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Staff photo by Wyatt Massey / Troy Brand, senior pastor of Orchard Park Seventh-day Adventist Church, speaks at a gathering of pastors on June 16 in Miller Park to address the ongoing history of racism in America following the death of George Floyd in May.

This is an invitation.

An invitation to freedom. And truth. And such love.

An invitation to the Beloved Community, to the kingdom of Heaven, where there is no racism.

"We want to get along. We want to be able to sit with Black or white or Guatemalan or Mexican and enjoy life together. We don't want to have tension. We just want to say: you are a human being. You're beautiful. Your kids are beautiful. Come over to our house and eat dinner," said Troy Brand, senior pastor of Orchard Park Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In the midst of such tumultuous times, Brand and Southern Adventist University professor and author Nicole Parker have emerged as regional and visionary leaders on two most crucial issues:

Race and Christianity.

Over the last year, they have worked to:

Intentionally build relationships across racial lines.

Encourage soul-searching that is non-partisan, not bound up in Republican or Democrat tension.

And publish a new book that could stand as one of our most influential documents — especially in this Most Bibled-Minded City — on racial reconciliation.

For Parker, their work is summarized in 10 words:

"Standing against racism is an integral part of following Jesus," she said.

After the murder of George Floyd, Brand and other Kingdom Partner pastors organized a Truth and Reconciliation service at Miller Park. You may remember the images: black and white Christians, washing one another's feet, embracing in prayer and repentance.

For Brand, who is Black, it was an alternative to the loudness of division.

"A moral voice above the fray," he said.

Parker, who is white, then authored the LEAD Anti-Racism Pledge, calling on Christians to:

Listen.

Embrace.

Advocate.

Dream.

"Rooted in the conviction that the followers of Jesus are called to reflect their beloved Creator and Redeemer as a mosaic and symphony of humanity, I choose courage instead of comfort. By Jesus' loving grace and strength, I pledge to follow Him and LEAD," the pledge reads.

"What is my hope?" Parker asked. "That the LEAD Pledge can help begin a Gospel-driven movement to confront racism at its sinful, dehumanizing core."

Congregations across the country — including Lookout Mountain Presbyterian — have signed on.

Now, Brand, Parker and others have published a new 40-day devotional.

It's called "The LEAD Anti-Racism Challenge: a 40-Day Journey."

"A 100% Christian initiative that would resonate with people of all races, ethnicities, and political persuasions," states the book's intro.

Each day, a first-person story or testimony — Black, Latinx, Asian, Indian, white — describes the impacts of race and racism accompanied by a verse, reflective questions and I-Will statement.

The testimonies range from white Christians wrestling with the legacy of family racism — for one, her great-grandfather was a Klansman — to Black and brown stories of both pain and promise.

"I pray every day for ears to listen," one contributor wrote.

This book is designed for congregations, small groups and families. It is for anyone hurting and confused. For anyone called to get off the sidelines but not into the streets.

"To our white brothers and sisters, we want you to hear and sense our frustration," Brand wrote. "We want to talk to you about race in America, but we don't want our relationships with you to end. We want to work together to rid the church of the blight of racism, because in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free. All are one in Christ."

The devotional is a call towards holy discomfort. Do not be lukewarm.

"Do you accept the challenge to resist all prideful defensiveness? Are you willing to become uncomfortable?" Brand wrote.

Monday is MLK Day. Wednesday, we inaugurate a new president and vice president under the backdrop of threats of racist and fascist political violence.

This is an invitation.

An urgent invitation.

"God's people must come out of their comfort zones and into a deeper and richer love than they have known for centuries," Parker said. "And self-sacrificing love — the kind that listens, embraces, advocates and dreams — is the single most transformative power in the universe."

To purchase the book, visit Amazon.com. For more information on the LEAD Pledge, visit leadpledge.org. Brand can be reached at info@opsda.org; Parker at nparker@southern.edu.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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David Cook
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