John Fuller: Fifty years ago, the civil rights leader and Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr., on the day before he died, gave an impassioned speech in Memphis, Tennessee, and shared about his dream of a day when all human beings would be treated equally as God’s children. This is “Focus on the Family.” And today we’re in Memphis, fifty years after Dr. King’s death. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we want to thank God for the positive strides that have been made in the past half-century to bring about more racial unity, from voting rights to educational opportunities and, of course, the Civil Rights Movement itself. But there’s a lot more work that needs to be done. We’re gonna have a panel discussion about some of the obstacles to racial harmony and offer up suggestions of how the Christian community can lead the way to further racial reconciliation in our country. You know, the Apostle Paul wrote in First Corinthians, the 13th chapter – we all call it the love chapter – but he said, “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It’s not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.” That’s so hard for us as human beings. “It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” That passage captures the heart of what God’s love is all about. And in part, that’s what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, wrote about, positioned with the issue of racism. And we’re gonna discuss that today.
John: And I mentioned we’re in Memphis, Tennessee. We’re in a small restaurant above the…
Jim: B.B. King (laughter).
John: …B.B. King Club. And, we have some friends of the ministry here with us. And our – our radio guests are Dr. Harold Davis, Benjamin Watson and Pastor Derwin Gray. Dr. Davis is the senior pastor of Grace Fellowship Church in Champaign, Illinois, and is the founder of a ministry called TALKS, and is working to train mentors and help them help fatherless children. Benjamin Watson is the author of a couple of books. One is The New Dad’s Playbook, and the other we’re making available to you today – Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. Ben just signed an NFL contract with the New Orleans Saints, and he’s a 14-year veteran tight end. Pastor Derwin Gray is a founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church, a multiethnic community near Charlotte, North Carolina, and is a speaker and author. And he himself is a former NFL player with the Indianapolis Colts and the Carolina Panthers.
Jim: Hey, gentlemen. I want to welcome you to “Focus on the Family” as we commemorate 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, his assassination in this city. And, thank you for carving out time in the midst of this to be with us at “Focus on the Family.”
Benjamin Watson: Glad to be here.
Derwin Gray: Thanks for having us.
Harold Davis: Thank you.
Jim: Dr. Davis, let me start with you. You were a young boy. I think sixth grade, if I remember correctly…
Jim: …when you heard the news. What did that feel like? What did you know about Dr. King?
Harold: Well, at that time I was very young. I – I didn’t know much about what he did. I didn’t know much about who he was. And so, it wasn’t a big deal to me at the time. It was just later that I learned what – who he was and what he did.
Jim: I’m sure your parents caught things in the news about Dr. King at the time.
Harold: Yeah, we had, I remember seeing it on black-and-white television…
Harold: …What was, you know, the news? But I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand how that affected me, you know, as a – just a child.
Jim: When you look at the legacy of Dr. King – for all three of you, just jump in – what does it mean that this man stood for what he stood for? Some people say, well, you know, he – he wasn’t a pure person. I think the idea is, none of us are pure people, and everybody has their issues that they deal with. And that’s not the focus of what we’re trying to talk about. For those that might jump to that conclusion, you’re missing – you’re missing the bigger point here of what Dr. King brought to civil rights, to the discussion of race in America, his peaceful protest. What does that mean to each of you?
Derwin: Well, I would – I would say, whenever that charge is levied against Dr. King – that he was not pure – I would say the Jim Crow laws are not pure. I would say that when prayer was in school, segregation was rampant. That’s not pure. I would say that slavery is not pure. I would say that, particularly for a lot of Evangelical Christians, we have to redefine what our categories of sin are, and not just individualistic sins, but systemic sin – sins which keep people oppressed. So, when I commemorate Dr. King, the first thing that I do is I think about the boldness and the gospel centrality that moved him to fight a fight that was worth fighting, when many, whether black and white, did not want to participate in, that the injustice of people for 400 years – and even though freedom was something that was proclaimed, many blacks didn’t experience freedom. My grandmother would tell me all types of stories growing up under Jim Crow. So, when I think of Dr. King, I think of gospel boldness and courage. And – and so I’m about to be 47 years – years old. He was in his 30s. And I couldn’t imagine – I mean, sometimes I’m afraid of emails that I get from parishioners.
Jim: (Laughter) Right.
Derwin: And, this man was leading a charge of epic proportions, that was of God’s heart, that – that the blood of Jesus died for everyone to not just send them to Heaven, but to bring Heaven to Earth through a beloved community.
