Film review: 11AM: Hope for America’s Most Segregated Hour

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard. Today is Friday, May the 4th.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

A film you likely haven’t heard about is making its way through churches and communities this year. It’s a documentary called 11AM: Hope for America’s Most Segregated Hour. Next year, producers want to release it to general audiences.

Here’s Megan Basham with a review.

AUDIO: In Revelation God is very clear that every tribe, every tongue, every nation will be worshipping together. As one of the few African American female worship leaders in D.C., I make it a point to make sure I include everybody in worship because I really want people to see themselves in the kingdom of God. If His kingdom has really come here on Earth as is in Heaven, our churches need to resemble that kingdom.

MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: Few Christians today—white or black—would say that our self-selection into churches is a positive thing. You know, the kind of selection where almost everyone in the pews looks like us and comes from the same cultural and socio-economic background.

And yet that’s exactly what many of us have to admit we’ve been all too comfortable doing for decades.

With recent events like Ferguson and Charlottesville, Christian leaders from Russell Moore to John Piper have encouraged today’s church to repent of the apathy that has helped our racial divisions gather fresh strength.  Or at very least has prevented us from being the light we should be in this dark period.

How Christians with different skin colors can do a better job loving one another and reflecting the future kingdom of Christ is the question—the thorny, painful, anxiety-ridden question—that the film 11AM: Hope For America’s Most Segregated Hour seeks to shed light on.

The documentary provides both a brief overview of how we got here and examines a specific test case for going forward. It follows a Richmond, Virginia, ministry called Urban Doxology that brings together a diverse group of college-age musicians so they can blend their musical styles and compose praise songs.

AUDIO: It’s not my style so it’s a learning experience for me.  I’m not from a gospel background, so I’m forcing myself to write gospel harmonies. It’s a whole different ball game.

The film makes the problem clear: In the past racial division was usually predicated on blatant attempts to maintain power and privileges for white people, these days the question can be more slippery.  Prejudice isn’t necessarily to blame for our one-color worship as often as passivity.  And enacting a law isn’t going to change an innate sinful tendency to choose the option tailored to our own preferences.  

Only being spirit-empowered to obey the law written on our hearts—to put our brother’s needs above our own—can accomplish that.

AUDIO: Jesus proclaims very clearly ‘This is a house of prayer for all nations.” We made them communities that fully cater to our needs. So why are churches segregated right now? Because we want them to be. [laughing] That’s like my thesis statement. They are because that’s what we want.

In a refreshingly open tone the film points out that it’s not unexpected for believers of different backgrounds to see the troubling events of our day differently.  What we can’t do is what the world does—which is shout at, belittle, or foment resentment against one another.

We also can’t choose to avoid the uncomfortable issue with an excuse of “it wasn’t my sin” if we would be obedient to Christ’s command to bear one another’s burdens.

AUDIO: I was like, you know what, Lord, I don’t know how real I was until I got down into the situation. I had to practice love. Loving people who I get to know on a level and then we start talking on race and we have different views and I’m like whoa. [music] So what we’re doing as a church is a really uphill battle. There’s a reason why people don’t do this.

Unlike the contentious snark and quick-draw outrage invading social media and cable news, Christians should feel emboldened by the early church’s example to enter into loving if sometimes spirited conversations with members of our own family.  Doing otherwise, Pastor David Bailey points out, discredits the gospel in the eyes of a watching world.

AUDIO: I think in order for a reconciliation to happen, one, it has to be rooted in the biblical narrative that the world was whole and then it was broken. But, I think there’s another side to it. Reconciliation is only made possible when people are in proximity with each other. Jesus couldn’t engage in reconciliation without being in proximity with humanity. If God and humanity need to be reconciled with one another and it took proximity, we should take a clue about that.

In fact the film does such a good job offering a biblically-grounded call for racial reconciliation at a broad level, it sometimes misses the opportunity to drill down on how that messy process works at the close one.  It would have been instructive to actually see the students hashing out their different perspectives rather than simply hear them describing them after the fact.

SONG: I’m crying out, I’m desperate for you. Through the pain we’ll learn to trust in you.

Despite that, 11AM does an excellent job reminding us that as believers we stand outside the world, and our ability to ask for and offer forgiveness should seem as alien to it as our citizenship. We don’t have to join political or media grievance mongers to sit down and cry with a brother or sister who is grieving.  But we do have to be close enough to listen and have the humility to esteem another’s feelings more highly than our own.

Then the world may pause from screaming at each other in the streets to say—as the Greek pagans did of the early church—“Behold, how they love one another.”

For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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