In March 2016, the Elders and staff of the DCC (feeling moved by expressions of concern and need from our black brothers and sisters) decided to act in response to not only those voices, but in concern for all of our diverse members. After much prayer and dialogue, leadership asked the following respected members to serve on the DIVERSITY EXPLORATION TEAM: Tony & Terrye Chukes, Carlos & Dimitri Clarke, Alex & Gwen Haley, Lisa Mason, Mykl Gormley, Kalah Haley, Wade Cook, Michael Lovett, and Chris Jacobs.
This group met approximately once per month in 2016 and initially explored its mission within the church. We understand that we cannot address all of the bigotry, ignorance and hatred that exists in the world among different races, cultures and groups. But we do believe we can have an impact in the church, which already has much love and compassion. As Peter wrote, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. (I Peter 1:22). Our mission is broken down into three areas: Engage, Educate and Unite.
Engage: As members of the family of God, we are very close and talk about all manner of personal things. We have found, however, that when it comes to talking about racial issues, we often don’t know where to begin. Those in the minority often feel, at best, marginalized and at worst blatantly discriminated against in society. It is difficult for those in the majority (white people in our community) to understand the experience of minorities, who face challenges daily because that is not the experience of those in the majority. The goal of the Diversity Exploration Team is to provide opportunities for engagement as well as to provide direction as to how to have healthy and up building conversations that promote unity and love. An excellent scripture to keep in mind is Ephesians 4:29 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
Educate: With greater understanding and knowledge, love increases. As Paul prayed for the Philippians, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” we believe our love will abound as we grow in knowledge and depth of insight. Our goal is to provide opportunities whereby we can grow in knowledge regarding historical and recent treatment of minorities in our nation. We also want to grow in our knowledge regarding unintentional biases that affect all people so that we can grow in love.
Unite: The ultimate goal is to grow in our unity as a body of Christ. Paul addresses many problems that existed in the early church as a result of different backgrounds – most often between Jews and Gentiles. In our church, there are Black, White, Asian, Latino, American Indian disciples as well as many combinations of those. We come from different backgrounds, cultures and languages and are called to “make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit though the bond of peace.” We believe that through engagement and education, our unity will grow.
What have we been doing?
- Our first public event was entitled “Untold Stories,” which took place on August 20th. The goal of this event was to give African American disciples and those connected to them, a chance to share their stories, which perhaps had been left “untold.” It was a night of encouragement, engagement and bonding. For a full summary of the evening, click here
Full Text of summary of “Untold Stories”
“The change in atmosphere of the group from the beginning our evening to the time we gathered again was absolutely amazing and gratifying. The atmosphere of the group was electric – it seemed to me that a weight had been lifted and love, warmth and joy were evident. We could sense the Holy Spirit powerfully moving in our midst.”
The Diversity Exploration Team held its first event this past Saturday, called Untold Stories. The title comes from a Maya Angelou quote, “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” The goals of the event were to hear from (mainly) our Black brothers and sisters their stories, as well as the kinds of needs they felt could be met from this effort. As we imagined how the evening might go, we wanted to both create a safe place for people to share as well as provide some direction for people to deal with their pain in a Godly manner. We were not sure what to expect – how many would come? What would they share? But with planning, faith, prayer and fasting, we sought God’s blessing for the event.
Leading up to the event, we made one announcement both in the SE and NW and then handed out invitations to those who were invited. The idea was to invite our Black brothers and sisters, as well as those connected through marriage or serious relationship. We understood there might be some reaction to the announcement so tried to keep it succinct yet communicating what people needed to know. It is good for you to know that there were a few who approached some of us, who had negative reactions to the announcement. I think some viewed this as something political or feared there would be an agenda that would not edify the church. We were able to have some good conversations as a result. If you hear of anyone with questions or concerns, please encourage them to speak with one of those on the team (Wade Cook, Tony Chukes, Terrye Chukes, Alex Haley, Gwen Haley, Carlos Clarke, Dimitri Clarke, Lisa Mason, Mykl Gormley, Kalah Haley, Michael Lovett, Chris Jacobs).
The event began around 5:15 pm and to be honest, we were a little disappointed with about 20 – 25 in attendance. People were positive, yet understandably tentative, not knowing what the night might entail – I think it took courage for people to attend. More and more people came in as the evening went on and I think there was a total of about 45 people in attendance. Wade Cook started the evening with some brief comments about the purpose of the evening, mission of the Team, and importance of the body of Christ. I spoke very briefly about my own journey as well as a word of encouragement for people not to hold back because there were some non-black people present. Alex and Gwen Haley shared from the scriptures as well as modeling the kind of sharing that would be helpful and appropriate in our small groups. We then broke into groups of 4 – 6 people to share stories from our lives and how race has affected us. In our group, the stories were meaningful and drew us all closer to one another. It is important for all of us to know that living as a Black person (or any minority) in America is different, and affects their lives in ways that is difficult for a person in the majority to understand. I hope to be able to share more with you about this in the future.
The groups met for about one and one half hours and then we gathered back together. The change in atmosphere of the group from the beginning our evening to the time we gathered again was absolutely amazing and gratifying. The atmosphere of the group was electric – it seemed to me that a weight had been lifted and love, warmth and joy were evident. We could sense the Holy Spirit powerfully moving in our midst. People with whom I spoke were very grateful for the opportunity to gather and share their stories. Before we closed the evening with a group prayer, Carlos and Dimitri Clarke shared a powerful message about rejoicing in how God has made each of us, our identity in Christ and the need to respond in a Christ-like manner when wronged.
I, along with our team members, left the evening rejoicing at how much God had blessed it. We all understand this was not an evening to “fix everything” in the lives of those who came and certainly not in the world around us. The history of treatment of Blacks in our nation is shameful beyond belief and it is important to acknowledge there is a continuing impact to the lives of our brothers and sisters. I hope that all of us will be sensitive to the struggle that is felt deeply among members of our family.
I am so proud of all the members of our Diversity Exploration Team. Some, like the Chukes, Haleys, and Clarkes have patiently and gently persevered in teaching us that there is a need. I believe we owe a debt of gratitude to them and others. I, for one, am sorry it took me so long to even begin to understand the depth of the struggle. I am also so proud of all of the Christians who attended the event – each person with whom I interacted had a Godly heart and desire to please Him. It is not comfortable for me to embrace the pain and as I’ve talked with many of our friends, it is often easier for them to try to ignore their stories as well. But I think we all understand the damage that can be done to one’s soul and spirit when we don’t process painful things in our lives.
Finally, I want to thank all of you for your support for the efforts of this team. As one sister wisely put it, this is a MINISTRY!
- Presentation to Staff and Elders
On the evening of Sunday, November 13, 2016, the church staff, elders and their wives were kind enough to gather for an educational event hosted by the Diversity Exploration Team. The goals of the evening were to inform the staff and elders what is the experience of African American disciples in the Denver church of Christ as well as to receive feedback from the leadership on our mission and goals. Presentations were made both of historical treatment of Blacks in America as well as very personal stories of experiences in the church. Some of the topics were difficult to communicate. The staff and elders listened with humility and an open heart and responded in a way that was helpful to the Diversity Exploration Team.
- Southeast midweeks
In October 2016, the Diversity Exploration Team presented some material to the Southeast region at two midweek meetings. The goal of the first meeting was to help the disciples better understand the Black experience in America and in the church and to help non-Black disciples understand how to address these issues with Black Americans. The second midweek was an opportunity to discuss some of these topics in a small group setting with members of the Diversity Exploration Team serving as moderators for the groups.