It hit me yesterday on the drive home how neat a place Fresno really is. In Arkansas, it's a 24-hour drive west to Colorado to snowski and an 8-hour drive southeast to Alabama and Florida to play on the beach. From Fresno, you can be in the snow in 40 minutes (east) and on the beach in 2 1/2 hours (west).
I grew up in a segregated town. Benton, Arkansas during my youth was a city with a clear line of demarcation: the "coloreds" lived across the railroad tracks in the Southside community.
The movie theater in my hometown was a clever two-level, two-screened cinema. I say "clever" because the two-level, two-screen setup of my youth masked the fact that when my parents were young, the building housed two distinct theatres: the bottom level for the white folk and the upper level for the black folk.
The Civil Rights Movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (which I alluded to yesterday, see here), helped to rectify some of the sad heritage of racial discrimination and civil inequity. Still, though, some of that heritage remains, even if unspoken in the way the races still remain relatively segregated like in my hometown.
When I was a teenager, I joined up with a couple of other guys in the youth group and we determined to build a bridge with the youth group in the Southside community of Benton. What began as an effort to build bridges between kids turned into a larger project. We made friends, not only with the teens, but with every member in the Johnson Street Church of Christ. To this day, I give much credit for my ministry to my friends at Johnson Street who loved me, encouraged me and gave me an open invitation to preach.
Ironically, Johnson Street was founded in the 60's as a "mission point" for my home church. A building was built across the tracks where the African-American Christians in my hometown could worship.
Why? Why did disciples of Jesus allow the segregation of the city to become the model for church?
If I could hop in a time machine and go back and change one decision, it would be the decision the church of my youth made in planting the Johnson Street church across town. Why? Because in a city that needed a shining light for the equality of all men, the church stood positioned to make that statement...and decided instead to punt.
Many through the years have echoed words originally attributed to Dr. King: "it is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning."
Thankfully, that isn't true at Woodward Park.
My personal history doesn't mirror our right-now challenge in ministry in Fresno. In the South, the issue is color, black-and-white (although the Latino population is booming throughout the South). In Fresno, California, the issue doesn't seem to be color because every hue of skin on earth can be found here (and I'll devote my blog tomorrow to some statistical analysis of that reality). People in Fresno have long since gotten used to living in neighborhoods where every family isn't a pigmented mirror image. Parents have long since gotten used to the fact that their children's class at school will have descendants from every continent.
Our right-now challenge in Fresno isn't the color of skin because God has brought the nations to our doorstep. Our right now challenge is to affirm the King's Dream: that all men are created equal and all men and women have the same access to salvation in Jesus Christ.