The central focus of our daily lives has become survival – survival at any cost.

Only at the end of the day do we think about dispersing what’s left of our time, talent and treasures. And we call this “justice,” and I call this “just us.”

We live our “just us” lifestyle at the expense of people who are trapped in systems of injustice that dehumanize them and deny them opportunities to break out of the wrappings of poverty, all resulting in the absence of hope.

And where people have no hope – no visions that the future will change – Proverbs 29:18 tells us “the people perish.”

Remember when houses had sizeable front porches, and folks sitting out front on furniture that usually reflected the means of the household that resided there?

Neighbors gathered on a single porch or porches nearby sipping on Kool-Aid, lemonade or tea (depending on your decade of growth), discussing issues and concerns of the neighborhood and city.

These front-porch conversations also allowed for the free exchange of ideas to effect change – hence, neighborhoods and communities were able and capable of working through “change.”

The neighborhoods and communities around our churches (institutions) have become disjointed because the inward turn of the church, and, thus, the prevalence of toxic charitable ministries that perpetuate a human need for dependence on yet another system.

These systems or ministries (differentiating is difficult) are not relational and further alienate neighbors and communities.

An individual that lived three houses or doors down from a local identified church structure once asked, “What do they have in there that is of so much value that there are spotlights all around the building and a sophisticated alarm system with cameras, who are they trying to catch invading their self-described sanctum – a spirit or ghost?”

We can’t grow without an honest evaluation, which also is the basis for relationships.

Neighborhoods and communities can’t progress unless there is a holistic approach that includes “the body of Christ.” For that to happen, we must become relational.

Someone at a neighborhood discussion talked about how they attended a church meeting, and the discussion was about why people in the community don’t attend or participate in activities with the church.

This individual stated that a guest from the community stood up and said, “Because we don’t like you, you have made us hate you because of your charity and not wanting to know us. You drive in on Sunday and you drive out; you are the visitor and stranger; you perpetuated the term drive-by.”

Recognizing the challenges facing our communities, Peninsula Baptist Association launched an initiative called “A Front-Porch Conversation on Justice.”

These conversations are inciting people to enter a safe space (front porch) together as people with open minds, inviting change to begin within our own minds and hearts.

The objectives being to be inspired with new knowledge, practical ideas and deepened relationships, and a desire to effectively engage with our neighbors.

Getting to truly know one another and not go into our neighbor’s house and observe the differences but to see what we have in common as children of the living God.

We understand that in order to address the injustices that breed hopelessness and to restore hope, we must truly believe that reconciliation can occur and take us to a place of peace and understanding.

Our goal in facilitating these conversations is to move people to a place of restored hope through opportunity in our respective neighborhoods, communities and towns and cities, this I call our “hood,” which also includes where we work, play and shop.

We are committed to seeing this ever widening tide of despair ebb away as hopelessness is replaced with invigorating hope!

It is our desire to make it our mission to develop and serve with an ever growing, ever expanding army of compassionate and engaged Christ followers who are actively bringing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

To make the “front-porch conversations on justice” more relational, we need to examine the following statement by Christena Cleveland, associate professor of the Practice of Reconciliation at Duke University’s Divinity School, which addresses reconciliation and gives us the basis for hope. “Fixating on differences leads us to ignore glaring commonalities.”

Cleveland’s quote shines a light on why the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK Jr. Day) holiday is important in bringing together and highlighting the progress and the continuing programs and activities that unite our commonalities.

As King sought to bridge or reconcile the racial divide in this country by advocating for racial justice and equality for all citizens, there was a recognition through the struggles that the inherent fear that we would discover is we have more in common than we do differences.

He recognized that together we can make a great country even greater and that the dark fears of classism and racism only inhibited our collective growth.

Our present day “Front-Porch Conversations on Justice” is a necessary and required dialogue to address injustices and to begin an honest movement of reconciliation in our communities and cities to make our communities whole.

As King reminded us, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Charles Cheek is the community networking director with the Peninsula Baptist Association in Newport News, Virginia. He co-facilitates a monthly dialogue on racism, poverty and violence with faith leaders of various denominations and community leaders.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series about local churches and associations participating in MLK Jr. Day observances and engaging in racial reconciliation initiatives.

The previous article in this series is:

King Distinguished Between Segregating, Segregated Churches

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