A Call To Unity


It happened in the mid 1980s. I had been the football coach at Colorado University for a few years when a black Denver attorney by the name of Teddy Woods died at the age of 40. In his college days, Teddy
had excelled as a student-athlete at C.U. Although he didn’t play for me, I had met him and knew of his prowess and influence in the Denver area.

I arrived early for the funeral and found a seat in the front of the church. By the time the service began, the auditorium was full. Now, bear in mind that I didn’t know the other people and had only met Teddy in passing. I was there to pay my respects because he had played football for C.U. and I was the current coach.

What happened to me that day changed my life. It may be hard for you to understand, but when I sat down and started listening to the music, I was deeply affected. The mournful singing of the mostly black
congregation expressed a level of pain I hadn’t seen or felt before. As I looked from side to side across the crowd, I realized that their grief over the loss of Teddy Woods was bringing to the surface an even
deeper hurt. This wasn’t just a funeral; it was also a gathering of wounded, long-suffering believers.

In response, I began to weep uncontrollably. I tried to cover my tears, fearing someone would see me and recognize that I barely knew Teddy Woods. I thought they might accuse me of grandstanding to gain acceptance and approval in the inner city–a recruiting ploy. Yet I couldn’t hold the tears back. The grieving and groaning exceeded anything I had ever experienced. I have never been the same since then.

I had come in touch, for the first time, with the pain, struggle, despair, and anguish of the black people. Stunned by that experience, I felt a great desire to understand what I had observed. I also wanted to
pursue what I had felt in my spirit. Although Boulder, the city where I live, is 98 percent white, I work with black athletes and fellow coaches every day. I visit the homes of many black families during
recruiting season every year. And I had a sense that God was calling me to a deeper understanding of their lives that would greatly influence me both personally and in my role as a leader of Promise Keepers.

So I began to question black people I had known for years. It amazed me that despite wide differences in their ages and the places where they had grown up, they all identified directly with the pain I had felt in the church that day. They told stories about dramatic experiences and everyday examples of the injustices they face as black Americans.

One black clergyman, for instance, told of a gang shooting in which an innocent 12-year-old boy had been killed. The boy and his family were active participants in his church. When the news of the
boy’s death got out, the pastor almost doubled over in pain, so great was his grief. Many black leaders called or wrote to offer prayers and condolences, some from great distances. But nearby white leaders made no effort at all to express concern. The pastor was left with the clear impression that they simply didn’t care.

A good friend who is not a Christian told me plainly why he doesn’t believe in the “white man’s God.” As a child in the South, he knew he was not welcome in the all-white church on the comer. He would
stand outside, near a window, during services and listen to the preacher speak about love, all the time knowing there was no love in that church for him.

At one point, this same friend witnessed a Ku Klux Klan rally in which the speaker held up a monkey’s skull and claimed it was an exact replica of a black man’s head. Can you imagine the rage mixed with fear that my friend felt that night? Can you understand why that night remains vivid and powerful in his memory?

The night before C.U.’s second game of the 1993 football season, we were in Texas preparing to play Baylor the next afternoon. To help the guys relax, I had arranged for our traveling squad to watch the
Whitaker-Chavez championship prizefight that evening. Chavez’s record was 88-0. Whitaker, a black
man, had fought half as many matches with only one loss.

Seventy of us gathered in a small room to watch the bout. Approximately half were black. I sat back and observed my players closely. Virtually all the black kids were pulling for Whitaker; the white kids seemed evenly divided between Whitaker and Chavez. The black players were clearly more animated, often cheering and jumping to their feet, while the white players were generally more subdued. I was
intrigued by the difference in culture.

Whitaker appeared to be in control throughout the fight, and the TV announcers spoke of his big edge over and over. Even though both boxers were still standing when the bout ended after 12 rounds, the
winner seemed clear. We were all sure Whitaker had given Chavez his first defeat.

There was a delay, however, in totaling the judges’ scorecards. The TV commentators said, “Could they possibly award this fight to Chavez? Surely not”

A hush came over our room. You could sense that the black players began to fear the worst. And when the ring announcer said that the fight was a draw–no winner–there was no protest in our ranks.
Everyone filed out of the room quietly. The feeling was clear in the eyes and body language of our black young men: Injustice again. The black fighter has to knock out his opponent to win–he will never get
the benefit of a decision.

