Wonderful New York Times op-ed about our former church in Cincinnati: This Evangelical Megachurch in Ohio Isn’t What You Think, by Chuck Mingo (Pastor, Crossroads Church), Lynn Watts (Spiritual Growth Director, Crossroads Church) & Troy Jackson (State Strategies Director, Faith in Action):
Every Sunday, about 50,000 people listen to the sermon from Crossroads Church in Ohio, which has one of us, Mr. Mingo, as a pastor. Crossroads is the third-largest church in America and 80 percent white, but it rejects many of the tropes associated with the religious right. Instead of demanding that congregants conform to a set of ideological beliefs, it asks that they open themselves to being challenged, offended or uncomfortable, especially about race. And it’s striking a chord: Crossroads is among the top three fastest-growing churches in the country.
In 2015, the national policing controversy arrived in Cincinnati when a police officer killed an unarmed black man. Mr. Mingo, who is black, felt called to be a voice for racial reconciliation. With the approval of the head pastor of Crossroads, who is white, a six-week program on racial reconciliation called Undivided was born. Participants were placed in small, multiracial groups where they held meaningful conversations and connect to fundamental truths about being Christians.
One of the first participants in the 1,200-person cohort was Carolyn Heck, a white evangelical. In 2015, she felt paralyzed by the racial divisions she saw in her city. She did not know how to connect her faith to her feelings of complicity with racism and was not active in politics.
“The first session was really emotional — I felt a weight confronting my own implicit subconscious biases about black and brown people,” Ms. Heck said in an email. She was surprised that she became uncomfortable and unsettled right away. “I quickly realized that much of what I had taken for granted was not the norm for black people in my own church. I had privilege stacked upon privilege.”
Cameron Smedley, a black Christian, was skeptical at first. “I was used to being shut down, discredited or having whites change the subject when things got real around race,” he said in an email. But he wanted to finally bring his full self to church. “I not only heard from black leaders, but heard white leaders telling the truth about racial history and the transformative power of empathy,” he wrote.
And so it went over six weeks together, as groups shared personal stories, wrestled with the racial wealth gap and housing discrimination and grounded themselves in the practices of empathy, listening, love and grace. During the last session, when everyone shared a meal in a home, Ms. Heck broke down in tears. “I felt ill-equipped to lead or contribute to address racism. My group listened and encouraged me,” she said, and “called out the ways I had grown during the program. These relationships continue to this day.”
Participants were asked to turn their six-week journeys into action. Hundreds of evangelicals from Crossroads, including Mr. Smedley and Ms. Heckhelped organize more than 250 people from the church to knock on doors, make phone calls and work at polling locations to win the education levy. They became a political force in the 2016 election in Cincinnati as voters considered a new property tax to fund high-quality preschool for children most in need.
By Election Day, the Undivided participants and other faith groups had registered nearly 50,000 new voters, organized over 750 volunteers and knocked on over 60,000 doors. The ballot initiative passed by the largest margin of any new tax for education in the city’s history, an effort 15 years in the making. The energy that inspired voters also helped to flip the county commission to the Democrats, while Mrs. Clinton garnered more votes than Barack Obama had in 2012. ...
For decades, the stereotype has been that evangelicals, especially white evangelicals, have been co-opted by the right wing. But we discovered that by centering racial reconciliation and justice as essential to following Jesus, some white evangelicals can be called to a different kind of civic engagement. It is a politics not rooted in political party or ideology, but rather in the heart of Jesus, who came to “bring good news to the poor” and “to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”
By building relationships through the racial reconciliation programs, hundreds of newcomers to politics found the courage to put their faith into action and win a measure of racial justice for black children in Cincinnati, offering hope for transforming our communities, for the good of all.