The Rev. Robert Freeman challenged Louisiana Christian University students in a crowded Guinn Auditorium Monday night to be the generation to bring about racial reconciliation by having authentic conversations with each other.
Freeman, a nationally recognized speaker and facilitator on the issue, runs Robert Freeman Ministries headquartered in Illinois, and has spoken to groups nationwide and worked with two U.S. presidents on furthering the issue of racial reconciliation.
He shared his life story of growing up on the geographic line separating the North and the South, and how the cultural and racial divide shaped his identity.
“God surrounded me with people who were different from me to have conversations with,” he said. “Out the back door, it was the North, and out the front door was the South. I grew up on this Mason-Dixon line, and God has used me as an instrument of peace and reconciliation.”
Freeman lost his mother as a teenager, and a family she had worked for filled the gap and treated him as their own. Alice and Edward Taylor, a white family, he said, told him that the Lord told them to take care of him.
At 16, Freeman became a Christian. The Taylors and his cross-country coach in high school paid for him to attend Delaware State University and earn his bachelor’s degree.
Freeman—who went on to earn his master’s degree and Doctor of Divinity—shared many interesting stories of times when simply talking to people and spending time getting to understand them actually changed them and the communities they were in.
He said that what is really needed for true racial harmony to take place in America is simply that—authentic and lasting conversations about what matters.
“What we are doing is not working, and it’s clearly not working in the body of Christ,” Freeman said. “We have extrapolated the law as being the rule for morality, and it ‘s not.
“The Church spends lots of time arguing over little things, and the main thing is lost because we don’t have authentic relationships. We have surface talk.”
Dr. Scott Pickard, LCU history professor, has known Freeman since they were students at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School working on their master’s degrees in the 1980s, and said the reason Freeman has been able to bring about significant change in individuals and communities is because he is real.
“He’s like a fishing hole,” Pickard said. “He goes deep.”
Freeman told of an incident where he befriended a Ku Klux Klan member who was an atheist. Two years of authentic conversations and understanding led the man to become a Christian, and the KKK disbanded in that community in Illinois.
LCU President Dr. Rick Brewer said the university is ready to have those conversations.
“Without conversations and communication, we can’t learn from one another,” he said. “When we acknowledge one another’s history, we can become a stronger community focused together on the source of all truth—Jesus Christ.”
Noel Schonhoff, a senior sports media major, said “What he said is that it’s up to us. The future is in our hands, if we want to change things, it has to come from us.”
And she, for one, wants to accept the challenge to begin having conversations because, as Freeman said, you never know what it will become.
“What am I saying to you? Freeman asked rhetorically. “You’re it! You’re our best hope to right this ship—to get us back on course—to get back to the basics of L-O-V-E-love. God is calling young people to be reconcilers with one another, but more importantly, Himself.”