Then there’s the clear case of one of my assistant coaches at C.U. This man is smart, talented, a good teacher of the game, a skilled recruiter. In short, he has all the ingredients of a successful head
coach. From a selfish standpoint, I’d like him to stay right where he is, because he’s a friend and a tremendous asset to our program. I also know that if he went to another school as the head coach, his team would beat mine a fair share of the time!

The simple fact is, however, that no one has offered him a head coaching job. Why? Because he’s black. There’s no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if he were white, he would have been a head coach
somewhere years ago.

Call to Unity

Why do I tell these stories, hoping you’ll feel at least a little of what I feel? Why is the issue of racial (and denominational) reconciliation so important to Promise Keepers that we’re asking you to make a commitment to it? Let me explain in two ways.

First, the issue is vital because the Bible reveals clearly that it’s the will of Almighty God for His people to be united. Jesus said to the Father, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you…. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved
me” (John 17:20-23).

The apostle Paul wrote, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body” (1 Cor. 12:13).

When the New Testament church struggled with the threat of division between believing Jews and Gentiles–two racial groups that generally despised each other in that time and place Paul wrote the
following corrective in Ephesians 2:13-16:

In Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of
hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

If I understand those passages and others like them correctly, divisions should not exist among Christians. But we know that’s not the case. We are divided along racial and denominational lines.

The second reason reconciliation is so important to Promise Keepers grows out of an incident that occurred at one of our first conferences, in 1991. “Only” about 4,000 of us were gathered that year,
but we already had dreams of filling Folsom Field with 50,000 men in the near future. As I got up to address the men at the end of that conference, I looked out over the crowd, and I noticed that it was
overwhelmingly white. The absence of men of color somehow hit me between the eyes, and in that moment, the Spirit of God clearly said to my spirit, “You can fill that stadium, but if men of other races aren’t there, I won’t be there, either.”

That message, which has since been confirmed in various ways to all the leaders of Promise Keepers, was the beginning of our understanding that the building of bridges across the divisions that currently separate believers is an important part of why God called us into being as an organization. It may be our most difficult mission, but I’m convinced that it’s essential.

What will happen if Promise Keepers begin to reach out across racial and denominational lines? One strong possibility is the outbreak of revival in America. You see, I believe racism and denominational
divisions have done more than just about anything to hamper the church’s witness to the world. So many people of color, like the friend I mentioned earlier, have been totally turned off to the God we proclaim by our obvious lack of love. Even non-believing white people know that Christians are supposed to love and that far too often we fail to do so. This is why I’m certain that revival can’t take place until the church grows far more united in obedience to God’s command.

On the other hand, I’m equally convinced that if we take this promise seriously and begin the process of reconciliation, incredible things are possible for the kingdom of God. Think back to the story of the early days of the church in Acts 2. The church was born on the Day of Pentecost, when people from many countries, cultures, and (no doubt) races heard the gospel in their own languages and believed in the Lord Jesus. Then, we read beginning in verse 42, those new Christians met regularly to eat together, to fellowship, to pray, and to worship God. Those who had possessions gave joyfully and sacrificially to meet the needs of those who lacked. And what was the result of this display of loving unity? The church “enjoy[ed] the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (v. 47).

Imagine how the world would respond to a church that was truly one in spirit. To be sure, we would face some opposition. Racism is Satan’s stronghold, after all, one of his best tools for breeding hatred and undermining the work of the church, and he won’t give up easily. But many thousands–if not millions–would be drawn to such a fellowship, such a demonstration of the power of God’s love, just as they were 2,000 years ago.

Imagine what a united church could do with the gang problem in our country; with the need for young people in single-parent homes to have positive role models, heroes, and hopes for a better tomorrow;
with the lack of educational and employment opportunities for certain segments of our society. I believe the kind of unity in the Body of Christ that we’re talking about could unleash the fantastic potential
God has given us to make a positive difference that no one else can possibly make. The unifying of godly people of all colors in contrast to racism would be an undeniable witness of His grace.

Now, I don’t mean to suggest that all cultural differences and denominational distinctives are going to disappear. But what I know is that Almighty God wants to bring Christian men together regardless of
their ethnic origin, denominational background, or style of worship. There’s only one criterion for this kind of unity: to love Jesus and be born of the Spirit of God. Can we look one another in the eye– black,
white, red, brown, yellow, Baptist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Catholic, and so on–and get together on this common ground: “We believe in salvation through Christ alone, and we have made Him the Lord of our lives”? Is that not the central, unifying reality of our existence? And if it is, can we not focus on that and call each other brother instead of always emphasizing our differences? Men, we have to get together on this!

