A kaleidoscope of people from different racial and religious backgrounds came together Sunday with a message of love and friendship.
The “Love Thy Neighbor” interfaith and interracial celebration was held at Liberty Baptist Church, 2502 North Broadway Ave. The region-based celebration featured addresses from Tyler religious leaders and city officials.
Keynote speaker Pastor David Dykes, with Green Acres Baptist Church, preached from John Chapter 4 and told the story of Jesus talking with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar.
Jesus ignored three social hurdles by speaking to the woman and offered her “living water,” or salvation, Dykes said. The two had gender, racial and moral barriers. He said the Bible story should be seen as an example of how Christians should treat others — without fences or barriers.
Dykes said in biblical times it was socially unacceptable for a man to speak to a woman in public, and women were considered second-class citizens who had to cover their faces and not speak in public.
“The fact that Jesus spoke to this woman and offered her living water teaches us that Jesus doesn’t recognize the barriers,” Dykes said.
The woman also was a Samaritan, a group viewed as inferior to Jewish people in biblical times, as well as an adulteress, who was living with a man she was not married to.
“Jesus didn’t condone her behavior, but he didn’t condemn her behavior,” Dykes said. “He was willing to give her living water to cleanse her of her sins.”
Dykes, who grew up in Alabama during racial segregation times, told a story from his own childhood. He said he watched his youth leader in his church and boss punch an African-American man in the face for using the whites-only restroom, while working at his weekend job at a feed store.
“I know enough about the Bible, and I know enough about Jesus to know that’s not right,” he said. “I made a decision at that moment — I quit my job and walked out of that store — that I would never have respect for Mr. Gamble.”
Tyler Councilman Darryl Bowdre asked the audience what Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois — two post-Civil War African-American community leaders — if they could see society today. He said society has progressed, but there is room for improvement.
“I think they would look and think technology is going to be on the end of us,” he said. “They would see what we post on Facebook and think we lost our minds. They would see we spoil our children instead of challenging them.”
Pastor Gilberto Avila spoke on the importance of loving one another. He said people of the community at large should come together in unity. He also spoke of the power of love, which helped bring him our of addiction.
“I know we have difference, but when we decide to come together in love and unity ... then our differences will make us stronger,” he said. “We are here together because … God brought us together.”
The event was hosted by Liberty Baptist Church and the Tyler Baptist Minister’s Conference.