Grounded in Love
Guideposts|February 2021
In the heart of the South, a church does the hard work of racial reconciliation
DERRICK SHIELDS

Three simple words that have divided our nation. Black lives matter.

Even at the church where I am lead pastor—a multiracial congregation founded more than two decades ago—there isn’t universal agreement about the meaning or significance of those words.

Yet our disagreement is not bitter. We don’t all agree. We love each other anyway. We keep talking. We keep worshiping. We acknowledge our common bond in God.

We don’t pretend to have all the answers. I have preached about racial justice here at Christ Community Church, which was founded with an intention of bridging the racial divide in Columbus, Georgia. I have encouraged the formation of small groups to discuss this vital issue. Some members of our church joined peaceful protests in Columbus. Other members did not.

Here’s one thing I know. Jesus commands us to love God and others— and no wiggle room in the word others.

At Christ Community, we do that by getting to know one another. We ground ourselves in the love of God and build trust through friendship with people of different backgrounds.

We are a rarity in America: a proudly multiracial church where differences are neither fought over nor swept under the rug.

How do we do it? In one sense, we don’t. God does it. We see our job as trusting God and, with his help, learning to trust one another. Trust enables us to disagree and express our feelings about difficult issues without coming apart.

It’s not a random choice. Jesus’ ministry was founded on relationships. Jesus didn’t grab the spotlight of his day and hobnob with people in power. He traveled around a remote corner of the Roman Empire, making friends with whoever crossed his path and speaking the truth about God. When he died, a handful of friends stuck by him.

And yet he changed the world.

The road to where we are at Christ Community was not easy. We made mistakes and learned. Above all, we learned how to experience God’s love in the midst of—maybe even because of—our differences. I tell our story in hopes that it can help you do the same.

I am not the founder of Christ Community. I succeeded the founding pastor, Keith Cowart. Keith, who is white, grew up in a small segregated town in Georgia, where his friends’ parents pulled their kids out of public schools following desegregation. Keith’s parents believed in public education and kept their son there.

Keith was called to ministry early and became a Free Methodist pastor after college and seminary. At his first church, in another small Georgia town, members forced him to cancel an after-school program because they objected to Black children using the church basketball court.

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