Hundreds of Diverse Atlanta-Area Churches Mobilize Massive Gathering for Racial Unity
Christians often grapple with race issues only when crises hit. Two unlikely friends have a vision to be proactive: gathering over 30,000 people to renounce racism.
A lawyer and graduate of Howard University, Bishop Garland Hunt has served as president of Prison Fellowship. Since 2004, Billy Humphrey has led the International House of Prayer-Atlanta, known for its focus on missions, continuous worship and the gospel.
One black and one white, the pastors believe the church must lead on racial unity. They have faith their divided city can change. Hundreds of pastors in the Atlanta area now meet to pray across dividing lines.
It reflects a larger trend in 2018. Often when most Americans get past February — marked as “Black History Month” annually — there is little discussion of race issues. Yet fifty years on from the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many faith leaders recognize his dream of reconciliation remains unfulfilled.
Hunt and Humphrey are currently mobilizing a large-scale event at nearby Stone Mountain, a site of Confederate history and white-nationalist activism. Intending to “redeem the land,” Atlanta-area churches will host the One Race Gathering there — to include worship, prayer and speaking clarity to complex issues.
The two leaders spoke in a phone interview from downtown Atlanta.
How the Gospel Speaks to Ethnic Diversity
The Stream: When did the vision for this movement begin to take shape?
Billy Humphrey: Two years ago, Garland invited us and several other churches to get together for a young adults conference. We met along with Scott Free, who leads a group called City Takers, and Corey Lee, pastor of a church called Convergence with mostly millennials.
We had been discussing what captivates millennials. What is this generation interested in? asked Garland, even as he had been speaking about the racial divide. I had to jump in. “To reach millennials, let’s start a movement. Let’s lock arms together and lead 300 pastors to the top of Stone Mountain to renounce racism. We’ll lead millennials in it.”
In that room, there was this hearty witness among the pastors. They said, Yes! A movement for racial unity. Ideas began to germinate. We acted on it among ourselves first. We met and prayed together monthly. Then we did a retreat together, these four Christian leaders with our wives. The eight of us took two days and all prayed, talked about race and what God’s heart is on these issues.
We knew we were going to be serious. This couldn’t be just a Christian pep rally or a one-time event. It had to be something that was more comprehensive, rooted in depth of relationship. That’s how it came together.
The Stream: Sometimes the language used on racial issues can cause confusion or offense. Why is this being called the “One Race” Movement?
Bishop Garland Hunt: God loves the beauty of our diversity. it’s interesting that the Scriptures talk about different kindreds and tongues even in heaven. Around the throne, every ethnicity and tongue will be worshipping. We will all acknowledge him as the God of all. He purposefully created and loves diversity.
Once we come to Christ, we were all bought with the price of the same blood. We join the royal family of the kingdom of God, so we become one race. This is the race of kings and priests the Lord has called together. We can be black, white, Hispanic, Asian and all these other ethnicities. Yet we are one in Christ Jesus. We are literally one race, with God as our Father. There is no reconciliation and oneness outside of Christ.
Our calling, destiny and fulfillment of purpose on this earth centers around the oneness of the Church. The Church has to be the model and focus of the whole racial healing movement. It should be in the vanguard of reconciliation. There are many different spectrums of ethnicity and culture. The beauty of it is in coming together, which is the focus of the One Race Movement.
In Community Unrest, Believers Unite
The Stream: How has this strategy of pastors praying together grown?
Hunt: Most people know it’s hard to get five or ten people to a prayer meeting. What we notice is that this momentum is becoming a movement. When you have over 1,000 people coming to prayer meetings, things are starting to move.
People are tired of division and hatred. Several unarmed black men have been shot by police officers in recent years. Some of the shootings have been determined justifiable, but some of them were not. Regardless of the different circumstances, it has become a rallying cry within the black community — mourning the young black men who were killed.
This has caused some division in our culture. Whites have been a lot more concerned about what’s going on when they see the likes of Black Lives Matter. The initial response to that was, What do you mean? White, yellow and all lives matter. Why are you just for yourselves? A lot of it is misunderstanding the terminology. Even after having a black president, still our nation is totally divided.
“Our calling, destiny and fulfillment of purpose on this earth centers around the oneness of the church. The church has to be the model and focus of the whole racial healing movement.”
When situations like this happen, even in the Church we don’t understand the process. There is a cry in the Church that asks, How do we deal with these issues? The first place to begin is in prayer together. We have to cry out to God together against the things that keep us culturally divided. As brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s where we have to start.
Prayer has begun to happen throughout the Atlanta area. Our goal for Stone Mountain is several hundred pastors along with thirty thousand or more people in Christ who will come against the strongholds of racism, religion and division.
Humphrey: We can shift the spiritual and social climate of the city by having pastors change. The way we’re organizing right now is we’ve got 15 pastors groups meeting around the city. We’ve had over 40 different pastors come to the one in Gwinnett County. The majority of them are continuously involved.
A business group is doing a One Race prayer meeting. We’re in the process of getting one together in the State Capitol with political leaders. I’ve been in local church ministry for 25 years and never seen anything close to this in our city.
Faith to Move Mountains
The Stream: What will happen at the gathering in August — and who’s invited?
Humphrey: Anybody who has a heart for racial unity is invited. We’re not a political or social justice movement. We’re a Gospel-centered prayer movement based in relationship.
On August 25, we’re going to do an eight-hour solemn assembly. It will be a massive gathering of prayer, fasting and worship. We’ll have different segments throughout the day. There will be a great group of different worship leaders. Matt Lockett and Will Ford will share their story.
The culminating part of the day will involve the pastors who are there. We have faith for 300, though it could easily be more than that. These pastors will go to the top of Stone Mountain to covenant together to stand against racial injustice in every form. Then they will renounce historic racism over our city.
We’re not doing it to have a social movement or nice church prayer meeting. The issue of racial unity is inherent to the Gospel and Christianity. This Stone Mountain gathering is just the beginning. We believe this event will birth works of justice.
Hunt: We need to hear more prophetic voices of truth on race issues. Rather than a tone of anger, resentment or blame, can we speak out from a position of forgiveness and healing? We need people willing to say, I’m sorry. And the other to say: I forgive.
Many times we say that circumspectly when a crisis happens, then we go back to business as usual. We have to be able to find a place where we can work it out. In a city, how can white and black pastors work together? They need to be committed regardless of the size of their ministry.
The problems in the city are our problems. Realizing that we’re all called to a mission together, we’re not so territorial or polarized. It’s a clarion call to Christians. God is taking us to a place where we can find true oneness. That’s what we’re trying to do with One Race right now.
Watch a preview of the One Race Gathering below and learn more online.