Three articles about race caught my eye last week. The first one contained a link to this Racial Dot Map. Zoom in on Richmond and you’ll see a 21st century racially segregated city. Next, a denominational leader blogged about the need for racial reconciliation, and he insisted that we initiate more black/white dialog. Finally, Style Weekly’s cover story on Church Hill used the phrase “racial reconciliation” in it’s headline.
There was a time when I spoke of the need for racial reconciliation often. In 1991 I joined an interracial group of pastors who were praying, discussing and working to bring black and white Christians together in Richmond.
In a public meeting I made an impassioned plea for racial reconciliation, and then in a private, hallway conversation my future friend Rocoe Cooper Jr. corrected me.
Rev. Cooper, pastor of the Metropolitan African American Baptist Church, explained that to reconcile is to restore friendly relations between parties who used to be together but who have become separated. “Sam,” he argued, “blacks were brought to this country against their will and enslaved by white masters. You cannot bring back together two groups of people who have never been together in the first place.”
I was just a little flustered by his correction. I realized he was right about the definition of reconcile. All I could do was ask, “If you’re not going to use the word reconciliation, what word do you use?”
“I prefer the word harmony,” he said. “Harmony is when different notes are sung together to produce a sound pleasing to the ear. Harmony acknowledges and celebrates our differences. Harmony does not ask us to surrender who we are. Racial Harmony, it seems to me, is a realistic description of what we are trying to do; racial reconciliation is not.”
You may not like Rev. Cooper’s distinction any more than I did, standing in the hallway that morning. But I have become convinced that he is correct.
In fact my goal as a pastor and leader in the still-segregated capitol of the confederacy is to be an agent of racial harmony. Bringing together black voices and white voices, learning about our similarities and differences, and singing our beautiful, different notes, a sound that is certainly pleasing to God.
Racial Harmony. It’s a phrase that grows on you.