Mercer University’s 13th annual Building the Beloved Community Symposium is Feb. 28-March 1 and author, theologian and international speaker-commentator Jim Wallis will be featured at three scheduled symposium events.
“Everyone is welcome, not just clergy or those already working to help bring reconciliation across racial lines in Macon,” said John Dunaway, symposium founder and professor emeritus of French and interdisciplinary studies at Mercer.
If we want to see change around us we must all get away from an ‘it’s not my fault, why should I care?’ mentality and be willing to humble ourselves, take responsibility and let God work in us to change our community and our world.
“Anyone interested in racial reconciliation, social justice or whose faith commitment is leading them to involvement in different aspects of social justice can benefit,” he said. “Not only is there value in listening to what our speakers have to say, but an important part of the symposium is helping people make connections. A lot of people and faith groups in our area care deeply but don’t know where to start. The symposium is an opportunity to become better informed and find ways to take practical next steps.”
Dunaway said the symposium and “beloved community” concept grew from a central theme of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a community of love and justice where racism is ended, deep wounds are healed and, as King said, there is “genuine intergroup and interpersonal living — integration.”
Dunaway said the symposium presents local and national thinkers, speakers and doers to help attendees consider varying viewpoints and take action toward reconciliation.
“My hope is this year’s symposium will help people listen to each other across racial lines and barriers,” he said. “Right now, very few people are listening to each other in our country — we have too many shouting matches going on. Families are fighting each other and everyone is yelling about politics making it an ‘us versus them’ thing. Wallis is a pretty political speaker, but he’s very clear about the importance of reconciliation and that Christians should not be on the left or on the right, but should think through their beliefs and how they relate to societal problems. Agree or disagree, he has a lot we should listen to and use in building bridges and relationships. We’re supposed to listen to God and to one another in humility.”
Matt Harper is a symposium committee member, an assistant professor of history and Africana studies at Mercer and author of the book “The End of Days — African American Religion and Politics in the Age of Emancipation.”
This year he will take Dunaway’s place as master of ceremonies at symposium events.
Harper said while some might consider Wallis controversial, he considers him “provocative” and said prophets must often be provocative to be heard.
“Wallis likes to be provocative and often asks white Christians to be more Christian than be white,” Harper said. “You can’t have a prophetic voice only saying, ‘All is well. Peace, peace. All is well.’ A prophet’s call is often one of repentance and repentance is rarely an easy thing. The idea of biblical repentance isn’t about how wonderful you are but a matter of seeing where you’re wrong and where change must come.”
Harper said one Old Testament example is the prophet Nathan confronting David, the king of Israel, in a bold, dramatic way concerning murder, deceit and other conduct unacceptable to God.
“My own experience with repentance has been that big chunks of me have to be cut out and God has to replace them with his love and attitudes,” Harper said. “In reconciliation issues, there’s a lot that needs to be cut out. Everyone has to listen to everyone. There are wrong motives and attitudes all around, but I believe in our society right now while the call to listen is universal, the urgency of that call to listen is more one of whites listening to blacks.”
Harper said he hopes individuals will look to see society’s problems within themselves and not just in others. He said pointing out those problems is something Wallis is good at. And, he said Christianity is uniquely equipped with the resources to combat those problems — resources like repentance, but others such as healing, virtue and love for others.
“Those resources aren’t just for individuals but they apply to communities as a whole also,” he said. “But if we want to see change around us we must all get away from an ‘it’s not my fault, why should I care?’ mentality and be willing to humble ourselves, take responsibility and let God work in us to change our community and our world.”
Wallis will deliver the keynote address Feb. 28 at a 6:30 p.m. symposium banquet in the Mercer’s President’s Dining Room in the University Center. He will speak on the topic “America’s Original Sin.” He also will give the keynote address during symposium activities March 1, speaking on the topic “Bridge to a New America.” It will be at 10 a.m. March 1 in Mercer’s Penfield Hall. Both topics reflect Wallis’ latest book, “America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America.”
Following the March 1 address, Wallis will moderate a panel at 11 a.m. Later that day, he will speak at an Ash Wednesday service at Centenary Fellowship Hall at 6:30 p.m. A fellowship supper will precede that service at 6 p.m.
Wallis is founder of Sojourners and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine. He is a sought-after columnist and commentator and has taught at Harvard University and Georgetown University, among other academic institutions. Raised an evangelical, his biography says as a teenager he questioned the racial segregation he saw in his own church and community and later was involved in the civil rights and antiwar movements.
The Rev. Clifford Little of Greens Tabernacle Baptist Church on Bloomfield Road is long-time Maconite and Beloved Community committee member who has high hopes for this year’s symposium and its long-term work.
“The symposium and its initiatives have played a real part in bringing people of different races, churches and experiences together,” he said. “I trust this year’s symposium will do that and help us all see one another’s perspectives better with an open heart. This is year is another step in the challenge to come together and move forward to seek God’s blessing for all. The challenge is that we continue to move forward. We can’t expect something as broad as the Beloved Community idea to happen overnight or at one event, but each event is important to help us work together each and every day, one day at a time. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving forward.”
Dunaway said it takes all working together.
“We all need to come to grips with our history of race relations,” he said. “We need to be people of good will addressing these issues. People who have become sensitized to others and their experiences and who embrace an ultimate goal of blessing and good for all in our community. That’s certainly a wonderful and worthy goal, one the Bible says our heavenly father works for.”
Dunaway said a full schedule of symposium events and speakers is at the Building the Beloved Community website at community.mercer.edu/beloved.
He said all events are free and open to the public, but that attendance at meals requires advance reservations by calling 478-742-8926, extension 101, or 478-475-9506, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for making meal reservations is Feb. 24.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.