More than 200 church and community members gathered Thursday in southwest Fresno for a panel discussion on a topic many found hard to ignore, but difficult to talk about: Racism.
Gathering at Westside Church of God, a panel of eight Fresno pastors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds -- African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics -- discussed topics such as ethnic diversity in congregations, institutional racism and its consequences. But the panel approached the first topic -- racism in Fresno -- gingerly before one pastor spoke up.
"Lets be truthful about the fact that people of color are treated different in this city and in this country," said The Rev. B.T. Lewis of Rising Stars Missionary Baptist Church.
No Name Fellowship and Faith in the Community hosted the discussion led by Fresno State sociology professor and department chair Matthew Jendian and Francine Oputa, director of the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute at Fresno State.
Most of those on the panel agreed that their theology is not the issue, its the way people go about living their day-to-day lives in their communities.
"We claim we are Christians ... but we make conclusions and decisions about people, about the color of their skin and we know nothing about them," said Paul Binion of Westside Church of God.
Several pastors shared their own experiences -- seeing how a cashier treated them differently than the person in front during a trip to the grocery store -- in relating how race affects an individual's access to opportunities in Fresno.
Brad Bell, of The Well Community Church, said having grown in in Clovis, it's a challenge for him to grasp the concept of institutional racism.
"I don't understand institutional racism," Bell said. "I grew up in a home where racism was unheard of. I don't see it."
Despite the different backgrounds of the pastors, they agreed they share the responsibility to address these issues, promote Jesus Christ and to bring down the barriers within the community.
"We need to learn from one another and appreciate our differences," said the Rev. Gabriel Ruiz of St. Anthony Mary Claret.
The forum ended with the crowd moving from one table to the other to diversify their table and answer: what specific actions would they take as a result of Thursday evening's conversation.
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