Pastors discuss race relations, unity at forum

Phillip Godwin, worship leader at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Bismarck asks questions to local pastors during a forum Tuesday at First Missionary Baptist Church Rockport.
Gerren Smith
Staff Writer

The death of George Floyd, who lost his life due to another violent act of police brutality has triggered protests in the United States, where people of all races are coming together and standing up for justice in his name.
To see what can be done to improve the world and make progress in the community, Phillip Godwin, worship leader at Hickory Grove Baptist Church in Bismarck, moderated a forum Tuesday at First Missionary Baptist Church Rockport involving powerful local pastors in the community to provide their perspective to help others understand and learn more about ethnic groups, African-American troubles and struggles of everyday life.
Godwin presented several questions to the ministers about concerns people wanted to know and that could explain and help understand racism and create unity into the community.
One of the questions was, "How can we get the elected officials more involved in the African-American community and understand to see what is going on?
Bishop Robert G. Rudolph Jr. with the Calvary Church of God in Christ in Malvern stated, "they need to take more of an interest in the community during non-election years as well as election years," adding that "Every political leader wants to keep an ongoing relationship through the political years, but if you keep an ongoing relationship it's more of—it's more of a community effort."
Pastor Rodrick McCollum with First Missionary Baptist Church Rockport in Malvern emphasized that elected officials were voted in by the people in the community.
Another question asked during the forum, "why does it take a murder to make something like this happen for people to come together?"
J.O.T. Lea with Greater New Hope Baptist Church responded by saying there have been attempts by officials and people to get involved in police brutality. He used as an illustration of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and what he has done by protesting about justice and police brutality.
Lea added, "Some of our high leaders took it another way and Kaepernick has said, he has nothing against the American flag and loves America—but do not love the brutality and mistreatment of people of color."
Lea continued by saying, "There has been attempts of several NFL players who were taking the knee and owners put pressure on them and told them that doing as the president had advised them to do, tell them they would lose their jobs and means of income if they continued—but at the highest level of government, their putting pressure on them and most of the time, those young men are going to want to feed their families and make sacrifices in order to do that."
Rudolph mentioned, people are more reactive than proactive and tend to do things after the fact. "Hadn't we been doing this all along and that is just the nature of people," he mentioned.
Lea also pointed out that he has learned through the years that it has taken sacrifices of people dying before movements really started to take off.
He hurts for the family of George Floyd, but believes his death is what can pull America together and black people just want to be treated as equals.
McCollum also mentioned Rodney King in the early 1990s and even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death to use as examples of people coming together.
He mentioned, it has been growing for 401 years and blacks have not been treated equally and that it did not necessarily take Floyd's death to start a movement, but it did help kick things off in a direction to bring people together.
McCollum mentioned the protests that are happening all over the nation, and pointed out there has been a variety of different ethnic backgrounds of people such as caucasians, latinos, asians and more participating with African Americans. He was happy to see different races of human beings protesting together and it shows more people are starting to understand and see with their own eyes that America and the entire world is ready for a change.
"I just believe a change is going to come," McCollum said.
Pastor Dave Holland with Salt Life Church in Malvern elaborated on a question, "how would you suggest that we open the eyes of other ethnic groups and see what the African American community is going through?"
Holland felt, "First of all, we need to educate our white community. The struggle of our fellow black brothers and black sisters is real. Educate them on the things that have affected other people that may not have affected them."
"It starts with acknowledging what they are going through and what they feel is real," he said.
Lea added, one of the important things that must happen is for everyone to start listening. He referred to a book titled "The Reversal 'Switch'" written by Ronald Joseph Vaden.
Lea stated in the book, "the author is playing the main character and he saw something that fell from the sky and picked it up. He discovered by accident that every time he would say the word switch, he would all of a sudden, change places with another person and that person would feel what he would feel."
"I believe in America if people could just feel what each other feel, I believe America would become a better place. I think that's what it's going to take," Lea said.
He went on to say, "These demonstrations that have been going on the past two weeks have allowed many of our brothers and sisters of another color to really experience just a tidbit of what we have to go through."
Lea said he was born in the 1950's and grew up in the 1960's— in the height of the civil rights movement. Because of what he has recently seen, he has starting to relive some the past again and it seems to be at a higher level. He feels there are bullies out in the world that poison the minds of people and it affects the nation in a wrong way.
He said, "I believe that in order for things to change we are going to have to get together and sit down at the same table of fellowship and brother-ship."
Godwin also asked the question, "As leaders in churches, what can happen in our churches that can make a difference to help everybody understand more about the African American community?
Godwin feels you have to love people and have that love for everybody.
Holland stated, "As pastors I think we need to talk more about racism behind the pulpit across the board—white churches, latino churches, black churches. Racism within the walls of the church is actually a real thing too. It is not just outside on the street—those are conversations we need to have and talk about those things."
"We need to start having the tough and uncomfortable conversations." Holland said. "Have those same kinds of conversations in our homes."
Parents need to teach kids and young people that racism is not OK and to educate them on things that have affected other people that may not have affected them, he said.
"It starts in the church," he said suggesting people Add language to what you say and acknowledge what is my responsibility, Holland mentioned.
McCollum said, "what we need to remember— 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV) says, 'If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."
He mentioned the protesters are a younger generation and believes the younger generation has stepped up to the plate.
"I believe the reason why is because now in our world we have whites and blacks marrying and dating more than ever."
McCollum emphasized that protests have allowed others to see the struggle of what blacks go through. It has caused other races to join the protest with blacks.
He urged people to stand up and speak up with one another that everyone can be treated equally.
Believe in the power of prayer and that prayer changes things, Holland mentioned.
Lea stands strong by his mother's philosophy and it is something that will always be instilled in him— love everybody. He was taught growing up, we are to love everybody and we are God's creation.
"We are all equal and that we all bleed the same blood," Lea's mother said. He urge leaders and people to be like Christ.
Holland believes the answer is love.
McCollum referred to the song, by Jackie DeShannon, "What the World Needs Now Is Love."