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Culpeper pastors seek racial unity

“If you gotta start somewhere, why not here? If you gotta start sometime why not now?
From “City On Our Knees”
by Toby Mac

“We must be intentional.” That was the phrase four local pastors used frequently Tuesday afternoon in discussing the best way to show the love of God to people of all races in the Culpeper community.

About a dozen men, women and children came to the community room of the Culpeper County Library to, as moderator and Pastor Erick Kalenga said, “open a new discussion in Culpeper.”

Kalenga, who is black, grew up in South Africa. He has been in Culpeper 12 years and is pastor of His Village Church, a mixed race church.
Kalenga said the round table is a starting point in what he hopes will be an ongoing discussion about bringing racial unity to Culpeper and developing a road map for “becoming one church in our words and deeds.”

Kalenga was joined on the panel by Latino Pastor Habacuc Diaz-Lopez from Primera Iglesia Bautista de Piedras Negras and two white ministers, Pastor G.W. Dameron of City on a Hill Church and Pastor Baker Riggs of Church on the Rise.

Culpeper a diverse community

“The town of Culpeper is a very diverse community with approximately 40 percent of its residents being racial minorities, according to the 2010 census” wrote emcee Jon Russell in a press release. “While our residents are racially tolerant, very little is being done to bring us all together in a way that models genuine love and service to one another. This is the first step on a long and rewarding road.”
“This is such an important issue within the Body of Christ,” Dameron said. “No matter what our race we need to achieve unity in heart and mind. I don't see that reflected in Culpeper or in the larger world.”

Diaz-Lopez pointed out that even within a culture there are differences.

“We have different cultures among those from Central America, South America, Mexico,” he said. “I think people sometimes assume 'Latino' is one culture. And I think sometimes people are afraid of those they do not know.

“'The Apostle Peter (a Jew) had to be pushed by the Holy Spirit to visit Cornelius (a Gentile). We need to be very intentional looking for fellowship with those who are different from us.”

Riggs said he grew up in the middle of the Southern Civil Rights movement.

“For my first two years of school I was in a class of 20-30 kids that were all white,” he said. “After integration I became a minority in my classrooms. The benefit of that was that I developed a good identity with black culture.”
Riggs said he has planted three churches, one in North Carolina, one in southwestern Virginia and the one here in Culpeper.
“All of them have been multicultural,” he said.

Kalenga said from the perspective of African-Americans there is a lot of history to get over – slavery, the Civil War.

“There needs to be reconciliation,” he said.

Dameron said “love” is the only way to get past the struggles.

“That's the word that resonates in my heart and mind. We must love the way God has called us, and not only proclaim it, but live it out.”
Riggs said much of the unrest among races – even in the church -- is caused by Satan.
“We need to understand the character of the enemy of our faith,” he said. “One tactic is to pervert what God looks at as good. God loves unity in diversity. The enemy wants racism, prejudice and bigotry.”

What's the answer?

“We have to get out of our comfort zones,” Dameron said. “It will take courage, strength and energy. It's difficult as pastors because we don't want to rock the boat. But if what I'm doing doesn't match up with the Word of God, it's sin.
“Embrace your brother or sister of a different color. Do it unashamedly and with intentionality.”

Diaz-Lopez said pastors need to seek more ways to worship God together as is done in the Culpeper community Thanksgiving service.
“At Pentecost, believers were able to communicate with each other despite language differences,” he said.

Kalenga pointed to President Nelson Mandela of South Africa as someone who was very intentional at crossing over to white residents at the risk of losing his popularity with the black community.

“We need to recognize the mindset of other cultures,” Riggs said. “We can't escape our past, but what we did to blacks through slavery is a wound that needs to be addressed. Those of us who are white need to say we are sorry, we were wrong. But the mindset of most of our white culture is to just bury it and move on.”

Kalenga said one of the reasons he wanted to hold the forum in February is because it's Black History Month.

“We have a black president and people are talking about race in the community,” he said. “We need to bring those kinds of conversations into the church. The devil uses the color of our skins to keep us separated. When we are divided we are not going to be effective. We as pastors need to be humble and we need to be intentional in teaching the people in our church humility.”

All four men agreed the intentionality of love for others is the key to unity.

“The Bible says, 'by this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Dameron said.

The Rev. Kate Costa, pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, was in the audience.
“This was a very uplifting conversation, very honest,” she said. “There is a significant racial divide in Culpeper. As Martin Luther King once said, 'church is the most segregated hour in America.' Race has impacted our faith.”

Ray Starks, an African-American man who attends Dameron's church, said he was inspired by the roundtable discussion.
“It was good just to hear the pastors talk about racial issues,” he said. “Pastor Dameron (preaches about) the unity we want and need in Culpeper.”
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