A call was coming in. I was in the middle of a meeting, but I knew I had to take it.
It was Willis. I knew what he would ask. But I had asked him to ask it.
“Why haven’t you said anything?”
“I don’t know what to say, Willis,” I answered meekly.
Willis replied, “That won’t cut it anymore. We agreed that won’t cut it anymore.”
Rewind to six months before. I had invited Willis Johnson to Providence Church to lead an area-wide discussion on race reconciliation. This was post-Ferguson, post-Charleston, and right in the middle of a big mess in our country. Every week, it seemed, another story of a shooting made it more glaring that we were not as far along as we pretended to be. I had told Willis my broken-record-coward line then, too: “I don’t know what to say.” He agreed to come. Our sessions with him were uncomfortable, agitating, but unifying. They gave me courage. They gave me hope. They gave me words.
Six months later, though, we hadn’t done much, and the situation in our country had worsened. It was more volatile, more violent, and more uncertain. There was another shooting, and I was silent. Willis called and reminded me that waiting for the exact right words in so complex an environment would surely leave me eternally quiet in a time when my voice needed to be heard.
So I said something. In church. In front of everybody. I changed my sermon. It was not well articulated, but it was said with conviction. It was said with authority. I was their pastor, and they needed to hear from me. I said that we wouldn’t stay silent anymore. I said that we are all made in God’s image. I said that racism is an evil and one that we must stand against. I said we would take action. And then my predominantly white, eight-year-old church in the belly of the southern United States surprised me. They applauded. They hooped and hollered and clapped their hands.
“Oh, crap,” I thought. “What do we do now?”
I called Willis. He reminded me of his phrase “hold up your corner.” It’s taken from the story of the paralytic being lowered down through a cut-open roof to the feet of Jesus. Four friends doing their part, holding up their corners, to get their friend to the place of healing.
It was not time for me to save the world. It was not time for me to eradicate the world of racism. It was time for me to hold up my corner.
Over the course of several months, I, along with what became over twenty pastors of both black and white churches, started to meet, eat, and pray. We had never gathered before. We met each other; we learned each other’s names. We had coffee one-on-one. We sat down in each other’s offices. We met with the police chief and the mayor.
Then we held a community-wide worship service. And then another, and then another. Hundreds of black and white Christians worshipped together. We knelt at altars together. We said together that we are all made in God’s image. We said that racism is an evil that we must stand against.
We created wristbands that said #oneinChrist. Thousands of them are being worn in our community, in our schools, in our neighborhoods. The wristbands are an invitation for neighbors to talk together and break down walls. A movement happened in one community where the people of God spoke up, gathered, and did something.
Racism still exists in our community. We have a long way to go. But people aren’t being silent anymore. We’re holding up our corner.
Find out more about Willis Johnson's Holding Up Your Corner study here.