Churches encouraged to take lead on racial healing

Simunye Choir performs at Celebrate Simunye, an event promoting racial reconciliation. KERMIT ROWE/CONTRIBUTOR
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Simunye Choir performs at Celebrate Simunye, an event promoting racial reconciliation. KERMIT ROWE/CONTRIBUTOR

It is all about understanding.

That was the message of the day at the Celebrate Simunye event at Southgate Church recently, as about 200 people braved threatening weather in pursuit of a better understanding of each other, the path to racial reconciliation, and the forces that work against racial harmony.

Simunye is a diverse local group of pastors and other religious leaders that has been meeting weekly for the past 1½ years, building relationships and mutual understanding with the goal of spreading what they’ve built. Simunye in the Zulu language means “we are one.”

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The event, complete with a multi-church, multi-racial choir, was the first sponsored by this group. Dr. A Charles Ware, president emeritus at Crossroads Bible College and founder of the national “Grace Relations” movement, was the keynote speaker.

“This is not just a local problem, and it is not just a U.S. problem; it is a global problem,” said Ware.

It is also a church problem, said Ware. This is the initial focus of the Simunye initiative.

“The church needs a good dose of humility,” Ware said. “We must be careful with how we handle each other: careful with the words that come out of our mouths, careful with the attitudes we have, careful with our interactions with each other. There are trials, setbacks, hurt and brokenness in this world. But when you empathize, people appreciate that.”

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“Most of the Christians I deal with today are disheartened by this issue,” he added. “We need to stop throwing stones and start holding hands.”

Ware’s view of the solution, gleaned from the Bible, is in stark contrast to that of society.

“We are one race, one blood,” he said. “What we’re talking about is reconciliation, rooted in redemption that is guided by revelation.”

Ware is impressed with Simunye’s progress so far.

“You’ve got something started here with these leaders,” he said. “But will the church stand up and unify? The Lord’s Prayer starts with ‘Our Father,’ not ‘My Father.’ We need to ask ourselves, ‘What is my part?’ It’s nice to have this event, but events don’t change anything - people do. You can make a tremendous impact in the community of Springfield. But you just have to get up and do it.”

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Bobby Hile, senior pastor of host church Southgate and a leader in founding the group that has become Simunye, was happy with how the event turned out.

“A couple of times, I was almost moved to tears,” he said. “It was a good first event. But obviously the hardest part of it is just follow-through. Plans are easy to put together on paper, but it is harder to work them.

“It is a topic that everybody is willing to give lip service to,” he added. “But when you have discussions, many people will switch or step away. We need to plan ways to avoid that.”

Eli Williams, another Simunye leader who is the Diversity Pastor at New Hope Church in Springfield and CEO of Urban Light Ministries, sees a bright future.

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“We need to show that there is an alternative that makes it possible for all brothers and sisters to get together and know each other better and love one another better,” he said. “That takes commitment, and that is impossible unless we make an effort to get to know each other.”

For Dr. Murray Murdoch, a Simunye member who has taught at Cedarville University for 54 years and served as a pastor at multiple local churches, patience and prayer finally brought results.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for a meeting like this, when blacks and whites get together and unify like this,” he said. “We need more things like this. The politicians will never solve the race problem; it is the church’s responsibility.”

The next Simunye event will be a multi-church, multi-ethic prayer meeting on April 16 at 7 p.m. at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Springfield. Another prayer meeting is planned for Sept. 3, and a candlelight Christmas caroling event is set for Dec. 22.

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