By Diana Chandler
MEMPHIS — Loving your neighbor as yourself is a sure path to overcoming racial prejudice, Southern Baptist women’s minister Donna Gaines said in the March cover article of Today’s Christian Living magazine.
“When we love our neighbor, that erases racial prejudice,” Gaines said in the cover story. “If we were all actually doing that, we’d be able to turn the world upside down just like the early disciples.”
Expounding on what Jesus described as one of the two greatest commandments, the wife of Southern Baptist Convention President Steve Gaines gave an example from her own life in an interview with Baptist Press on March 21.
In 2017, she befriended a 32-year-old African American mother of eight who is now a baptized believer and every Sunday attends Bellevue Baptist Church, where Gaines’ husband is pastor. She and her ARISE2Read ministry have helped the mother find housing and secure a van large enough to transport the mother’s children ranging in age from three months to 14 years. The mother and her oldest child made professions of faith in February after Gaines began influencing their lives.
“It’s like the Lord will not let me go (concerning) her, from finding her a house to helping her with transportation,” Gaines told BP. “And I just told her one day, ‘I said you know what, if I (help) you, I’m going to get into your business; I’m going to treat you like a mom,’ ” Gaines said, “because she’s younger than my oldest child. And so she has teasingly called me Ma sometimes.”
Gaines sees such relationships as the substance of racial reconciliation.
“It’s what happens when we stop seeing other people as ‘them,’ and we go into the areas of the city that typically people have been driving around [avoiding],” Gaines told BP. “When those areas become destinations,” she said, disparaging statistics transform from being just numbers to representing “individuals with incredible potential.”
Her literacy ministry partners evangelical churches and businesses with local school districts to improve the lives of inner-city children through tutoring, school-based Good News Clubs, and church outreaches to neighborhood families, according to ARISE2Read.org. The site describes the ministry as “working to reach the next generation in breaking the poverty cycle through the gospel and education.”
Gaines, who is involved in the women’s ministry at Bellevue Baptist and has also taken several overseas missions trips, describes ARISE as an acronym for A Renewal in Student Education and Evangelism, taken from Psalm 78:6-7.
“It is time for the body of Christ to join hands across denominational and racial lines and be the body,” she said in a video at ARISE2Read.org. “Evangelical churches need to partner with each other, and take the light of the Gospel to a world that is perishing. Jesus is our only hope, and He is our greatest hope in saving a child, saving a family, and saving our city and beyond.”
Gaines grew up in Memphis, which changed from being called “Memphis the beautiful,” she said, to representing racial turmoil because of the assassination of civil rights leader and pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968.
“You don’t live in Memphis and not work toward racial reconciliation,” Today’s Christian Living quoted her. “There’s only one race, the human race. I can’t fathom that you claim the name of Christ and harbor prejudice in your heart.” Loving neighbors enables Christians to see others as people in God’s image and as people for whom He died, she said in the magazine.
She told BP that Memphis’ racially contentious past led to spiritual and economic devastation that Christians have the power to heal. She sees no reason for 44 percent of the city’s children to remain in poverty.
“I believe that is going to be defeated by the church of the living God coming together across racial and denominational lines, and being the body of Christ and reclaiming our city,” she told BP. “Ultimately Jesus Christ is the unifier. There’s no race, no slave, no free, no Jew, no Gentile in Christ.
“We’re all individuals created in His image to know Him and to glorify Him, and it is our command from God to go and make disciples of all nations,” she said. “So when I go into my city, which is my Jerusalem, it’s my responsibility to take the gospel and to help meet the needs of every person in my city.”
Southern Baptists can make a difference through prayer and action, she told BP.
“We have the cure for what ails the human soul and the brokenness of our world,” she said. “Do we really believe that if (people) die apart from Christ they enter a Christless hell? Do we believe that? Because if we do, we’re not going to be able to sleep at night.”