(RNS) In the wake of a string of racially tinged shootings, majority white churches — even those quiet in past years about racial prejudice — have begun to find their voices.
The latest incidents of police shooting black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, combined with the targeting of white police officers in Dallas, have exposed for many congregations a racial divide in America too wide to ignore.
“There is a sense of a need to re-engage on a deeper level,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, former leader of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Presbyterians need to ask themselves “if the communities that we are leading reflect the Gospel values that we say we have.”
His sentiments reflect increased national attention on racial tensions, which rose sharply after the 2014 killing by a policeman of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. More recently, the PCUSA, which is 92 percent white and one of the largest of the nation’s mainline denominations — and several other majority white churches — have declared their own complicity in racism and pledged to do better.
Their words may still fall short but are not lost on many black clergy, who long have been leaders in working for racial justice.
“I think we’ve got a long way to go with denominations, but you see hopeful signs,” said the Rev. Joseph Darby of South Carolina, a presiding elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “If the Southern Baptists can pass progressive stuff, well, that’s quite different.”