The Sin of Racism

Perhaps you look at the issue of racism and denominational divisiveness and say, “That’s not me! I don’t hate anybody, and I don’t take responsibility for the plight of people of color.” Or, “I can’t be responsible for what happened hundreds of years ago. I wasn’t there.” If that’s the case, let me ask you to rethink the issue in a couple of ways.

First, take the time and make the effort to prayerfully examine your heart. In God’s presence, ask yourself questions like these: “Do I truly not consider myself better than people of one or more other
races–more intelligent, creative, honest, hard-working, moral, trustworthy? How would I feel if a minority family sat next to me in church, invited my family to a picnic in a public park, or moved in
next door? How would I react if my Sunday school teacher or my child’s teacher were a person of another race? How about if my new boss were a person of color? How would I respond if my child married someone of a different race?”

As you ask yourself such questions, keep in mind these words given by the Holy Spirit of God through the apostle John: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For everyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he [God] has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (I John 4:20-21).

Then, as you lay your heart open to God, deal with any traces of racism you find there according to I John 1:9, and ask Him to begin the process of changing your mind and heart.

Second, even if you have a clear conscience before God with regard to racism, there is a biblical principle that says we bear some responsibility for the unrepented sins of our forefathers. Let me explain.

The Old Testament clearly shows a continuity of God’s dealing with His people, generation after generation. This may have been blessing upon blessing or judgment for a prolonged period of years,
even multiple generations.

Second Samuel 21, for example, shows how God called Israel to accountability under the reign of King David for a breach of integrity under King Saul, David’s predecessor. Saul had broken a covenant with
God by not sparing the Gibeonites after he and Israel had sworn to do so, and David’s generation suffered the judgment: “During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death”‘ (v. 1).

What Saul did was a direct parallel to “ethnic cleansing” in our day. (Ethnic cleansing is racism without the restraint of law.) Because of his sin, God judged Israel with a sustained famine for three years.
The acknowledgment of that sin and restitution to the surviving Gibeonites was necessary before the judgment was lifted. “After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land” (v. 14).

In another biblical account, Daniel pleaded with the Lord in prayer and fasting because he understood that Jerusalem would suffer desolation for 70 years for the sins of his generation and the generations of his forefathers (see Dan. 9:419). In verse 16 he said, “Our sins and the iniquities of our fathers have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.”

Most Americans live in a “now only” mentality. But the historic cultures of the world present a radical alternative to this thinking and help us understand the biblical principle of generational sin. The
Chinese, for example, tend to take a long look at their history. For them, things change slowly. They see their own lives integrally linked to their national ethnic history spanning millennia. Europeans
criticize Americans for being ignorant of world history, and even their own history.

Not only do we tend to be ignorant of the biblical principle involved here, but we also just don’t like it. To our highly individualistic way of thinking, it doesn’t seem fair. But God is not bound by our sense of fairness, and the biblical principle stands.

Less than a century and a half ago, the forefathers of our contemporary black brothers and sisters were being treated as subhuman animals, property to be chained and whipped, bought and sold, by many
of our white forefathers. Have we in the white church ever repented of that sin to any significant extent? No, we have not. We’ve stood against a lot of other social evils, but we have not stood against racism and called it what it is: sin! We have been divided by racism, staying silent, acting with, at best, only token resistance.

We should feel conviction deep in our souls for this sin. The damage is incalculable. The toll is immeasurable. We should drop to our knees before Almighty God in repentance.

Because God reconciled us to Himself through His only Son, Jesus Christ, we are going to reconcile with our Christian brothers of different races, cultures, and denominations. We’re going to break down
the walls that separate us so that we might demonstrate the power of biblical unity based on what we have in common: our love for Jesus and our connectedness through Him. We will live for one purpose: to bring glory to the name of Jesus Christ and to fulfill the desires of God’s heart.

