Talks on racial tensions have continuously been at the forefront of conversation over the past few months, and such discussions cannot be left out from the city of Los Angeles, one of the most racially diverse cities in the nation. Hence, discussions on race were a signification portion of the recent TogetherLA Conference, a conference in which some 1,500 Christians from various backgrounds gathered to learn and discuss how to more effectively love the city of Los Angeles.
In particular, there were two panels that directly addressed issues of racial integration and reconciliation. One panel on Friday, which was moderated by Greg Leith, the Director of Business and Corporate Relations at Biola University, focused more on the integration aspect. Panelists included Pastor Rafer Owens of Faith Inspirational and Pastor Ken Korver of Emmanuel Reformed Church.
Owens and Korver described the importance of integration and engagement during their panel, giving their own relationship as an example. The relationship between Owens, who is an African American pastor who pastors and works as a deputy sheriff in Compton, and Korver, who leads a predominantly white American church, began with Korver’s reaching out to the Compton community. One day, Owens received a surprising call from one of the African American families in Compton that a white American church group from Emmanuel Reformed had come to paint houses in Compton. Thus began their partnership in bringing about racial integration and the gospel to one of the most broken communities in Southern California.
“Racial integration happens through slow time procedure, but with an initiative,” Korver said. He connected the racial tensions in America with the tensions that occurred between the Jews and the Gentiles in the Bible. “Jews and Gentiles came together in the Book of Acts. This is the ministry of reconciliation that must happen with the races in America. We must build relationships.”
The second panel, which took place on Saturday, was moderated by Michael Mata, the director of the Masters in Urban Transformational Leadership Los Angeles Program at Azusa Pacific Seminary, and featured panelists Oscar Owens, the president of West Angeles Bible College; Hyepin Im, the president of Korean Churches for Community Development; Young Lee Hertig, the director of the Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity; Cecil Murray, the founder of FAME Renaissance; and La Verne Tolbert, president of Teaching Like Jesus Ministries. These panelists further expounded on the idea of racial reconciliation and the necessity to build relationships and to understand people who are different.
“The voice of Christ brings us together,” Oscar Owens said, citing numerous Bible verses including Romans 12:4-5, which says, “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
“When we come together as a body of Christ, we must strive to learn from one another,” Owens said.
One way to learn from one another and engage other ethnic groups includes simply hanging out with each other and “eating each others’ soul food,” Hertig said. Another way to cross cultural lines is to “serve one another,” according to Tolbert. Owens emphasized that the foundation to being able to understand other cultures is understanding one’s own culture first.
The conference itself was attended by a diverse audience of individuals of various different ethnic groups—Asian Americans, African Americans, Latino Americans, and White Americans—and organizers of the conference tried to bring speakers as diverse as the city itself to lead the plenary and breakout sessions.
As the conference itself focused much on unity and working together to reach the city of Los Angeles, the ideas that were discussed in these panels regarding engagement with others were able to be reinforced at other sessions as well.
TogetherLA took place on February 26 to 28 at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ.