans feel targeted by the police,” said Curt Harlow, minister at the Bayside Church in Sacramento, California. He said his church has black and white members, offering a chance for honest discussion.

Percell Duckett is minister of the Ross Road Church in Memphis, Tenn., which also has both black and white members.

“We just had people from Black Lives Matter demonstrate -- I called it creating a little bit of civil disobedience,” Duckett said. “And many people wonder why they are doing that.”

If more whites went to church with blacks they would hear parents express fear their children could be killed by police for a minor car violation, Duckett said.

Pastor Susan Newman Moore of All Souls Church in Washington D.C., knows some people are troubled with the name Black Lives Matter. The criticism from some is that the name should be, “All Lives Matter, she said.

Pastor Susan Newman Moore of All Soul's Church.

Pastor Susan Newman Moore of All Soul's Church.

​What Newman Moore tells her diverse church is that the Black Lives Matter movement is very much like a parent with children.

“You love all your children. But if one child gets very sick, and has to go to the intensive care unit of the hospital, you are going to put all your attention on that sick child until he or she is better. Right now in America, black lives are in intensive care,” Newman Moore said.

Religious community can help reduce divisions

Traci Blackmon is senior minister at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.

Traci Blackmon of Christ the King United Church of Christ.

Traci Blackmon of Christ the King United Church of Christ.

Integration, diversity is a good thing,” she told Voice of America. “But churches, regardless of whether they are all or mostly black, or all or mostly white, have a role to play because of their moral and religious standing.”

“It isn’t just Christians, but this mandate of caring for those who are facing difficulty is found in the Koran and the Talmud,” Blackmon said. Those are the books that provide the teachings of the Muslim and Jewish religions.

Some churches are trying to help their mostly black or mostly white congregations get to hear from members of other races.

In Hill County, Georgia, members of the mostly white Air Line Baptist Church plan to travel to the mostly black St. John Baptist Church for Sunday services.

The ministers of the two churches do not plan to talk about what is on their minds regarding recent events.

“I think that way too often we don’t listen to one another,” said Scott Moore, minister of Air Line Baptist. “I’ve been guilty of that myself -- not listening to other people’s opinions and thinking only about what I’m going to say.”

Carter bringing black and white Baptists together

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has helped organize the New Baptist Covenant to bring mostly black and white Baptist churches together.

In Dallas, Texas, George Mason, minister of a mostly white Baptist Church, and Frederic Haynes, leader of a mostly black Baptist Church, joined Carter’s covenant. They wrote about the Dallas shootings in the Dallas Morning News.

“The only way that All Lives Matter is for each life to matter -- black or white, and in this tragic case,” blue,” Mason and Haynes wrote. Blue is the color often given to police.

Ed Stetzer chairs the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism at Wheaton College. Stetzer said it makes sense that when blacks and whites sit down together to pray it will help.

Stetzer said many ministers recognize that they need to increase diversity. But there is nothing wrong, he said, with U.S. immigrants from Vietnam, Korea, or China wanting to worship together with fellow immigrants.

I'm Jill Robbins.

And I'm Bruce Alpert.

Bruce Alpert reported this story for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section and share your views on our Facebook Page. How do you think we can improve relations between people of different races.

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Words in This Story

bible -- n. a book of sacred writings. The Old Testament is used by the Jewish religion and the New Testament used by Christians

congregation -- n. the people who are attending a religious service

segregated -- adj. to separate groups of people because of their particular race

finger -- n. one of the five long parts of the hand that are used for holding things

stress -- n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life, work

disobedience -- n. not obeying the rules

diverse -- adj. different from each other

integration -- n. to bring different races of groups together

role -- n. a part that someone or something has in a particular activity or situation

mandate -- n. a responsibility to do something

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