Two Dallas pastors – one Black, the other white – sat down to talk about race and the role of the church. The conversation was unscripted; two friends talking about race. However, the conversation took place in front of a virtual audience.
Richie Butler is the pastor of St. Paul United Methodist Church, which was built by freed slaves more than a century ago. Reverend Paul Rasmussen is the leader of Highland Park United Methodist Church in one of Dallas’ wealthiest zip codes.
“Sometimes we talk about some tense things. Sometimes we talk about some awkward things. But it’s always in those awkward moments that it seems like empathy is really born,” said Rasmussen.
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It was called “A Conversation in Black and White.”
“The white church, we’re pretty good about anesthetizing ourselves from the pain of racism,” said Rasmussen. “It doesn’t hurt. We just kind of anesthetize ourselves and go on about our business. This was like a needle that cut through the anesthesia.”
The conversation between the two pastors was a very public example of interactions many Black and white friends have had privately following the death of George Floyd.
“I’m seeing a response from my white brothers and sisters that I’ve never seen before. Help me unpack. Why George Floyd?” Butler asked.
“This for me had a visceral moment,” said Rasmussen. “When I saw the white officer driving his knee into the throat of George Floyd, it was something visceral.”
Rasmussen said Floyd’s death was an eye-opening moment. He referred to the 1955 murder of Emmett Till at the hands of white men.
“For me, this has been my Emmett Till moment,” said Rasmussen. “And that’s one of the catalysts for the Civil Rights Movement, that people were exposed in a visceral way to the realities of lynching.”
Both pastors said these hard discussions are nothing new to them or their friendship and will perhaps encourage others to do that same.
“Part of it is just making yourself open and vulnerable to friends, to colleagues and just having a real, authentic, genuine conversation that is going to be bumpy. And that’s all right,” said Butler.
The call was not only for friends to step up, but for the church to step up to heal racial inequities as well.
“To be honest the church has sometimes played a role in perpetuating the challenges that we are facing. But I think we’re being called to be part of the solution,” said Butler. “We need to have a righteous anger. But it has to be righteous and directed in a manner that is liberating, that is healing.”