Oak Hills Church Pastor Max Lucado leads a prayer at Freeman Coliseum. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Prominent local pastor and author Max Lucado got down on his knees Sunday in San Antonio to beg forgiveness for his and his white ancestors’ acts of racism and inaction.

“I am sorry that I have been silent. I am sorry that my head has been buried in the sand,” Lucado said. “My brothers and sisters are hurting and I am sorry. I have made them to feel less than. I did not help. I did not hear. I did not see. I did not understand.”

Organizers estimated that roughly 3,000 people of all faiths attended the emotional “park-and-pray” event at Freeman Coliseum Sunday evening to follow local faith leaders in prayer to eliminate racism and the coronavirus. At least 23,000 more were watching online.

The Oak Hills Church pastor’s prayer comes amid Black Lives Matter protests and calls for racial equity across the nation. Lucado spoke candidly about the “sin” of racism in and outside of the Church.

“Your church, your pastors, have broken your heart by favoring one skin color over another – oh, Lord God, have mercy on our souls. … How dare we? … How that must nauseate you, O Lord,” he said, adding that those sins extend to brown skin and that he himself has committed them.

“The word ‘wetback’ has found its way on my lips, too,” he said. “For that, I’m so very sorry. Would you please, O Lord, bring a new day.”

Car horns blared throughout the parking lot in support of his message. They were parked at least one space apart to ensure social distancing.

Cars are parked apart from one another and people wear masks to avoid coronavirus spread at the PraySA event. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The PraySA event grew out of conversations between the SA Stronger Together group, ONE-San Antonio, Lucado, Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4), and many other faith leaders.

Stronger Together has been meeting regularly to find ways to bring the community together as the coronavirus pandemic drives people physically apart, said Dorian Williams, an organizer and Black pastor at Texas Christian Fellowship.

Williams’ prayer carried a message of forgiveness.

“Never in my life have I ever seen a white person say to me … that I’m sorry,” Williams said, pausing to hold back, then release tears. “That I’m sorry for what happened to your people and our ancestors were wrong.”

It is a “new day” for San Antonio, he said.

“We have to release [white people] from sins that you did not commit,” he said. “I know that’s unpopular, but God said: If you don’t forgive your brother, who you do see, how can you say you love me, who you don’t?”

If people can’t forgive each other, then God can’t forgive those people, he said.

“I’m not letting slavery send me to hell. No longer will I walk around being angry and bitter at white people that I don’t even know. I feel like I have a right as a Black man to be angry. It doesn’t mean that we’re not fighting for justice … [but] we are in bondage when you walk in anger.”

Car horns blasted out again.

Before the event, Williams said the event was organized to provide a sense of healing for people who have been “longing for fellowship.”

The Stronger Together group realized that since it started meeting again during the pandemic, they have been working on legislation, hosting conversations and food drives, and participating in protests, but they haven’t prayed yet, he said.

“Let’s give God a shot,” Williams said. The event included prayers that called for a coronavirus cure, for essential workers, and the homeless. “We didn’t really have an agenda [to preach] … we just wanted to come together.”

Lucado echoed Williams in his opening remarks.

“Maybe you thought you came to be entertained,” he said. “Maybe you came to be preached to. Maybe you thought this was a political gathering. I am so very sorry, but it’s not. We’re here to pray.”

(From left) Kay, Tristan, and Kristi Ingram listen to the prayers from their car. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The program was livestreamed at PraySA.org and on Facebook. People in cars tuned in to local radio station 93.9 FM and were encouraged to text their prayers to 210-791-0193. A second event is scheduled for next Sunday, Aug. 16.

In 2016 Lucado was one of the first evangelical pastors to criticize then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. He made headlines In December when he adapted the story of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ escape to Egypt from the book of Matthew as that of a family on a journey through Mexico, fleeing violence from cartels.

Peter Rockwood, who attends Lucado’s church as well as Cross Mountain Church, said he and his wife have been attending church during the pandemic but wanted to participate in this “unprecedented” gathering of diverse faiths and backgrounds.

“It’s an opportunity to be in God’s presence,” Rockwood said before the prayers began. “He’s here among us.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org