For John Perkins, the recent events in Los Angeles seem all too familiar. In 1970, the founder of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Mississippi was himself severely beaten by white law-enforcement officers. Throughout 30 years of ministry, he has seen firsthand the despair and hopelessness that racism and injustice can breed. “What happened in Los Angeles was an explosion of neglect,” Perkins says. “And it was a wake-up call for the church.”

As American society analyzes the lessons of the controversial Rodney King verdict and the riots it spawned, black evangelical leaders are calling on the church to place top priority on racial reconciliation and inner-city ministry. “The purpose of the gospel is to reconcile alienated humanity to a holy God and to each other across racial, cultural, social, and economic barriers,” Perkins says. “This is a historic opportunity for us to authenticate the gospel.”

Black evangelicals agree that the state of racial relations in the U.S. is far worse than most of the church is willing to admit. “The unfortunate thing in America is that we settled for integration, a legal accommodation … but it did nothing to establish relationships between estranged and alienated people,” says Sam Hines, former chairman of the General Assembly of the Church of God (Anderson, Ind.). According to Hines, the church has been part of the problem, not part of the solution. “Evangelicals need to come forward, black and white, and acknowledge together the sin of racism.”

“Judgment begins in the house of the Lord,” says Daniel Hall, president of the Washington, D.C., Area Ministers’ Alliance. “We need to begin to realize that all of us, black and white, have racism within us.”

While racial divisions probably run deepest between ...

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