First Steps

I don’t know of any way to achieve this reconciliation apart from Jesus Christ. Only His Spirit can break down the walls that separate Christians. Matthew 22:3740 sums up our strategy: “‘Love the Lord your
God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets Ii.e., the entire Old Testament] hang on these two commandments.” Love God and love your neighbor. That’s the bottom line. In the words of Paul,

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)

Biblical love and unity do not come at an easy price. They require us to lay down our lives for our friends (see John 15:13), to leave our self-centeredness and enlarge our circle of understanding so we can appreciate another’s history and experiences. They demand that we become good listeners and share the pain of those who have been hurt by past domination. They oblige us to seek forgiveness for the sins of
our fathers and for the same racial oppression that continues to this day. They require that we endure confrontations and crises until we establish trust in one another.

This kind of love means that we come together in our common poverty, weaknesses, and sins to receive God’s riches, strength, and grace-together. It means we allow God to replace our personal prejudices with His perspective. It compels us to accept the essential value of every person, understanding that we need each other to be complete:

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each
other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (I Cor. 12:24-26)

If our hearts are right before God and our motive is love, He will show us the way. The plan I’m proposing starts with prayer, then calls for genuine, real relationship with brothers of different ethnic
and denominational heritages.

1. Pray.

Can you imagine what might happen if every church in the United States identified a point person to lead a prayer posse in that congregation? I challenge you to begin by making that a goal in your
church and to pray for the following

First, pray that your pastor will see through the darkness of a divided church to the light of a unified Body of Christ. Pray that he will address the problem of racism vigorously and lead his congregation
in repentance.

Second, pray that the hearts in your congregation will soften. Pray that they will become educated about the sin of racism and begin to bear the burden of pain that their brothers and sisters of color have endured. Pray that this effort will be sustained and not a one-time venture.

Third, pray for your community to address the problem of racism. The inner cities and slums need resources to help lift them out of total apathy. We need to dissolve the gangs. All of this is possible
because Jesus wants to do it.

Godly men must be impassioned with righteous determination to make amends. Society tries in vain. Government efforts are losing ground. Defeat swallows mankind’s best ideas. May every church plead in
unison for God’s heart and God’s solution to bring reconciliation. May our prayer warriors work overtime. Let the pulse of the Body of Christ quicken and not rest until we see change. And let it begin with you and me.

2. Pursue genuine relationships with Christian men of different races and denominations.

Our hearts will not break for our brethren until we enter into relationship with them. I suggest that you begin by establishing groups of men who are committed to living as Promise Keepers. Find at least
two other guys from your church who share this vision. From there, look around and find a few brothers from different denominational and ethnic heritages with whom you can start to build a relationship of trust and honor. You might meet these men at a local Promise Keepers breakfast, at work, at the Y. or in your neighborhood as you and they are out walking your dogs or playing catch with your kids.

The men may be from one church or several. You may meet in groups at work, in a restaurant, in a church, or in a home. Keep the agenda simple. Share insight and wisdom from the pages of Scripture.
Understand each other’s pain and victories. And pray for one another.

Make a concerted effort to get below the surface in those relationships. Let me explain why that’s so important. I know two guys, one black and one white, who are nearly inseparable. You can see them
together on any given day. They work together. They laugh and clown around. They hug and embrace. They sing and harmonize. They claim to be best friends.

One day while I was with them, I asked the black man, “Have you ever told your best friend how you really feel about being black, about the pain and resent’ meet, about the smoldering hostility for white
people deep in your spirit?”

“No,” he said.

“Is it there?” I asked.

“Yes,” he answered.

Those two men had something good going. However, until a man hurts as his brother hurts, they don’t really know each other. How can you pray for someone when you don’t know his deepest pain? When you do know his pain, you have real relationship.

As one missionary said, “I don’t know how to love the poor except one at a time.” We can embrace that same wisdom in overcoming hostility and division in the body of Christ–one relationship at a time. But
beware! If a man of color doesn’t trust you right away, remember that you may represent hundreds of years of oppression and mistrust to him. Stay with it. Keep trying; keep reaching out in love. Ask God to work in the hearts of everyone involved.

Micah 6:8 is a profound Scripture. This is what God requires of us: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It sounds simple enough. However, when I looked into the verse, I
discovered that it meant something entirely different from how it originally appeared to me.

“Act justly” means to see the need in others and respond to it. To “love mercy” always triumphs over judgment. And to “walk humbly with your God” means that we agree with what God says as opposed to what man says.

God requires that we see the need in our brethren and respond. If we do, His very heart will go with us.