Reflection: A Vision of A New Day

Post a Comment » Written on November 6th, 2008     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO, IL (November 6, 2008) – Editor’s note: The following reflection was submitted by Catherine Gilliard, president of the African-American Ministers Association and pastor of Commissioned Disciples Covenant Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She is a former chair of the Executive Board of the Evangelical Covenant Church.

By Catherine Gilliard

I pray the church doesn’t miss the significance of what happened Tuesday night as America elected her first African-American president. From the beginning of the campaign to the victory celebrations, the pictures that emanated from television screens showed an undeniable image of all races coming together in profound ways to dismantle the belief that the color of our skin dictates whether or not we can be united around common causes and still have our differences.

I wish my mother had lived to see this day. I was there when she had conversations with both my brothers on what to do if they were stopped by the police in Chicago. She instructed them about the importance of thinking through where you go and what you do because black males are judged more harshly when they make mistakes. My mother was so moved by a report she read in the newspaper many years ago on the high drop-out rate in high school of young African-American boys that she started the “Raise the Bar” program at Oakdale Covenant Church. It is a tutorial and mentoring program that shadows young African-American boys from middle school though college graduation by providing guidance and support to transition young boys to young adults with success.

All of us are too familiar with the statistics that there are more African-American males in prison than there are in college. This statistic guided the countless conversations I’ve had with both my sons, who are now 28 and 24, about the same prejudicial issues my mother counseled my brothers about. It was painful to have to hold these same conversations with my sons so many years later. They have endured the same prejudice and racism that other African-American males have endured in this country as they have transitioned from young boys to men.

I’m also reminded of the great price my father-in-law paid in his career service in the U.S. Army serving two tours in Vietnam and one in Korea. He is now 80 years old and suffering from Alzheimer’s, but upon his return to this country he endured a lifetime of prejudice and rejection from a country he fought for and loves. The media images being fed to us throughout my lifetime have highlighted the worst of who African-American men could be. That is why this moment has such great significance.

The recent election gives countless mothers and fathers who gather around kitchen tables with their African-American sons the opportunity to change the conversation. Their children will now be able to shape these conversations from a different world view. I know there are no tears in heaven – so mom must be up there dancing in celebration. Her vision was one of a new imaging that is now possible for future generations of young African-American males.

Dr. King had stated that 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. This election, however, has shown the world a beautiful picture of the vision in Revelation 7:9: After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (TNIV)

The church can build on this momentum in how we minister to the lost, both here in the U.S. and throughout the world. The election has challenged me with these lessons in my ministry:

1.    The vision of Revelation 7:9 has now jumped off the pages of scripture and into our homes through the images of television. This vision provides the church with a unique context from which multicultural churches can emerge. We can begin discussions around issues we hold in common, and we now have a powerful visual of what that can be within the church.
2.    The imaging of the young and old in partnership together is another lesson for the church. The strength of the younger generation taking the lead with new creative ideas in partnership with the older generation who carry years of experience provides for us a model of confidence that will allow others to follow without fear and in hope of a better tomorrow. This imaging is needed throughout our churches as we provide opportunities for younger members to join, not replace, the older generation in leadership.
3.    A third vision is the powerful picture of an African-American man who loves his wife and misses time with his daughters as he pursues the most demanding job in the world and moves those of us in leadership to re-examine the balance we need to have in our personal lives as we meet the demands of ministry. Our families must be a priority in our agendas, even as we make ourselves available to those we have been called to serve.
4.    This election brings “The Cosby Show” television sitcom to life. This election redefines the images of the African-American family to the world. What is now being broadcast throughout the world is one of a highly educated African-American woman in pursuit of her personal ambitions without abandoning the role of modeling a loving and supportive wife and devoted mother. What is being redefined is a picture of an African-American husband who loves his wife and adores his children. What is being redefined is seeing African-American children who handle the face of newfound publicity with an open love and respect for their parents. This election should move our conversations in the church to discussions about preconceived prejudices we hold about cultural family differences.
5.    There is power in leading with vision and hope. America always has been a land where dreams and ideals are the catalyst for movement and progress, and the church should engage in discussions of how it can do the same.
6.    There is power in small donations given sacrificially – the average donation in the campaign was $26. In the church, we are to be cheerful givers who give sacrificially out of who we are . . . to expand the work of the kingdom of God.
7.    This election also has changed the context from which the new chapter of the gospel will be told. Over and over we heard African-Americans say, “I never would have believed that an African-American could become president in my lifetime.” This election has created a climate in which people now believe the impossible can happen. What an awesome opportunity for the church to minister in an environment of hope.

This is our moment, as leaders of the church, to bring deeper discussion about race and the steps we need to take for authentic formation to emerge in this more hopeful nation. This is our moment, as leaders in the church, to authentically deepen our relationships with other cultures and ethnicities around the communion table that unites us in Christ. And this is our moment, as leaders within the church, to deepen the dialogue about what it will take to dismantle the walls that must be torn down in order for the new community to emerge.

I reminded again of Dr. King’s words in his “I Have A Dream” speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” This is our moment.

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