Jim: Yeah. That is well said. Well said.
Benjamin: Yeah. Yeah. For me, it’s, you know, someone who challenged the status quo. I had the opportunity to bring my daughters – we have five children, and the oldest, two girls that are 9 and 7 – and had the opportunity to bring them down to Montgomery and Selma about a month ago and to witness and see many of those – those historic sites, to be in Dr. King’s office at Dexter Avenue Church, to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where the Voting Rights Act March, to Montgomery happened, and for them, showing them what it means to stand for what’s right. For me, when I think about him, I think about someone who – you’re right – was not perfect, because none of us are, but somebody who answered a call and somebody who was willing to be ostracized and eventually murdered, for what he knew was right. In every generation, I believe there are people who, have to stand out and stand above. And Derwin, you talked about him being only in his 30s. That’s incredible – just the weight that he had on himself and on his family. But he continued to fight, knowing that when he crossed a line that it would cost him his life. But, we sit here today because of what he did, as well as, you know, many other people. But, I also think that it’s really important, as we look – think and look back on him, understanding that he wasn’t this beloved figure that we think about today. He was – he was hated by a lot of people, including people inside the church.
Jim: Seen as a divider.
Benjamin: Exactly. Seen – seen as someone who was stirring up things, seen as somebody who was trying to make us get out of our comfort zones. He was hated by some black pastors, as well as many white pastors. And, you look at his Letter from Birmingham Jail, when he talks about it, when he talks about the silence. And so, I think it’s also important that through this time of reflection on his life and appreciation for him, that we continue to learn from those who knew him. Obviously I didn’t (laughter) know him. I wasn’t alive in that era. But reading and understanding how people really looked at him during his time, as opposed to now just simply looking back, and we have a holiday and all those things.
Harold: I think that what we need to do moving forward is to look at the foundation. Dr. King was motivated by love, the love that comes from Jesus Christ. And as Christians, we have the ability, the wherewithal, to impact the world. We should be impacting the world, saints of God. That’s my goal. My goal, moving forward, is to take white brothers and black brothers and put ’em together – put ’em together, whether it’s in a mentoring situation, or whether it’s in a church.
Jim: Dr. Davis, let – let me paint a picture – or have you paint the picture. You’re the elder statesman here. I think you’re just a little older than I am. I was born in ’61, so I was even younger than you.
Harold: We’re – we are on radio. People can’t see.
Jim: As they say – yeah, we have a face for radio, right?
Harold: I’m sitting next to two NFL former players.
Derwin: No, he’s still playin’. I’m former.
Jim: But you’re doin’ great. You’re holdin’ your own, Dr. Davis.
Harold: All right. All right. All right.
Jim: But – but you have a couple of stories, again, that helps us, particularly John and I, sitting here from, you know, white backgrounds – although I grew up poor. I lived in Compton. People know that part of my story – third and fourth grade. But you experienced things as a young boy that takes my breath away.
Jim: What happened?
Harold: I – you know, let’s be very pragmatic. “I think love is what we need. It’s the only thing that there’s just a little – too little of.” The Frank Peoples principle – the Frank Peoples…
Jim: Frank Peoples.
Harold: Frank Peoples.
Jim: Is that a person’s name? Frank Peoples?
Harold: That’s a person’s name.
Harold: My daddy cleaned up a church, when I was a kid. It was a white people’s church. It was huge. It was huge, because I had to buff the floors. I had to cut the grass. I went by it the other day. It’s a – itty-bitty (laughter).
Harold: But back then, it was huge. And the people were kind to us. Everybody there was white. OK? They were kind to us. But there was one man that was head – head and shoulders above everybody else. And I look back on it now. He was spirit-filled.
Harold: He was a spirit-filled Christian. He did things that the other people didn’t do, just because he was spirit-filled. And I – let me say this. I love me a white spirit-filled brother. Ain’t nothin’ like a white spirit-filled brother.
Harold: Because, he meets you. He treats you like an equal. And I have a few white friends that are spirit-filled. We get together. We have a good time. It’s – I remember when I got saved in the ’80s. The big thing with my white brothers was are you reconciled? When Jesus saved me, He reconciled me. Everything was fixed. He fixed it. Jesus fixed all of the things I went through as a child in West Virginia.
Jim: Well, right. West Virginia. But, I mean, your cousin, I think – one of the stories that I’m reminded of, your cousin was…
Harold: Yes, my cousin.
