Chattanooga pastors and faith leaders traveled through Alabama earlier this month on a trip to visit civil rights landmarks and continue efforts to bridge racial divides.
The two-day trip organized by the Chattanooga House of Prayer for 28 people featured stops at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.
Adam Whitescarver, executive director of Chattanooga House of Prayer, said the best solution for bridging differences is to build relationships. His organization raised funds to offset the costs so the price of the trip would not create barriers to participation and so connections could be made across economic as well as denominational and racial lines, he said.
"We believe that if they know each other and they trust one another, they can do something together," Whitescarver said.
Traveling to the locations by bus was intentional to create opportunities for participants to talk about their experiences and make connections beyond the more structured group conversations, said Troy Brand, senior pastor of Orchard Park Seventh-day Adventist Church, who helped organize the trip.
The civil rights museum offered a kind of primer for the history most Americans are at least familiar with, Brand said. The memorial in Montgomery, sometimes referred to as the National Lynching Memorial, went deeper in exposing the unjust killings of Black people, something white Americans may not be as aware of, he said.
"We wanted to kind of capture those two atmospheres and create the conversation and experience between the Black and white pastors, Hispanic pastors," Brand said.
Brand and Whitescarver emphasized the importance of acknowledging what happened, and the museums offered an opportunity to build off a shared understanding.
"I saw pain in some of the pastors' eyes and faces, some disgust, and it was obvious disgust like, 'Man, I can't believe this. This is America,'" Brand said. "And I saw a lot of hope, even."
People may feel there is nothing that can be done to fix racism in America, that they should throw up their hands and walk away, Whitescarver said. The museums show that progress can be made when people lean into the difficult work, he said, and that work gets to the root of the Gospel message.
"For these pastors and myself, this comes out of our religious beliefs. That's important to me because there are people who did terrible things in the name of Christ, on race. But there have been a lot of people who have done incredible things in the name of Christ," he said.
The trip parallels other efforts around racial reconciliation in the city in recent years among local clergy. During protests over policing last year, area pastors held a special service to call on white Americans to address racism. Pastors have participated in statewide listening sessions on race, and the group Kingdom Partners was selected in June to pilot a program to create community-level social change.
Whitescarver said the group will continue efforts through official events and organic connections made among the faith leaders. The Chattanooga House of Prayer is hosting a pastor's retreat in February and offers monthly luncheons to discuss issues in the city.
He is also looking for a video editor to edit footage from the trip to create resources for Chattanoogans.
Contact Wyatt Massey at wmassey@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.