24-plus Year Ago…
I was a new pastor. I hadn’t even been ordained a year. Yet, I had the opportunity to attend a once-in-a-lifetime historical event, the 1996 Promise Keepers Clergy Conference held in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Maybe you remember when Promise Keepers was a big thing. There were a lot of positive aspects with the organization and goals, and certainly some negatives. But this conference was specifically held for pastors, and over 39,000 came from all over the country, even the world, to attend this 3-day event.
I still remember the breaks in between sessions when men would do one of two things: go to the bathroom or stand in line to call home on a pay phone. I was one of only a few that actually had a cell phone! The lines to the phones were longer than the ones to go pee!
Confession and Forgiveness
Nearly 25 years ago, there I was with pastors of every skin color and from all kinds of Christian denominations. For many like me, it was the first time ever attending an event of this magnitude. But it was also the first time I’d ever interacted with people who weren’t Baptist, or at least Church of God. And, above all, it was the first time for me to be around that many black preachers!
Oh, but there were pastors there, like I said, from every “race.” Literally, it was like “every tribe and nation” was represented at some point. There were even 200 Native American pastors present who’d – no joke – walked from reservations in the West just to attend this conference!
But one of the highlights of the conference was when an unscripted time of tearful, heartfelt confession was begun by Dr. Jack Hayford. At one point, while standing on stage weeping in front of these 40,000 men, he preceded to say the following (to the best of my memory):
“I want to confess my own sin of racism and soft bigotry. Yes, I am guilty. No, I never treated anyone of color differently in public, but there were times when in my heart I did. There were times when I could have driven through your parts of town, but I chose to take a different route. Did I think I was too good to drive through your communities? Down your street? I don’t know. But I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to face it. I wanted to ignore you and pretend you weren’t there.” [paraphrased from memory]
It’s been over 24 years, and there is no video and only a few pictures still around of this event. Therefore my memory of the details of when what happened is foggy. But what I do remember very distinctly is WHAT happened, even if I can’t remember in what order.
But I believe it happened like this…
After Jack Hayford had bravely stood on stage confessing his sin of soft racism, Rev. Raleigh Washington walked on stage to comfort Dr. Hayford. It was then that Rev. Washington said something like the following:
“My brothers, you have just heard the heart of a dear man of God. He just confessed his sin before you and God, and asked us to forgive him. But let me just say, it’s time to do more than accept the white man’s apology; it’s time we confess our own sin of bitterness! Of unforgiveness! It’s about time we start FORGIVING!” [paraphrased from memory]
What happened next was chilling. I am serious when I say that what happened next was not normal, not natural, and totally of the Holy Spirit. Literally, like every African-American black man in the Georgia Dome had been cued by some heavenly angel, a single, deep-throated, rumble of a voice spoke out in unison,
For a split second you could sense the shock and awe of what had just happened. Everyone instinctively knew what had just happened was of God. It was a miracle!
Then the dam broke.
Beginning with Jack Hayford, then Raleigh Washington, a representative of each people group came up on stage to confess and ask forgiveness for their own sins. To each one the auditorium replied with a rumbling “We forgive!”
Finally, wearing a the full headdress, Rev. Tom Claus walked onto the stage. The crowd of 40,000 drew quiet. Rev. Claus, a literal Mohawk Indian, began to spell out a grocery list of crimes and atrocities: the stolen land, broken treaties, and the bloodshed inflicted by the American government during the 1800’s.
He said, “If anybody in here has a right to be bitter, or to hate the white man, it is my people.” Who could argue?
But then, in what became the most emotional, so-thick-you-could-cut-it-with-a-knife moment, Rev. Tom Claus spoke words that would drive the modern Left completely off the cliff these days. He said,
“But, I forgive the white man. Because if it had not been for the white man, I would not know Jesus.” [Yes, he really said that!]
Folks, nearly 25 years ago in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia, I confessed and repented of any and every racist part of my life. I asked forgiveness. I was given forgiveness. And I, along with nearly 40,000 other pastors, covenanted with God and each other, with God’s grace, to never be the same.
How Much Is Enough?
Now, unfortunately, those who love to stir up contention and hate, for that is what they thrive on, are back at it. It doesn’t matter what one generation has done, they want to hold each and every consecutive generation guilty for the sins of their forefathers. Forgiveness is NOT an option.
They can say what they want to say about me, but despite what I used to be, God’s grace and the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed me. On top of that, He opened my eyes and my heart and gave me a love for my fellow man, regardless our differences.
There was a time in my young life when I asked a legitimate, however uninformed question: “Why did God make black people different?” I never got a good answer, so I believed the bad answers.
Yes, I used to be a racist. Yes, I used to think I was better than other people. Yes, I even tended to think that blacks needed whites to be pulled out of poverty, out of the jungles, and into civilized society. Yes, I stupidly used to think black people were that way because of the curse God put on Ham.
But NO MORE!
Over 30 years ago, when I started attending my first classes in college, I started to see the flaws in my earlier thinking about race. But that only came when I started being around people who looked different from me. It was only then that it became clear that we were all the same.
By the time I went to the 1996 Clergy Conference, I had already determined to combat bigotry and racism (I had even invited a black professor of mine – Dr. Jay P. Trimble – to speak before my wedding). The Clergy Conference and the Atlanta Covenant only sealed the deal.
That is why I
sorta seriously resent modern attempts by Marxists disguised as BLM to punish me for my “white privilege.” This is why I resent being bullied into confessing I’ve been a racist all along and now need to support activist groups and give them money to pass laws to silence my voice.
I AM NOT A RACIST, and I’VE ALREADY BEEN FORGIVEN!
