(RNS) — The National Association of Evangelicals has hired a director of its new Racial Justice & Reconciliation Collaborative, an initiative aimed at providing resources and training for churches in its 40 member denominations.
Mekdes Haddis, the new initiative’s director, was hired for the full-time role a month ago after serving in church and nonprofit circles for more than a decade. She is working remotely from South Carolina for the Washington-based evangelical organization.
“I’ve talked with many NAE member organization leaders and have been excited to discover a great deal of self-awareness and earnest desire for reconciliation,” she told Religion News Service in a statement. “There is a lot of synergy and commitment to the task.”
In 2020, the NAE inaugurated Walter Kim, a Korean American theologian, as its new president. At the same Washington ceremony, John K. Jenkins Sr., the African American senior pastor of Maryland’s First Baptist Church of Glenarden, was installed as chair of the NAE and former Wesleyan Church General Superintendent Jo Anne Lyon as vice chair.
Kim has made recent appearances at the Ethics and Public Policy’s Faith Angle Forum and the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities International Forum at which he has spoken about the racial diversity of evangelicals.
In an interview after his remarks at the CCCU meeting, Kim said he hopes the collaborative will help religious institutions within and beyond the NAE “that want to take a next step from ‘I’ve read this book’ or ‘I’ve seen this webinar.’”
Kim also said he hopes the collaborative will offer a place of respite for the “exhaustion” and
“a spiritual oasis of encouragement for people of color working in predominantly white institutions.”
In an article for Faithfully magazine four years ago, Haddis, an Ethiopian immigrant, addressed that exhausting experience, writing of her desire to “bring healing” to evangelical Christianity as she sought to preserve her cultural identity.
“For those interacting with me in the United States, especially those in the church, I represented a group of people from which they isolate themselves,” she wrote in the article, titled “Embracing My Otherness in the US Evangelical Church.”
“I discovered that I was first Black, second a female, third an immigrant, and lastly (if we got there) a Christian.”
Haddis is author of the forthcoming book “A Just Mission: Laying Down Power and Embracing Mutuality.”
The Lilly Endowment is providing $1 million to support the NAE’s collaborative, which comes at a time when other evangelical organizations have also attempted to work on race relations in long-term initiatives.
Last year, World Vision U.S., an evangelical Christian humanitarian organization, completed what an executive there called “a one-year mutual learning journey towards a Biblical understanding of what it means to pursue racial justice.”
In November, hundreds of evangelical Christians gathered at the Museum of the Bible to kick off the “Let’s Talk” initiative to listen to stories of racism and make plans to build racial unity. It has continued through monthly Zoom meetings with leaders, including Jenkins, gathering in small group discussions.
“I do think that there is a constituency of people whose hearts are open to recognizing the need to address the tension and the division that’s greatly in our country,” said Jenkins, who credited Kim with creating the NAE’s collaborative.
Kim, who also is a teacher in residence at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, said in a statement that he expects NAE’s new three-year commitment will last much longer.
“Of course, the NAE’s commitment to racial justice and reconciliation expresses a belief that the Church should be deeply engaged in this work as a reflection of our beliefs,” he said. “As such, it will be an ongoing aspect of our work.”
This story has been updated to correct Walter Kim’s role in his church.