A Baptist preacher preaching in a Methodist church might not seem like that big of a deal. All sorts of barriers are being broken down these days.
But when the Baptist preacher is also one of Oklahoma’s U.S. senators and the Methodist church is Tulsa’s historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal, it’s at little different.
And when the U.S. senator is a white Republican and the congregation is mostly black Democrats, it’s even more noteworthy.
Some may argue it shouldn’t be. But if a sitting U.S. senator from Oklahoma has ever preached in a church in Tulsa’s predominantly African American Greenwood District, nobody can remember it.
On Sunday afternoon, Sen. James Lankford became the first. He preached on Nehemiah, the Old Testament rebuilder of Jerusalem, and the power of “God-sized vision.”
“When everyone took on their part, what had been down 150 years was rebuilding in 52 days,” he concluded, a reference to his text, in which Nehemiah supervises the reconstruction of Jerusalem’s walls by instructing residents to work on the sections next to their own homes.
But the message was less about building barriers than finding ways to get around them. Lankford has been a steady presence in north Tulsa in recent years and forged relationships in one of the most Democrat-heavy areas in the state.
State Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, introduced Lankford on Sunday by noting that Lankford has twice spoken on the Senate floor about the Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre.
“Although we may disagree on certain things politically, we are only going to be able to move forward when we have the type of relationship that looks at not what divides us, but what brings us together,” Matthews said.
“There are few friends that you have that when you call them, you can say, ‘I know we’re going to disagree on this, but can we talk about it and find a way to solve this?’” Lankford responded. “You start at two different spots, but you find a way to fix something. Kevin is one of those people for me.”
William Martin, Vernon congregation member, said he appreciated Lankford’s appearance.
“He’s taken time out of his busy schedule, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, to come here ... and preach on a united community,” Martin said. “Our goal is to build this community up, to build up this city.”
The Rev. Robert Turner, Vernon’s pastor, in preliminary remarks said: “Sometimes I think we have allowed other people to tell us who we can associate with. We have allowed a new form of segregation. We allow other folks to divide us on political lines or racial lines. It’s not government imposed anymore, but I refuse to be held captive to the thoughts and opinions of others.”