After the ’96 conference was over, everyone who was there who actually signed their name to the Atlanta Covenant, we all received a small copy of the original – the one signed by those who spoke at the conference.
I still have that copy framed and hanging on my office wall.
I have typed it out so you can read it for yourself.
Clergy ’96 Conference
Our great and awesome God, in Your sovereignty You have brought us as clergy to Atlanta. You have met and dealt with us in powerful ways, You have been faithful with all of Your promises and loving toward us in all ways. We now stand before You broken and humbled, called to shepherd and pastor Your Church, believing that You are willing and ready to give a fresh outpouring of Your Holy Spirit on Your Church. Our eyes are focused on Your only Son, Jesus Chris, the perfector and finisher of our faith.
We acknowledge, confess and repent before You, that although we may not be guilty of all that is stated below, we are prompted by godly sorrow to repent because we as clergy have sinned against You (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Therefore, we enter into this Atlanta Covenant with You and with each other.
- We covenant by God’s grace to honor Jesus Christ through worship, prayer and obedience to Your Word though the power of the Holy Spirit.
- Where we have grown cold and distant in our communion with You, we wholeheartedly commit to pursue an ever-deepening relationship with You through worship and prayer. As You lead, we commit to fast and pray for revival or our own hearts, for our churches, and for the Church of Jesus Christ.
- Where we have disobeyed you, we commit to be obedient to Your Word, regardless of the cost.
- Where we have quenched Your Holy Spirit, we commit by God’s grace to keep in step with Your daily activity and leading.
- We covenant by God’s grace to pursue vital relationships with a few other clergymen, understanding that we need our brothers in ministry to help us keep this covenant.
- Where we have resisted affirming, accountable relationships with other brothers, we commit to pray intentionally for these relationships and seek this support, never again to be a loner in ministry.
- We covenant by God’s grace to practice spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
- Where we have conformed to the world, we commit to place other gods before You no longer, the one true God.
- Where we have excused our moral and sexual sin and been neither repentant nor broken, we now offer our bodies to You as living sacrifices and ask that You transform our minds and hearts by your Word and Your Spirit.
- We covenant by God’s grace to build strong marriages and families through love, protection, and biblical values.
- Where we have neglected our homefronts as the first place of ministry, we covenant to recapture the hearts of our wives and children, by giving them the first priority in our prayers and schedules.
- We covenant and commit by God’s grace to Your calling to pastor Your people and to lead Your Church faithfully in fulfilling Your mission.
- Where we have neglected our call, we wholeheartedly recommit ourselves to the ministry of prayer and the study of Your Word.
- Where we have driven our people rather than led them, acting as if being a pastor was simply a job and not a holy calling, we commit and pray ardently and regularly with love for our flock, recognizing that You have called and place us in the church that we serve.
- Where we have used our ministry as a platform for our personal gain, we repent and recommit ourselves to serving Your kingdom and the growth of Your people.
- Where we have trusted yourselves and the programs of men, rather than seeking You and Your way, we commit to seek Your heart and direction for our churches.
- Where we have lost confidence and passion in our preaching, we commit to feed Your people with Your Word faithfully and passionately.
- We covenant by God’s grace to reach beyond any racial and denominational barriers to demonstrate the power of biblical unity.
- Where we ignored praying and working with fellow pastors of differing denominations and race, we commit to seek out clergy of differing denominations and races, intentionally pursuing relationships with them, praying and working together for the building of the Kingdom of God.
- Where we who are Anglo have enjoyed the advantages that have come to us as a result of the teaching of white superiority against people of color, we confess this is as sin. With Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel, we confess the sins of our forefathers, who disobeyed Your Word and at times stole, killed, enslaved, broke treaties, demeaned and lied to people of color, we now acknowledge and confess this as sin against You and repent of our sin, trusting that it will lead us to reconciliation and restoration with our brothers in Christ. We now want to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before You; and we commit to learn so that we might teach and lead our people in the area of racial reconciliation.
- Where we who are the clergy of color have become bitter and nonforgiving of our Anglo brothers, entertaining a spirit of retaliation and guarding our ministry against Anglo partnership, we acknowledge and confess our sin before You. Where we have not applied the principles of biblical reconciliation to other racial groups, we now acknowledge that this is sin against You and repent of our sin, trusting that it will lead us to reconciliation and restoration with our brothers in Christ. We now want to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly before You; and we commit to learn, so that we might teach our people in the area of racial reconciliation.
- We covenant by God’s grace to influence our world, being obedient to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.
- Where Your church has lost its saltiness and light in our nation, we covenant to lead Your people to seek God’s face for the healing of our land.
- Where we have lost Your vision to reach all people groups with Your amazing, saving grace, we covenant to give to others freely what You have given us.
- Where we have strayed from the Gospel of Christ, we covenant to preach with renewed passion and conviction the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In total devotion to Christ as the Chief Shepherd of the Church, we commit ourselves to these things by the power of the Holy Spirit. To that end, we give our lives as clergy to pray, to prepare, and to minister for nothing less than a spiritual revival in Your Church, that Your body might increasingly become a bride without spot or wrinkle. We pray that together we might be brought to complete unity in You so that the world may know that You sent Your son, Jesus Christ, and that You love them as You love us (John 17:20-23). This this we pledge ourselves.
Those who were present and signed the Atlanta Covenant:
Bishop Phillip Porter, Bill McCartney, Randy Phillips, Henry Blackaby, David Bryant, Tom Claus, Tony Evans, Joseph Garlington, Jack Hayford, E.V. Hill, Max Lucado, John Maxwell, Bishop George McKinney, Jesse Miranda, James Ryle, Dale Schlafer, Joseph Stowell, Chuck Swindoll, Raleigh Washington, Glen Kehrein