PHILADELPHIA (BRN)—Three years before the death of George Floyd opened up long-awaited conversations about race and the plight of Black people in the United States, twelve pastors from the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, six African American and six Anglo, sat at a table to listen and learn from each other.
There was “nervousness,” “a sense of urgency,” and even “a bit of trepidation” in the room that very first day, recounted Kyle Canty, Send Philadelphia missionary for the North American Mission Board.
He remembers cautioning the pastors, “We can talk about it, but there’s going to be some things that I’m going to say that you’re not going to understand or may not even like.”
He explained, “It was a little bit of almost kind of sizing up and knowing how far could we go.”
For the African American brothers and pastors, it was another meeting and succession of other meetings throughout life to explain about race, to shed light on what was unknown on the other side, he said.
“I’m sure there are some things that some of my Anglo brothers didn’t understand,” maybe even the terminology, the subject matter or even the force behind it.
“But the whole idea is: if we’re going to have a discussion then we’re going to have a discussion,” he stressed.
He further explained, “We’ve got issues that we have to deal with. And we’ve got to confess, and we’ve got to seek some type of conciliation, seek to see where we are at, what kind of oneness can we have?”
Everyone had to be honest.
So, it was tense. You could cut [the tension], he recalled, noting some guys who didn’t understand just kept their mouth closed. Others who were further along in the racial reconciliation continuum spoke up.
“It was exhausting,” said Canty, who admitted weariness because he’d had the racial reconciliation talk so many times before. “The reality is that we’ve had enough conversations, and it’s exhausting having another conversation without action.”
And so, he and his fellow African American pastors made it very clear they’re not—they can’t, don’t have the time—to just simply talk.
“We need action. We need change, real change,” said Canty, confessing though he had felt emotionally exhausted, he was also a bit hopeful.
“There was some elation, but also, this is going to be a lot of work,” especially on the front end “with the African American brothers explaining and reexplaining, and re-answering those questions about why is this? Why is that? Why do you do that? Why is this so urgent? Why can’t we just preach the gospel?”
There were all those emotions, a little bit of frustration, even anger, he said, explaining, “You can’t talk about this topic without some anger because it’s a life-and death-thing.”
He paused to soak in the enormity of the statement. “If there are no changes, it could mean my life.”
He said it again, “It can be my life.” (Or his son’s or daughters’ lives, he added.)
Canty shared how having BRN’s three senior leaders, Barry Whitworth, Larry Anderson and Cliff Jenkins, behind the cause gave the effort a “safe place” to take place, to grow past the “politeness” and ultimately lead to real action.
The cohort spent a lot of time reading “Divided by Faith” by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, which provided concrete details and facts about the policies and legalities that have held the Black population back.
Rather than anecdotal examples, the book helped the cohort realize “this is real stuff,” Canty said. “This is not a boogeyman. This is life. It’s reality.”
And “real data,” which is what Canty said the white brethren needed.
Reading the book helped each participant make the leap to be upfront and honest on an even deeper level, he said.
Another thing that made it real? The shooting of another unarmed African American male.
“I can’t even remember who it was; there’ve been so many of them,” Canty said.
“[But] it created a pause, and I remember, I don’t even think we opened the book—because we didn’t have to open the book. We could connect the dots real time.
“I think I went on a rant or something and just kind of laid everything out. I was looking for pushback, but the guys said, ‘I understand,’” Canty said, again feeling the sense of awe he felt that day.
Suddenly, the white pastors began recounting stories of their own experiences down South and what they had heard and took part in.
“It was one of those moments that I think was significant,” Canty said, sharing the candid conversations led to honest dialog about things that happened in the Southern Baptist Convention and some of the things the African American pastors had faced personally.
“It was eye-opening,” he said.
Eventually, the conversations led to a visit to one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Philadelphia, where Canty was able to point out how poor communities, such as Strawberry Mansion, didn’t “just happen.”
“They were designed. It was policy. It was orchestrated. It was law, and here’s the data,” he said.
The group could see the results of systemic racism wherever they walked and prayed, leading Whitworth to ask Canty and the others for specific ways they could serve the community.
And with 12 pastors ready to serve, “Mansion Hope” was birthed. What resulted is a four-phase initiative, which includes starting a compassion center and a new church in the community.
“We planted our flag in Strawberry Mansion, in those two zip codes, and said, ‘Look, we want to see change. We’re committed. We want to have an ongoing incarnational presence within that community.’”
To this date, Mansion Hope already has a board, 501c3 non-profit status, and a web presence.
In addition, the group has developed the Culture Ethics and Justice Coalition, which operates on a biblical framework to do justice, think ethically, and think about cultural things.
Canty said he is thankful to have “a group of pastors willing to come together to respond to the issues of the day in a biblical, Christ-centered way that’s balanced in what it communicates to all the convention.”
“I really want to give credit to these white pastors and that real authentic partnership has been happening, well beyond words. These are my friends,” Canty said.
View the full interview below:
Suggested books to read:
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
- The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby
- The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein
- Undivided: Your Church and Racial Reconcilation (https://www.namb.net/undivided) by Dhati Lewis and J.D. Greear
- Removing the Stain of Racism from the Southern Baptist Convention: Diverse African American and White Perspectives by Kevin Jones and Jarvis J Williams
- White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo