Today I'm interviewing Jerry Taylor, a member of the Bible faculty at ACU and the new associate preaching minister for Highland. How can I say this simply? THE GUY CAN PREACH. In fact, he's giving a keynote address this year at the North American Christian Convention (the annual gathering of leaders of the Christian Churches). Jerry, would you tell us a little about the New Wineskins Retreat that you helped start? How did it begin? The New Wineskins Retreat came into being as a result of an initial meeting of several young African American ministers gathered together to prayerfully discern as clearly as we could God's direction for leadership in our generation. Most, if not all in attendance, were those who had been marginalized by the power structure of African American churches of Christ because of views we had publicly espoused or because of questions we had raised in honest evaluation and critique of our religious heritage. There were no existing public forums within African American churches of Christ that provided an open environment that welcomed or embraced the thinking and questioning minds in our fellowship. Many of us had gone to graduate schools that trained us in the area of critical thinking. We soon discovered that our national church viewed critical thinking and evaluation of long standing cherished doctrinal beliefs and practices as being heretical and blasphemous. We received the message loud and clear that such attempts to lead people into rethinking, questioning and evaluating their socially inherited religious belief system would be veiwed, exposed and treated as a threat to the core identity of African American churches of Christ. We were often the subject of brotherhood web sites, books, letters, emails, and publications. We were made to feel unwelcomed and unwanted at the national events of African American churches of Christ. More and more we felt like outcasts that had been unofficially withdrawn from and rejected. It was as though the most trained ministers among African American churches of Christ had become a colony of lepers evicted from their own community of faith and relocated to an emotional location of isolation. What are its purposes? The purpose of the retreat is to create a safe and welcoming place where ministers and church leaders can come without hidden agendas and find encouragement, spiritual nurture and fellowship. Our intention is to serve as a non-threatening environment wherein persecuted church leaders in our fellowship can experience spiritual formation as well as intellectual stimulation. The New Wineskins Retreat is a City of Refuge for the persecuted who speak prophetically about the legalistic dogmatism that runs rampantly throughout our national fellowship. The retreat serves as a haven of hope for those who feel the only option they have is to totally disconnect from churches of Christ. It serves as one place within the fellowship of African American churches of Christ that people who engage in critical thinking and sound reasoning can feel at home. The retreat started out as predominantly African American men in 2000. Since then we have sought to become more racially and gender inclusive. This year's retreat at Pepperdine will have all women presenters who will speak for themselves to a majority male audience. We hope that the retreat will serve as a mechanism in the creation of a genuine annual fellowship that will model for the churches of Christ both black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, etc. what the body of Christ should look like. We believe that the retreat is a national event that serves as a good starting point for leaders within churches of Christ to experience at a spiritual and intuitive level a small community given to the practice of authentic racial and gender harmony. Have you seen any progress in race relations within Churches of Christ? I have seen a greater degree of mixing and mingling on a superficial or social level. We have made some progress in that we are finding it safe to be in one another's physical company. The challenge before us is to progress beyond the physical realm of relating. We are now called to progress into the area of spiritual intimacy and soul connection at a spiritual, emotional, and intuitive level with those who are racially different from ourselves. In order to genuinely relate racially we all must be willing to die to the lordship of our race and cultural conditioning. We cannot serve two masters, we cannot serve both God and race/culture. It will not be until we are connected to one another in Christ at the level of soul that we will no longer separate from each other on the barren grounds of race. I think we have made some progress in that we are now committed to what Peter Senge calls the "espoused theory." The social and political climate in our nation makes it safe for us to publicly espouse the theory of racial harmony within churches of Christ. Senge makes it clear that the "espoused theory" is very different from the actual "theory in use." He maintains that it is the actual "theory in use" that governs our interactions with other people, and not the "espoused theory." It is the split between "espoused theory" and "theory in use" that tempts us towards hypocrisy. We are tempted to preach, teach and sing about a theory of racial harmony and inclusion while simultaneously racially conducting ourselves according to a theory that is totally contrary to the one we espouse. How can readers assist the goals of New Wineskins? We meet annually. Many of the participants are working with small ministries that they have started in an attempt to plant healthy congregations. Their small struggling congregations are unable to send them to the retreat. Many of them, including the retreat presenters, have attended the retreat at their own expense. We are forever thankful to the Richland Hills church of Christ for serving as a host congregation last year and for giving a grant of $10,000.00 which paid for the travel and lodging for 50 ministers and church leaders who would have otherwise been unable to attend. We had 75 to 100 people in attendance. This was a tremendous encouragement. We ask readers to pray that we will be blessed with the resources to help others attend this year as well.