An Encouraging Conversation about Race and the Black Church

The Bradley/Rhodes Conversation: Being Black and Christian in the 21st Century

For Christians who long to see more racially and ethnically diverse churches, the situation can sometimes seem hopeless.  Sunday mornings are still segregated.  Many believers, especially Blacks and Whites, still harbor prejudices about the other.  And it seems we’ll never see progress on this side of Heaven.

But along the winding path to racial unity in the Church, we sometimes pass by landmarks of hope.  The Bradley/Rhodes Conversation is such a sign.

The Conversation

For the second year in a row scholar, Anthony Bradley, and pastor, CJ Rhodes partnered to dialogue about race and the Church.  This two-day event entitled, “The Bradley/Rhodes Conversation” took “Being Black and Christian in the 21st Century” as its theme.

Featured speakers included both Dr. Bradley and Pastor Rhodes. Rev. Bobby Griffith, pastor of City Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City spoke on “Race in the South: A Theological, Historical, and Ecclesiological  Account.”  Phillip Holmes, co-founder of the Reformed African American Network (RAAN), also led a student panel focusing on racial solidarity.

Although I was only able to participate in the last half of the conference, what I witnessed encouraged me as a Christian who daily labors and prays for a more racially unified body.  Here are just a few of the many reasons to be encouraged by this year’s Bradley/Rhodes Conversation.

We Should Be Encouraged…

#1. Because it Happened.

The fact that the Bradley/Rhodes Conversation is even happening shows progress.  These conversations began when Dr. Bradley and Pastor Rhodes made a connection via Twitter.  They began discussing various topics pertaining to the Black church and Christianity as a whole.  From there emerged the idea to start an annual gathering and make these conversations public.  The advent of this conference reveals a concern about the state of Christianity among Blacks and an effort from Black leaders to push for positive change.

#2. Because of Where It Happened.

Where the conference happened shows progress.  Dr. Bradley lives in New York City, but instead of traveling to the Big Apple, Bradley and Rhodes meet in Jackson, MS.  Mississippi is the state where James Meredith could only integrate Ole Miss under the protection of soldiers armed with automatic weapons.  Jackson is the city that provided the content for the famous book and film, “The Help.”  Jackson is also the place where Medgar Evers was assassinated.  Who would think Jackson, MS could also be the site of bold and biblical ideas about how Christians can mobilize for transformation in African American communities.

And these conversations didn’t take place at a five-star hotel or a convention center either.  They were held at Mt. Helm Baptist Church, the oldest Black congregation in the city.  The entire tenor of the conversation was shaped by the old wooden pews, the deep red carpet, and gray-haired senior members of the church who attended. The history of the place proved an apt setting to talk about the future.

#3. Because of Who Was There. 

The diversity of the people who were there shows progress.  Although Bradley and Rhodes are both African American, Whites, Blacks, and mixed race people were represented.  Most significantly the final segment was a Q&A session with Pastor Rhodes and Dr. Ligon Duncan.  Dr. Duncan is a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary and is the pastor of the historic First Presbyterian Church in Jackson.

Having grown up in South Carolina as the descendent of generations of elders in Southern Presbyterian church life, Dr. Duncan represents conservative, White, Southern, Presbyterian evangelicalism.  His background would cause many to presume his staunch opposition to participating in a conversation about the Black church, race, and the Gospel.  But Dr. Duncan is passionate about unity in the church. “I’m all in,” he said. “I’m all in.”

#4. Because of the Content.

The content of the discussion shows progress in terms of race relations in the church.  The most important point to make here is the conversation started with Scripture.  Others have made efforts toward racial solidarity but those efforts have fallen short. Often, their notions of dignity and equality were fundamentally human-centered.  The Bradley/Rhodes Conversation held the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and took Scripture as the starting point for all the ideas and solutions the speakers proposed.  Conversations like these plumb the depths of the Gospel and draw out the paradigm-shifting implications of the Cross.


The Bradley/Rhodes Conversation on “Being Black and Christian in the 21st Century” demonstrates God is building His Church (Mt. 16:18).  And it is a multi-hued, unified congregation under the great Shepherd of Souls, Jesus Christ.

10 thoughts on “An Encouraging Conversation about Race and the Black Church

  1. I have to check out more about the Bradley/Rhodes Conversation. I attend a Christian university that is predominately white and attend a predominately black church. I remember the pastor saying how could he get more white students to attend their church and we began to have a conversation about how Sunday is the most segregated day of the week. My school actually decided to try to make a change and brought together white and black pastors for a dinner and later a church service. Each pastor had the opportunity to trade places with another pastor for a Sunday, a white pastor would speak on Sunday at a black church and vice versa. So yes I agree,we should be encouraged because the conversation is happening.

    1. Christina,

      What you described sounds like an excellent effort. In fact, increasing diversity at churches was a topic they discussed several times at the conference. Pastor Rhodes said that we need to find ways to interact outside of church, too. Having people of other races over for dinner and inviting them to family barbecues deepens relationships.

      I hope you continue to pursue the picture of God’s congregation we get in Rev. 7:9 and you can attend next year’s conference. Thanks for reading!

  2. Be encouraged my friend, we have the most racially diverse church you’ve ever seen this side of Heaven! Our Lead Pastor is White, his Head Elder is Black, with 4 Elders-in-training..all Black and 1 Philipino. Our Worship leader…Black, and the congregation is made up of Black(mostly), White, Tongan, Philipino, Mexican, even a lady from France and a guy from the Ukraine! This church is a beautiful example that Christ can bring all people groups together for one purpose and one mind to glorify His name…Elk Grove Bible Church, Sacramento, CA.

  3. It probably will never happen this side of heaven. I am white and was the organist at an all black church and even taught the teen sunday school. It all boiled down to liberal politics and theology when the rubber met the road. We were supposedly a conservative Pentecostal Holiness congregation, however, liberal politics and theology were really the norm. I became the odd man out. I grew up in mixed churches and this is always the norm. With Him there is no color-just so that’s clear.

    1. Fred,
      A lack of biblically faithful theology has been the source of all kinds of errors in the church. That’s why I believe a Reformed interpretation of Scripture would help. It’s not flawless or a magic bullet. But it takes the Bible as God’s authoritative word as its starting point, and that’s where we need to begin.

      As to your statement, “With Him there is no color” if you mean He extends the message of salvation through His Son to all people no matter their color, then I agree with you. If that statement indicates some sort of “color-blindness” as if God doesn’t see color and therefore we shouldn’t either, then we actually miss out on the beautiful diversity God created.

      Thanks for reading and for sharing.

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