Jim: …He had to make choice.
Harold: Back in the day – they talk about the good ol’ days. They weren’t good. Back in the day, if you were walkin’ down the street, it was two or three white dudes and it was just one of you, you either had to run or fight.
Jim: See, I think people today have a hard time understanding that.
Harold: That’s the way it was.
Jim: It doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t sound normal. But describe that picture. Your cousin…
Harold: Well, my cousin was walkin’ down the street, and three guys got out of a truck to jump on him. He happened to have a .38. And he pulled his .38, and he shot two of ’em and killed ’em. And, that’s the type of foolishness that we had to put up with back in the day. But, you know…
Jim: And he went to jail, of course.
Harold: He went to jail. He did time, behind it – even though he was – self-defense. It was self-defense, 100 percent…
Derwin: He was standing his ground, but it didn’t work for him?
Harold: It didn’t work for him. Didn’t work for him, not at all.
Benjamin: He don’t qualify for that –standing your ground (laughter).
Derwin: Yeah. You – you know, and – and – and – and I think one of the difficulties for, – so our church is probably 55 percent Caucasian. We are – we are in the South. God has done a miracle. It’s awesome. But one of the difficult things for Evangelicals who lean conservatively, they view sins very individualistically. And so, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not a racist.” Yet, the schools in Charlotte, where we live, based on your zip code, will get more financing for schools. So, you wonder why grades are better, where the income is higher than schools that are not. Is it that the schools in the poor area, the – their kids are dumb? Or are they under-resourced? And so, oftentimes, conservatives will see, “well, it’s individualistic that you need to do it.” But, they don’t see abortion as individualistic. They see it as systemic. And so, my goal is to help Evangelicals become more pro-life from the womb to the tomb. That, why is it that for crack, for example, the penalty to go to jail is much higher for cocaine? Why is it that there was a war on drugs in the ’80s, but now it’s an opiate crisis? Who was affected in the ’80s, versus who’s affected now? And so, you know, when I share stories of encounters with policemen, it’s like, did that really happen? I’m like, “Yeah, it really – it really took place.” And so what we need is to learn how to listen. But when the church is ethnically segregated, it creates echo chambers of ignorance, and you reinforce stereotypes. When you’re in a multiethnic church, those stereotypes are broken down, because you’re in community. That was the genius of Jesus sayin’ to his Jewish disciples, “Go make disciples of other ethnos.” He was telling Jews, “Go to the Romans who oppressed you. Go to the Romans who put you on crosses. Teach them about My love, and now do community together.” We don’t do discipleship that way.
Jim: No, we don’t.
Derwin: Republicans sit with Republicans. Democrat sits with the Democrat. So let me say this: Political parties have discipled the church of Jesus Christ much better than pastors.
Derwin: We are sold our souls for a bowl of political soup, and the young people under the age of 35 don’t want nothin’ to do with it, because we are not preaching a holistic gospel. A holistic gospel, not only deals with your soul, but impacts the tangibility of your real life. Evangelicals do not do a good job of that. Why? Because the very systems uphold a power structure. And Jesus said, “Disciples, you don’t lord over, like the Goyim, the Gentiles, do.”
John: So you’re sayin’ it comes down to power.
Derwin: Well, yeah. Yeah, it’s idolatry. It’s losing a privileged position. How do you tell a fish that it is swimming in water? You have to catch it and pull it out, which is traumatic. And that’s what’s happening right now.
Jim: That’s a story. Hey, Ben, let me ask you. I mean, that – powerfully said, obviously. Ben, I wanna work you in here. You’ve written this book, Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race. I think we’re doin’ that today here on “Focus on the Family” (laughter). It’s good for the listeners.
John: We’re gettin’ real, yeah.
Jim: And, you believe that we all have some biases. I think Pastor Gray’s referring to that, taking the fish out of the water so it knows what water is. Some of it’s our upbringing. Some of it’s environmental. Some of it just might be the way Babel occurred, right? We all got separated, and we have some of those instincts, I guess you would call them, about being with your kind. Describe for me after doing your book, Under Our Skin, what did you find as the cause, the root, of racism?
Benjamin: Well, obviously, I would say, you know, definitely as a believer, you identified the root cause of everything as sin, number one. And so, as believers, we address sin. We address pride. We address prejudice, jealousy, hatred, all those things. And we identify the root as sin, and we understand that Christ is a solution for that sin, that his blood forgives us of the sin, it cleanses us and renews our mind and allows us to act in a way that is proper and right, as we pursue righteousness and follow him. So the root cause is sin. It manifests itself in many different ways. One of those ways is race prejudice or racism. There is a difference between the two. Racism is having race prejudice and hating another group of people, simply because of their skin color or their facial features but also having the power to exclude those people from certain opportunities. And so, when we talk about race and racism, we have to be careful with, I think, our terms.
And in these conversations that I’ve had with people across the country about the book – and even in the book, I talk, you know, I have some great friends that are white, and who were able to have these conversations. You know, we look at the same thing very, very differently. We see a video that comes on like we’ve seen the last couple of weeks of men being shot. And I see one thing. And I say, “What do you see?” And he sees something else. But because of our personal relationship, and because we care about each other, we’re able to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. We’re able to have empathy. We’re able to have some understanding. But that doesn’t happen if, as Pastor Derwin said, there’s no real relationships across cultural lines. We’re in our silos, and we will only see what our version of the news tells us, through the television set or what our group of people, our sphere of people, tell us, that’s how we are informed or we’re never challenged, because that’s what’s comfortable to us.
And so, throughout the book, you know – the root cause is always going to be sin. And as a believer, as we celebrate Dr. King, we have to address that, first of all. That’s what Dr. King says. That’s what he talked about. He talked about the social ramifications. But, if you read through, and you listen to what he said, it always was scripturally based. Many of his speeches were – was quoting Scripture because that is the root cause of all the ills that we experience. But as believers, we have to be a catalyst for change. We have to care about the poor and the oppressed, because we know Christ would.
Benjamin: We have to care about what’s going on. We have to care about the things that we don’t even know and understand because of our earthly experience. But we care about – I was never sex-trafficked, right? But I care tremendously and have advocated for those that have been, because I see an injustice there. In the book of Jeremiah, it’s one of my favorite verses, and God says, basically, “Let not the strong boast about their strength. Let not the wise boast about their wisdom. Let not the rich man boast about his riches. But let him who boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I’m the lord who exercises loving kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth, for I delight in these things.” Kindness, justice and righteousness are things that I want to delight in because that’s what God delights in. And so, as a believer, things that fall into those categories, whether it affects me directly or not, the sign of maturity is when you’re able to care about something, or somebody that doesn’t directly affect you.
Derwin: Well, and Ben, just to add to those eloquent words – and by the way, I’ve known him since he’s in middle school…
Jim: Are you pulling that card out?
Derwin: …Yeah, I mean, the goal is to get over – that is – that is so, so beautifully said. If you are stuck in an echo chamber, you reinforce the stereotypes. And when the church of Jesus Christ is the most segregated institution in America, what are believers going to do? You can be born-again, but have a warped un-transformed mind, because you’re not in context to pull these other narratives and stories out. And so, I’m advocating that the epicenter of transformation has to begin in the church. But it can’t do so if it’s a segregated church.
Derwin: You know, you hear all the time, you know, there’s no black section in New Heavens and New Earth, there’s no white section. Well, in the words of Allen Iverson, a great philosopher, “Jesus wants us” – he’s a basketball player, by the way…
Jim: Yeah, right.
Benjamin: He was a philosopher, though.
Derwin: …”Jesus wants us to practice now what we’re going to be doing for eternity.” And so, when we develop those relationships, my brothers and sisters who are different than me pull out of me sin, and I pull sin out of them. And we sanctify each other. Then, that moves us forward, because right now, Ben, as you talked about love and kindness, we have a very unkind church right now.
Benjamin: I think this idea of brokenness that, as believers, as the church we really have to be broken, because of our sin. I think there’s an idea of the American dream and patriotism, whereas Americans, we are taught from a very early age that we can all achieve a certain dream if we work hard enough. We look at our accomplishments as something that we earned, whether our parents gave us the job, or whether we didn’t have parents. We think that whatever we’ve done, we earned. And we translate and transfer that over to our spiritual lives. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us in the church feel like we’re pretty good people, and we somehow earn part of our salvation. We don’t do this. We don’t do that. We don’t do that. We do do this. We give money here. And so, we get kind of puffed up in the church, and that creates this idea of the individualism, where we feel like we all need to do things on our own. What’s wrong with you, the fact that you don’t have a job, or that you went to jail? Well, you should do this better. What’s wrong with you, the fact that you don’t own a home, or you got poor grades or you did whatever? You need to do better, because I did better over here. I accomplished this over here. And we put that on to our spiritual life, and we’re not really understanding grace.
