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'Second Chance': Church United, Divided by Race

GORDON: I'm Ed Gordon and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

In the Christian church, peach, love and unity are common themes, but some argue, not common practices. Racial issues have segregated congregations for decades. A new film titled Second Chance explores the scenario of forced unity between two congregations. The story centers on a prominent white minister in a well-to-do neighborhood who shares an unlikely bond with a black pastor of an inner-city church. One of the stars of the film is NEWS AND NOTES roundtable panelist, Jeff Obafemi Carr. He spoke with NPR's Farai Chideya.

FARAI CHIDEYA reporting:

So, you know, you play Jake, the pastor of the church in the hood.

MR. JEFF OBAFEMI CARR (Actor, Second Chance): Yeah.

CHIDEYA: And how would you describe this man?

MR. CARR: I would say that Jake is a very passionate, committed, community-oriented guy and he's incredibly smart and he's a former professional basketball player who had a little bout with drugs that landed him in the joint. And in the joint, he had a conversion experience and started working as a youth pastor in the inner city church. And eventually came to pastor that church called Second Chance. And he's very passionate about the things around him and making a change in the community. And every now and then it causes him to be a little high strung and straightforward, but his heart is in the right place.

CHIDEYA: Well, speaking of frank and to the point, he was in the white church. And let's hear a clip of what he had to say on a special Sunday when he was the invited guest.

(Soundbite of movie Second Chance):

Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: (As Jake Sanders) I've got gifted children in my community who need some hands-on guidance. We need after school supervisors, Bible school teachers. Hold these up so I can see them. This is how we fix problems in America. We roll down our windows, toss out some money, and drive away. So my message to you on Second Chance Sunday is this, if you aren't willing to come down and get a little gravy on your shoes, just keep your damn money.

CHIDEYA: Now, how's that for a man of God. How did you relate to this character? What parts of you made it into this character? Because I thought it was an extremely naturalistic performance.

Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: As a person who has had a background in ministry, of course, there's that passion there. And working in South Nashville, which is kind of the area where most of the movie was shot, I know a lot of the neighborhood and a lot of the people there. So there were some experiences that I could draw upon for the character.

And I've also worked with quite a few ministers who are not your standard early Sunday morning type guys. They are street walkers who really work with some tough characters sometimes. And I had an opportunity to spend a lot of time amongst them and walking with them and modeling the character Jake on them. He is very much committed to a grassroots approach to ministry, and that's what puts him at odds with the character Ethan, that Michael W. Smith plays.

CHIDEYA: Tell us a little bit about Ethan. He is a preacher who comes into this inner city church that his father founded, you know, looking for a Band-Aid, and walks away a changed man. It's reminded me of kind of those buddy films, you know black guy, white guy, different backgrounds, and they have to come together on a central mission.

Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: Right. Steve Taylor, the director, talks about the genre in Hollywood that's a black and white buddy film. People have problems, they come together. And there are layers here. There are racial layers; there are socioeconomic layers, cultural layers, and all of these things that dealt with inside a story that takes place in place where none of these things are supposed to happen, and that's the church.

And Martin Luther King said the 11:00 O'clock hour on Sunday is the most segregated hour in American, and that's still the case.

CHIDEYA: Do you think that will ever change?

Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: In some ways, I would like to think that we could all come together. In other ways, I hope not. We are different in a number of ways, and I think the problem comes in difference when people place a judgment on difference. It's one thing to say, we do this a different way and that's great. But it's another thing we when you say one is better than the other. And I think that's the problem not only in America, but all over the world right now.

CHIDEYA: I was really struck how Second Chance folded all of these different themes in. And the theme of class was definitely as strong as the theme of race. You have the character Ethan coming from a white mega-church, with a television ministry, a global ministry. How can you make sense of some people worshipping in a land of plenty and other people worshipping in a land of nothing?

Mr. OBAFEMI CARR: We've been traveling around with this movie to promote in different places, and we've been in every place from a media junket to churches, and I mean huge churches. We went to a church in Dallas and it was twice the size of the Staple Center. And always the same question comes up, and that is what is the nature of service? And this is a film that tackles that hand-on.

How do we form the nature of service in our own hearts and our walk in life? Is it okay to just write a check and say, look, man, I'm funding this thing. I don't have to go down there and touch those people. And then the people who are out there working hard and actually meeting people's needs hands-on, they sometimes criticize the people who just write the checks, and they say, Well, I'm out here walking the walk. So I think there's some gray space in the middle that we can explore.

There are number of things that people have talked about when they've seen this movie. And they say man, there is so much about reconciliation that I had to consider about myself. What am I contributing to helping a fellow man? And that's what I hope people get from seeing this film.

CHIDEYA: On that note, Jeff Obafemi Carr is the co-star of Second Chance, which opens today across the country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Obafemi Carr

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