Jew nor Greek: Church Bridges Race Divide

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Last year provided a number of examples highlighting how race is still an issue in this country.

Many look to the Church for solutions, but Sunday morning worship has often been called the most segregated hour in America. Now there are signs that could be changing.

A Multicultural Flock

Ken Hutcherson pastors Antioch Bible Church, a thriving, multi-cultural congregation in Seattle, Wash. Here blacks and whites worship the same God in the same place.

Pastor Hutcherson says it's the "only" way to do church.

"God says the church should be integrated," he said. "At Antioch you see people from every color of the rainbow."

The members agree.

"I grew up in a predominately Caucasian church. I just didn't feel right. So it's been nice when I came here and it was like 'Oh, this is the way it's supposed to be.' Everybody was just worshipping together," said Antioch member Letha Ross.

Another member, Don McGhee said, "For me, my work is predominately white. It just happens to be the culture of the company I work for. But church is kind of where I get my culture."

Hutcherson says his commitment to diversity goes well beyond Sunday morning worship.

"Building intentional relationships with people who don't look like you - that's 24/7, not just at church that's 24/7. What does the person look like who has the freedom to go look into your refrigerator? Do all your friends who come over look like you?" Hutcherson asked.

Life in the South

But for this former Dallas Cowboy, embracing racial harmony has not always been easy.

"Quarterback was a thinking position. Middle linebacker was a thinking position. You didn't have blacks for years in those positions. And I was the first black middle linebacker, basically, for Dallas. That caused a whole bunch of ruckus in Dallas," he recalled.

Football even became a weapon in high school.

"My goal was to hurt one white boy a day and eventually to receive the greatest compliment of all and that's to be able to kill somebody white on the football field and be able to get away with it because it's a game," he said.

Hutcherson's hatred can be traced back to his childhood in the South.

"I was growing up in Alabama. I was not treated as equal. I was thought of as less than a human being. I was colored, I was Negro, I was a n----- and so growing up with that doesn't give you any reason to like white people," he said.

But all of that changed when his so-called enemies lifted him up in prayer.

"Unbeknownst to me there were these two white guys in Anniston. They would come for almost three years and sit in the stands and pray for me. They prayed for me for almost three years that God would get me and use me one of these days," Hutcherson said.

God answered, and Hutcherson acted.

"I bowed my head at a senior assembly and I thought 'God, if you're real, I'm going to give you my life because I've messed my life up," he said.

'My Life Was Built on Hate'

His feelings toward those he once hated changed dramatically.

"They said Christ died for everybody and it hit me like a ton of bricks," he said. "And that was if God died for me, he also died for whites. And if God doesn't hate whites - he's my coach - I don't have the right to hate whites.

"That just ripped me apart… because my whole life had been built on hating," he said.

God seemed to be telling him "you can't hate anybody white because I died for them , too." It's become his ministry's message -- emphasizing racial reconciliation within the body of Christ.

"Revelation tells us that when we get to heaven everybody's going to be there," he said.

But Hutcherson's church is not unique. Congregations across the country are breaking down racial barriers, altering the long-segregated landscape of Sunday worship.

"This church's multi-racial congregation sets it apart here in South Carolina, a state with a long history of racial prejudice, sending the message that God's spirit is being poured out on all people," he said.

The Bible's Stance on Race

Ron Carpenter pastors Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, S.C.

"A great church is a diverse church," he said. "There is something everyone can learn from another ethnic group that will reveal another side of God they've never seen."

Carpenter says his desire was to start a multi-ethnic church.

"It's just responsible if you call yourself a Christian to realize that this wall that has separated us is not of God. And Ephesians 2 says He has removed the wall that has divided us and now we all have become one in Christ," Carpenter said.

He also began to use the Bible to teach that racism is wrong.

"You don't change the way things are until you change the way people think," he said. "What I began to do by the word of God was I began to expose ignorance, began to expose falsehoods, began to expose lies - some things that people had been taught early."

"They had grown up with this thinking maybe whites about blacks, blacks about whites and so on. They had learned something really early that wasn't even true about each other," he said.

Another part of Redemption's success is its outreach to minorities in the community.

"When we started this church the church was a predominately white church. Apostle Ron had a vision of a multi-racial, multi-cultural church, and so we started the outreach running buses into the inner city," Hasker Hudgens, Redemption's director of evangelism, said.

"We found out that the inner city was predominately black and so when we started loading up families bringing them to church. It integrated our church," he said.

People from all walks of life are embracing the message.

"We don't see color. We're just all God's children and I like that all my friends are very diverse. Color is nothing for me," Redemption member Shannon Wydman said.

The question now is whether this sanctuary diversity is just a fad or a permanent shift?

"Have you ever wondered what the kingdom of heaven is like? Then this is the place. We just portray what heaven is like," Redemption member Mapitso Rivera said.

Antioch worship leader Dr. Stephen Newby said, "This is what God is doing. God is gathering his people so that he will be glorified. It's very simple."

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CBN News
Charlene Israel

Charlene Israel

CBN News Reporter

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