And so, we don’t have any ability to have sympathy and empathy for other people, because we don’t even look at ourselves as broken individuals in need of God. We think that we’ve earned some of that. And so, when you look at the church – when you look at just America in general, we’re very individualistic, like you talked about. We really feel like, you know, everything we earn is by us. And we feel the same way in the church. And I think that’s part of the reason why the church has had a very hard time dealing with race and racism, because we feel like, hey, if I’m not prejudiced, or I’m not racist individually, it doesn’t exist…
Derwin: That’s right.
Benjamin: …If I have black folks over, or white folks over to my home, and I have friends that don’t look like me, everything’s all good. And if you’re talking about this whole systemic institution thing, that’s not really – that’s on you, the individual. What’s really racist is the fact that if – how I feel about you in general, that’s what it is. And if I feel OK about you and love you as a person, then I don’t need to listen to or address, or even acknowledge any of the other larger issues that you seem to be talking about.
Jim: Yeah. Dr. Davis, you’ve seen the wide span of time…
Harold: I’ve seen a wide span of time, and what I’ve come to believe is that at the end of the day, it’s what I can influence.
Harold: The individual racism is – everybody’s got to deal with their own attitudes and everything – but I’m going – God is going to hold me responsible for what I can influence. And what I’ve really liked is taking a white guy and putting him with three shorties – middle school, or elementary school kids…
Jim: That’s intimidating (laughter).
Harold: …Yeah. And I take him, and I put him with the three kids. And his learning curve goes straight up, you know. I had one white brother come to me and he said – he went to his mentoring session and that one little boy was dressed up. And he said, “Why are you dressed up?” He says, “Well, going to a party.” He said, “What kind of party you going to?” He said, “My brother’s getting out of prison. We’re going to a party. We’re going to party.” And he said – he’d never heard of – of having a “Getting out of prison party.”
Harold: But after years of mentoring that boy, they’re best friends. That was the goal. See, after years of mentoring that boy, this man has learned a whole lot – this white brother’s learned a whole lot – and he’s best friends with the youngster, now a young adult.
John: Dr. Harold Davis, along with Benjamin Watson and Pastor Derwin Gray as our guests on Focus on the Family. This was a recorded conversation in Memphis on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.
Jim: You know, John, I really enjoyed the conversation and the energy in the room with these men, whom I do respect. They’ve shared some great perspectives, and to tell you the truth, I learned something new. And I appreciate Dr. Harold Davis, reminding us that it’s about loving Jesus and investing in people. And that’s where the healing begins. And that’s where we’ll leave off today, but we’ll pick up the conversation next time and let the folks hear even more.
John: Yeah and if you can’t listen, do get a CD or download of this 2-part conversation. And remember that you can listen online as well. And get a copy of Benjamin’s book, Under Our Skin, that is a terrific resource. We’ve talked about it here on Focus on the Family before, but it’s a great reminder on how to show the love of Christ to those around us, even those from different ethnic backgrounds.
Jim: Well, we want to be a part of the solution in building racial unity, reconciliation – not to hinder it. So I want to ask listeners to pray for us in that respect, that we can move the ball forward on this issue. I don’t know that we’re ever gonna get it to a point of perfection, but we can move people’s hearts to a place of openness and understanding.
Every day we want to share engaging topics with you that help you to grow closer to the Lord and to help strengthen families. That’s our goal. And I know that after a previous broadcast about race relations, someone told us this: “Being intentional about handling the race issue in a Christ-like way is what can make a difference in an angry and conflicted society one person at a time. Spreading God’s love, while listening more than talking, is something we can all do.” And that is a great quote from someone who’s been a listener.
Help us here at Focus on the Family to continue the conversation on relevant issues like this one that relate to faith and family. If I could ask you to make a monthly pledge of any amount to this ministry, I want to send you a copy of Benjamin Watson’s book Under Our Skin as our way of saying thank you. And if you can’t do that, if you can send a gift of any amount, we’ll send Benjamin’s book to you, again as our way of saying thank you. Those monthly pledges really do help us balance the budget for the entire year. So if you can do it, help us.
John: Yeah, regardless of whether it’s a one-time gift or a monthly gift, you can contact us here and get a copy of Benjamin Watson’s book and this broadcast at focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller inviting you back tomorrow for more of this important conversation as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.