Dr. Terriel Byrd had encouraging words last month as he stood before 107 student leaders who turned out for a special discussion about racial issues.
“I think we may have some Martin Luther Kings in our midst right now who are committed to freedom and justice and equality for all people and are willing to say ‘I will take a stand,’” said Byrd, professor of urban Christian ministry and a scholar in the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Joined by Campus Pastor Dr. Bernie Cueto, Byrd took the stage as the University’s newly appointed Fellow in the Council for Intercultural Engagement. Cueto and Byrd engaged in a dialogue for Refresh, a key program for student leaders serving across campus. Byrd talked about the council he will lead to expand the way the PBA community thinks and acts regarding such topics as diversity, inclusion, equality and justice.
The crowd of student leaders represented a full house in the DeSantis Family Chapel, seated according to COVID-19 distancing guidelines. “Young people, like these, our young people,” Byrd said, “seem to be much more willing to talk about the injustices that they see. They really understand. There is a deep-seated passion for justice.”
Byrd talked about various issues relating to race, answering questions from Cueto, who is PBA’s vice president for spiritual development.
Cueto: How do you respond to people who say, “I am not a racist; why am I responsible for what happened 100 years ago?”
Byrd: “You are your brother’s keeper. The church is that one body, and if one part of the body hurts, then all the body should hurt. And so your black brothers and sisters who have knees on their neck are hurting. Can you feel their pain?”
Cueto: But some would ask, “Didn’t we fix this in the 50s and 60s? Why are we back here?”
Byrd: “I really believe that it wasn’t fixed. I think (the fix) was superficial. It was not the transformation of the heart. So I think there was never a real effort to get to know the other. I think we built these barriers, these communities that have not allowed people to interact very well with one another.”
Cueto: Why has the church struggled so much with this issue?
Byrd: “Unfortunately the church has been a part of the status quo. And the church has been silent when Christians everywhere should have united to say, ‘That’s wrong. Disenfranchisement of a people is wrong.’”
Cueto: How do you foster being peacemakers?
Byrd: “One way is that you can live out that life of love and respect and treating people with dignity and guiding them. When you do that, others will see it and copy, model that kind of behavior.”
Cueto: What would you encourage students to do?
Byrd: “Find people who don’t look like you and get to know them. Talk with them. Get to know other parts of the body of Christ: your brothers and sisters.”
Cueto and Byrd also talked about the expression “black lives matter,” and the oft-heard response, “I say that all lives matter.”
Of course all lives matter, acknowledged Cueto, but he drew a family analogy to explain the difference. “I have three children,” he said, “two sons and a daughter. If my daughter is hurting, I’m going to pay more attention to her. That doesn’t mean that my boys don’t matter, but she’s hurting, so she’s going to get that attention.”
“Thank you for saying that,” replied Byrd. “We do believe that all lives matter. But right now, it seems that black lives don’t matter, and we need them to matter.”
Cueto and Byrd both teach in the School of Ministry. Cueto pointed students to the Old Testament prophets: “God said, through the prophets, ‘if your worship is not tied to justice, stop singing to me. If you’re not standing up for the oppressed or being a voice for the voiceless, widows, orphans, immigrants, even enemies, I don’t want to hear what you have to sing or offer me.’”
Byrd advised the crowd to “let scripture speak for itself,” so that people see “the harmony of scripture” with efforts to unite for justice and inclusion.
As the Council for Intercultural Engagement continues to foster this uniting spirit among the diverse community at PBA, Byrd said, “people will see us and know that we are indeed a Christ-first university. I think we can actually set a new bar for other schools, to say, ‘People can get along. People can cross the divide.’”
Photo 1: Dr. Bernie Cueto, campus pastor and vice president for spiritual development, hosts a Q & A with Dr. Terriel Byrd, professor of urban Christian ministry and a scholar in the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Photo 2: More than 100 student leaders, wearing masks and seated for social distancing, participated in a Q & A about race. Dr. Bernie Cueto, campus pastor and vice president for spiritual development, and Dr. Terriel Byrd, professor of urban Christian ministry and a scholar in the life and work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led the discussion.
Photo 3: Dr. Bernie Cueto, campus pastor and vice president for spiritual development, leads the Refresh discussion about race for student leaders.