By LIndsay Bergstrom
“I wish you could all see yourselves.”
That’s how Dr. David Anderson Hooker began his sermon as he took the pulpit on Sunday, Oct. 20, where congregants from two First Baptist churches in Macon — one black and the other white — came together to worship and celebrate their covenant relationship.
Pulling out his cell phone and taking a photo of the congregation, he said, “Dr. Martin Luther King talked about 11 a.m. on Sunday as the most segregated hour in America. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Dr. Hooker, Associate Professor of the Practice of Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, was the guest preacher and keynote speaker for New Baptist Covenant’s two-day Regional Forum hosted by First Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon.
Drawing from the text in the fifth chapter of John’s Gospel about the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, Dr. Hooker encouraged worshippers to look for themselves in the picture that John painted through his narrative. In this picture worshippers entered the city through the Sheep’s Gate and made their way to the temple, passing by the pool where the afflicted man had waited 38 years for healing.
The Roman Empire and the church colluded to set up the system that kept the “invalid” safely away from the temple and everyday society, he said. “They found a way to move them to the edge of society so good folks didn’t have to see them.”
We have done the same thing today. “We have lived in the histories that we’ve lived in for so long,” he continued, “[and] we’ve organized our lives around these histories for so long that we actually begin to believe that this life we’re living is the truth — separated, hierarchical, inequitable distribution of privileges.
“We think that’s just the way that things are and so we continue to act and accommodate to it.”
He said one of the things enslaving us today is the dogged commitment to the fiction of race. “If we give up the fiction of race, it’s going to create chaos. But this is the good news. God does God’s best work in chaos.”
“What the people are looking for is a word, a way of opening to new possibilities,” he continued. Jesus brought a word to this man by asking him if he wanted to “be made well” or rightly translated, “whole.”
“So while you all are doing this work together trying to covenant and struggle together to join and look at your shared histories. Jesus’ question is relevant for you, ‘will you be whole?’”
There is a huge difference between healing and wholeness, he said. “Healing fixes things that are broken. Wholeness places you in context where all of your obvious and latent capabilities can be fully manifested.”
There’s a difference between healing and wholeness, that’s worth being explored, he continued. “So being able to worship together and enjoy and break bread together is the first few steps in a healing conversation.
“The question isn’t that. The question is when you look down the corridors of your life, what is that you imagine that God has prepared for you? Will you be whole?”
“Two churches gradually becoming more connected in their commitment to anti-racism and in support of a just and equitable community should be commended,” Dr. Hooker said in closing.
Following the service, participants gathered for a meal and further dialogue with Dr. Hooker and then gathered again in the evening.
During that time, those gathered were broken into groups to further explore the passage from the morning service as they were assigned one of the categories of the afflicted and asked to relate it to how that can hinder the work of racial reconciliation.
The following morning brought more group work as participants were split up again to explore their personal experiences with racism and why they were engaged in the work of racial reconciliation.