Dallas race relations

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, July 5th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Saturday marks two years since an Army veteran opened fire in downtown Dallas. The man killed five police officers and wounded nine others, along with two civilians.

EICHER: The shooting disrupted a peaceful protest against police brutality—the shootings of unarmed black men by police. But the attack on police shocked the city and the country. And exacerbated existing racial divides.

WORLD Radio’s Katie Gaultney brings us this report of one woman trying to heal the rift.

KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Elizabeth Hoffman works on the 6th floor of a Dallas office building-turned-church. You can hear the traffic from 60 feet below.

Leather chairs and cushy couches surround a coffee table. It feels more like someone’s living room than an office tower. The nine people gathered here have come to talk about one thing: race.

AUDIO: Here we are, black people, white people, and we’re talking about this issue.

Over the course of 12 weeks, they’ve learned how differently white and black Christians view the world.

AUDIO: That really the main response that I’ve received since 2010 of being here, besides this group of guys, has always been, ‘Oh man, I just never thought about that, just never thought about that, just never thought about that…

That’s Anthony, who is African-American. For the past eight years, he has attended a predominantly white church. Sometimes he wonders if anyone understands his experience.

AUDIO: For years, and being the one minority in community group, and having feelings about things that are going on in the media, and knowing our own instances and experiences, such as when my 6-year-old son was called the N-word by another little kid…

The typical reaction…

AUDIO: And always hearing from community group, ‘Man, I just know nothing about that.’ You know?

It was experiences like Anthony’s that motivated Elizabeth Hoffman to do something. She wanted to bring together people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, but the idea stalled… until the Dallas shootings.

In the immediate aftermath, the city banded together in new ways. In the 12 days after the shooting, the police department had a record number of job applicants – a nearly 3-hundred-50 percent increase. People from all over the city came together to worship and pray in public parks. Pastors of predominantly black churches began swapping pulpits with pastors of mostly white churches.

AUDIO: What heals a country is not when we gather 24 hours after horror hit our city. What heals a city is when we go all the way down and deal with the sin that keeps us from one another.

Hoffman says the shootings brought renewed attention to her idea.

AUDIO: Obviously, didn’t know it was going to happen, but just the fact that the Lord had put that on my heart in such a huge way, for it to hit so close to home for me…

When she says “close to home,” she doesn’t just mean Dallas. One of the police officers who was killed that day, Sergeant Mike Smith, provided security for—and worshiped at—Hoffman’s church.

AUDIO: It was like the Lord saying, ‘It’s time!’ (laughs) It’s time. Like, people are going to listen now.

News of Hoffman’s groups spread by word of mouth. She seems designed for the role. She’s barely 31 and stylish. She has close-cropped hair and wears oversized “hipster” eyeglasses—and has a reputation for knowing everyone in Dallas.  

AUDIO: Okay, so I’m African-American—And I’ve always grown up in mostly white circles. I feel like I’ve been uniquely planted in those circumstances most of my life, and God doesn’t do things by accident.

Her sessions bring diverse groups of believers together to talk. They come from all parts of the city to this office in her church. The goal is racial reconciliation. Hoffman says the term may sound highfalutin, but it’s actually Biblical:

AUDIO: I think unity is the goal, and we’re not going to be unified until Jesus comes back, period. But unity is the goal. Reconciliation is the work toward unity. Reconciliation being hey, there’s brokenness, and we need to do the work to mend that.

I didn’t know what to expect–and wondered how Hoffman overcomes the awkwardness that participants must feel at first. It starts with her posture: She sits cross-legged on the couch, leaning toward the speaker. She nods as people ask hard questions and share personal hurts and fears.

Rachel, a young white woman, shares an uncomfortable interaction she had with an African-American co-worker.

AUDIO: I walked in, and I was like, ‘Hey, good morning!’ and she was like, watching the news, and I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ because she just looked really upset, and she’s black, and so, and it was about the Starbucks thing, and she goes, ‘Someone got kicked out of Starbucks for being black,’ and she just like, walked away, and in that moment, I don’t know her faith, and I don’t know where she stands with the Lord, but I didn’t say anything.

After Rachel speaks, people around the room offer up ways she might have encouraged or comforted her coworker. The goal: to be better prepared next time.

Hoffman asks questions and gives responses grounded in Scripture.

AUDIO: Be devoted to one another in love, honor one another above yourselves, never be lacking in zeal…

Hoffman says she has seen God work in these groups to change people’s hearts and lives. She recalls a white woman using what she learned from the group to prepare her and her husband for fostering black children:

AUDIO: It’s just different when it’s not your own personal experience. And so she was able to sit through these groups, hear different perspectives of not just me, but other women of color in the room. And I think it really opened her eyes and prepped her for the season that they’re in now.

Hoffman says unity is the goal, and it’s something all believers should care about:

AUDIO: It was really just an obedience to the Lord thing, finally, for me, and knowing that it’s something that our church as a whole, like the big-C Church needs, and just really understanding each other and loving each other as Christ calls us to love each other.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Katie Gaultney, reporting from Dallas, Texas.

(Photo/Elizabeth Hoffman)

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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