Movie Nights Help Church Talk about Race

Palos Heights (Ill.) Christian Reformed Church is taking a deeper look into the problem of racism and the church’s role in the solution with a series of three movie nights.

In 1960, Martin Luther King Jr. said that “one of the tragedies of our nation is that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours in Christian America.” To Tim and Ruth Goudzwaard, the church’s adult discipleship coordinators, not much has changed in the 57 years since.

In response to this lack of diversity in the church as well as the race-related violence and divisiveness in society and social media, the Goudzwaards decided to take action. “There is so much going on with race in our country that we can’t just sit here and ignore that there is a problem,” Tim Goudzwaard said.

Acknowledging that Palos Heights CRC’s neighborhood is predominantly white and that varying experiences and attitudes exist within the church, the Goudzwaards sought guidance from pastors of multiracial congregations and ministries. Pastors Gary Foster of Pullman CRC and Tim Hoekstra of Suburban Life Community CRC suggested starting with the simple approach of a book study.

Last fall, 10 church members read and discussed the book America’s Original Sin by Jim Wallis. When the book study ended, those who participated wanted the conversation to continue and reach a larger audience. The idea of the three movie nights was born.

On January 12, around 40 people gathered to view Lee Daniels’ The Butler, respond to questions in small groups, and discuss the movie together as a large group.

The event was well-received by the congregation, and interest in joining the movement continues to grow. Two more movie nights are planned for the coming weeks, featuring the movies Selma and 13th. “We don’t have an agenda other than coming up with a way that our church can be part of the solution [to the problem of racism],” Goudzwaard said.

Goudzwaard emphasized that starting the conversation is just the first step in a journey toward racial justice and healing. “We want to put ourselves as a church in the position of being available to wherever God leads us. We’re excited to see where this is going to go.”

About the Author

Lori Dykstra is a freelance writer.