NPR reporter Sarah McCammon attended church on Sunday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Specifically, she attended First Baptist Church Park Street, an historic Baptist church that was founded prior to the Civil War. She was there to hear the Church’s response to the Alt-Right Movement, the “Unite the Right” Rally and the violent death and injuries of counter-protesters that occurred over the weekend. She would not be disappointed. Senior Pastor Dr. Rob Pochek unequivocally described racism as “a lie straight from the pit of hell that cannot coexist with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Dr. Pochek’s statement echoed through the stately auditorium with stain-glassed windows and into the national conversation. In her weekend interview titled “Virginia Congregations Condemn White Supremacy After Violent Demonstrations,” Sarah McCammon cited Dr. Pochek’s statement verbatim and concluded that she heard “religious language and very clear condemnations of what’s gone on.”
In this episode, I interviewed Dr. Pochek about the events in Charlottesville and his response to them. I was blessed by his thoroughly Biblical response to the issue and his practical ideas for helping the “big C” Church extinguish racism with the light of the Gospel.
#1 The History of First Baptist Church Park Street
Dr. Pochek arrived in Charlottesville in 2016. In addition to being a Pastor with more than 25 years of experience, he is also a published author (Unleashed Church:A New Understanding of Spiritual Gifts to Move People from Attenders to Participants) and a blogger on the topics of Faith, Freedom and Family.
First Baptist Church Park Street, which was founded in 1831, has a significant history. Prior to the Civil War, it was the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together. Historic documents attest to a “warm” fellowship between what the church constitution termed “colored members” and “white members.”
Lottie Moon, the famous Southern Baptist missionary, came to Christ under the ministry of FBC Park Street, and its members are also credited with starting one of the first youth groups in the SBC and launching the idea of Vacation Bible Schools.
#2 Dr. Pochek’s Response to the Events in Charlottesville
Many Christians and church leaders are or will be faced with the difficult issue of responding to racist rhetoric and events in their communities. Dr. Pochek carefully details how he thought through/prayed through his church’s response to the events in Charlottesville. He strongly believes that the idea of white supremacy is false and even Satanic, but he chose not to participate in the counterprotests. He describes the analysis that he went through to reach this conclusion. His analysis boils down to the following questions: “Will the Gospel message (as it relates to race) be clearly proclaimed?” and “Will my church’s witness in the community be diluted or coopted by other forces?” He ultimately came to the conclusion that he could best condemn racism in a statement from the pulpit. His analysis of this issue is an important takeaway because it can be applied to many difficult issues (related to community involvement/public square ministry) that churches will face in the future.
Last Sunday, Dr. Pochek launched a new series titled “One Another” (this was planned previously), and he called his Church to stand united against racism. Because this statement was made in a church that once included slave owners, it was especially noteworthy.
Sometimes, when the media calls on a Christian to defend or explain Scripture, I cringe. Not this time. I was blessed by Dr. Pochek’s clear, timely response to the issue of the day.
#3 Practical Ideas for Combating Racism in the Church and Society
Dr. Pochek has several important, practical ideas for combating this issue:
- Proclaim the totality of the Gospel. The Scriptures strongly indict racism (Galatians 3:28; Acts 17:26-27) and are strong medicine for a society that is increasingly splintered;
- If there are members in your church that harbor racist sentiments, call them to repentance;
- Be bold and unequivocal about condemning racism (he does not suffer “but what about them” (other racist movements) statements; he states that there is no room for racism in the Church). This is critical because the Church and Christians should “go first” or lead on this issue;
- Be discerning about current events. He remarked that he could not in good conscience compare the violent counterprotests of the weekend to the Civil Rights movements of the 60’s (where clergy locked arms in peaceful marches), so he decided not to take part in the counterprotests;
- Lead your church to look more like the demographics of your community. Dr. Pochek is intentionally leading his church to look like a small “colony” of Heaven (which will include all nations, tribes, peoples and tongues (Rev 7:9));
- Initiate what he calls “Rev 7:9” Services, a service where predominantly Black, predominantly Asian, predominantly Hispanic and predominantly White churches gather together for a time of worship and preaching. He states that your (the listener’s church) should initiate this rather than waiting for other churches to lead.
Dr. Pochek concluded by asking the listeners to pray for Charlottesville as the city begins to (hopefully) heal from the events of the weekend.