OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI)-Many would say Mississippi has come a long way since the civil rights movement, but one Oxford pastor is making a public apology for an incident that happened more than 40 years ago.
When Reverend Eric Hankins joined the First Baptist Church of Oxford nine years ago, he didn’t expect to uncover a disturbing fact.
“For a number of years after I came I had heard vague whisperings that our church had been on the wrong side of the race issues during the civil rights era, but nothing was ever very specific,” says Rev. Eric Hankins.
In 1968 pastor and deacons of the church wanted to secure an open door policy to allow African Americans to become members, but when the idea was presented…the congregation voted against it.
“It was just heart breaking. The vote was taken the month Martin Luther King Jr. Was assassinated during a time when we really could have reached out to the African American community while they were grieving but we just chose to do what was wrong,” says Rev. Hankins.
Wanting to set things rights, Reverend Hankins reached out to Second Baptist Church of Oxford who was once banned from joining in on a revival.
“When Reverend Eric first came to me and talked to me about the issue of race reconciliation, I saw his sincerely. He wasn;t coming for a photo-op or coming just trying to make news. You could tell right then it was from God something that God had put in his heart to correct and I couldn’t help but respond in the same nature,” says Rev. Andrew Robinson.
Pastor Andrew Robinson and his congregation were ready to bridge a 45-YEAR old gap.
“The way you deal with race reconciliation and issues you do it based upon what you know from your principles and your background and faith played a major role. I was ready and waiting and they were waiting and willing to forgive,” says Rev. Robinson.
Both Pastors hope this story will show their community a living testimony of repentance and forgiveness.
“The Bible is very clear that when you come to discover that you have a sin against your brother you even leave your gift at the alter and immediately go and put that right. So that you can return to proper worship,” says Rev. Hankins.
“The power of the gospel and true christian relationships will help break down any barriers in our community such as race relations,” says Rev. Robinson.
In the late 1970s African Americans began to join First Baptist church, but Reverend Hankins still wanted to make things right.