In his recent lament over the Trayvon Martin tragedy, evangelical leader Jim Wallis implored: “If there ever was a time that demonstrated why racially and culturally diverse congregations are needed — that time is now.”
For the past 4 1/2 years I have served as pastor of one such community of faith. Through its nearly 40-year history, Metro Baptist Church in Manhattan has enjoyed a heritage of diversity. While over 50 percent of our congregation is white and many of us enjoy varying degrees of privilege, we cross multiple boundaries of race and ethnicity – as well as socioeconomic status, sexual identity, and background – each Sunday when we gather for worship. Such diversity is partially a gift we receive from our city and neighborhood, but it is also a consequence of our church’s theological and ethical convictions (“This church opens wide its doors” our bulletin declares). When unity comes amidst such diversity, it is not through the erasure of our differences or from a false notion of being “blind to race,” but rather through opening our eyes widely to one another and seeking to know one another in all our particularities as created in the likeness of God.
As we gathered and greeted one another on Sunday, July 14, many of us expressed renewed grief at the death of Trayvon Martin, having heard the verdict in George Zimmerman’s case late the night before. The emotion hung in the air, like the dust Jesus described clinging to the shoes and bodies of his followers in our gospel text for the day (Luke 10:1-11). As a native Floridian, I felt my own immediate desire to shake the dust of that place from my feet.