Four leaders discussing race, politics, & faith

From 5 pm to 7 pm on Sunday, October 1, Hampton Roads residents gathered at First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk for "The City on a Hill Forum: Race, Politics, and Faith" hosted by the Urban Renewal Center (URC). The URC's leader Dr. Antipas Harris served as the moderator.

The evening began with a performance by Norfolk Public Schools’ Strolling Silver Strings, an ensemble composed of the top high school string players in Norfolk. Following an update on what the URC has accomplished since its inauguration in March 2017, four panelists provided a brief commentary on his or her perspective of race, politics, and religion. 

Three local pastors and one NPR radio host formed the panel: Fr. Jim Curran, Rector at Basilica of Saint Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Norfolk; Rev. Ray Johnson, Senior Pastor at Calvary Revival Church Peninsula in Newport News; Rev. Tony Suarez, Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Rev. Jim Wood, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk; and Mrs. Barbara Hamm Lee, Executive Producer and host of a weekly radio talk show called "Another View." Lee's program addresses current issues from an African American perspective. 

While perspectives varied, the panelists agreed that America struggles to navigate, resolve, and heal the rift between the races that each generation inherits. The panelists also agreed that when it operates through love, the church is the only agent capable of bridging and restoring the gap that continues to grow along the lines of color and political ideology. To emphasize these points, the panelists recalled the parable of the Good Samaritan, who stopped to help a traveler who had been left to die after being robbed and beaten, despite the differences in their heritage.

The panelists also emphasized the importance of an accurate, intentional, and holistic understanding of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Era to better understand how these periods have embedded themselves into the nation’s social, political, and economic structures, impacting every generation with the social construction called race.

After their commentaries, the panelists received questions from the audience, which ranged from current issues, such as the NFL kneeling protests to why racial classifications need to be used at all.

Curran responded to the question about the NFL kneeling protests during the national anthem to highlight injustice.

“I am deeply offended when White America tries to tell Black America exactly how they ought to protest. You ought not say, ‘Black lives matter.’ You ought to say, ‘All lives matter.’ You ought not kneel at the flag; you ought to stand. You ought not bring this into a place where I am uncomfortable,” said Curran.

The final question addressed whether racial classifications are necessary.  

“I think part of the challenge comes from the history of the country and the experience of African Americans in the country,” explained Harris. “To not mention race is another scape goat for the country not to deal with its history. It [race] is not necessary, but it was not necessary when it first started. We’re in it, and we have to find a way to deal with it. If we start saying we’re not going to talk about race, well there are people experiencing the history of racism that will not be dealt with.…”

The feedback from the forum attendees has been overwhelming positive. Attendees are requesting more City on A Hill Forums on a variety of topics from interfaith dialogue to health related topics to issues related to youth and more.

Be on the lookout for more City on A Hill Forums!