On April 17, 1960, during a “Meet the Press” segment, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America.
“I definitely think the Christian church should be integrated and any church that stands against integration and has a segregated body is standing against the spirit and teachings of Jesus Christ, and it fails to be a true witness.
“But this is something the church will have to do itself.”
More than 60 years later segregation still is a problem — but Roy Hill, pastor of discipleship at Dayspring Baptist Church in Mobile and president of the Pledge Group, is actively working to change that.
In December 2014 several individuals in Mobile started talking about the need for racial reconciliation. Though Black Lives Matter was gaining ground at the time, Hill remembered, there wasn’t a specific incident that brought the group together. They just realized that racial division was getting more prevalent and the Body of Christ could do something about it.
The first three years of Pledge Group meetings involved learning to “listen well and listen to things that we weren’t normally comfortable hearing — from both sides of the table,” Hill recalled.
“Thank God, in the middle of it, He just showed up and took over. We kept trying to figure it out and we couldn’t. Suddenly, we began to establish meaningful relationships with one another across racial lines and denominational lines.
“At the right time and under the Lord’s leadership,” Hill said, “the first Shrink the Divide event was put in place [in 2018].”
He noted that Robert Brown, the late pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship in Mobile who sometimes co-preached with him, often reminded the group, “Guys, we’ve gotta stay in our lane. Our lane is the gospel. The gospel is what unites us. The gospel is what will see us through. If we will just let the gospel do what it’s supposed to do, what it will do, we can’t help but come together.”
Shrink the Divide
The fourth Shrink the Divide event was held Oct. 3 at Redemption Church in Saraland, with several hundred in attendance. Diverse speakers emphasized that everyone is made in God’s image, and all Christians are true brothers and sisters, with Christ as the great unifier.
“We had some people come away from there and say, ‘We’re gonna have lunch together next week and get to know one another,’” Hill said. “So, thank God. That’s what it was about.”
‘A larger impact’
Not only has the Pledge Group made inroads in personal relationships between races, it also has had a larger impact, including a few years ago when an African American man was killed by a white police officer.
“It could have been an incredibly divisive time,” Hill recalled. “We felt like it was going to be.
“Some of the Pledge Group members went and met with the pastor about the funeral and how to focus on Christ. It went from, ‘This is going to be a big, televised funeral with a lot of different people getting up and speaking’ to, ‘This is going to be a funeral where the only people allowed to speak are the pastor and the family. We’re going to focus on the gospel.’”
Hill said the funeral provided “an opportunity for Christians to do exactly what they should have done — encourage one another. I applaud that pastor who took a bold stand.”
“There were some people who were from out of town who wanted to speak at that funeral and he said, ‘No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to honor this young man’s memory. We’re going to try to encourage and bless this family. We’re going to talk about the gospel.’ And they did.”
The pastor also decided there would be no police presence. Hill remembered him saying, “This is going to be a memorial service. We’re going to honor the Lord.”
That spirit brought peace and healing to the situation, Hill said.
“Bottom line, how can I, as a Christian, look at somebody else that claims a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and not see them as a brother and sister? [We must] see each other through the eyes of Christ. That’s what drives us in this,” Hill declared.
For information about starting a Pledge Group contact Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources the group has developed, including a video-driven small group Bible study, are free through https://www.shrinkthedivide.com.
Share with others: