news-category: Christian Life and Service

GWU Alumnus Clayton King and Former NFL Player Derwin L. Gray Discuss Healing the Nation’s Racial Divide

Clayton King, Left, and Derwin L. Gray discuss healing the nation's racial divide.
Clayton King, Left, and Derwin L. Gray discuss healing the nation's racial divide. Photos by Samantha Holt / GWU Photo Staff

Best Friends Share Lessons They’ve Learned from the Bible and Their 25-year Relationship

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—While healing the nation’s racial divide seems like a daunting task, former National Football League player Derwin L. Gray and Gardner-Webb University alumnus Clayton King offered a practical first step during a program on Aug 24 at Gardner-Webb University. King stated, “Tonight, we want you to get a glimpse of what I believe is the most effective way that we can heal the racial divide—and that’s through personal friendships with people who are different than us.”

During the event, “Healing Our Racial Divide—A Conversation with Clayton King and Derwin L. Gray,” the two men talked in an informal manner about what they have learned from their 25-year friendship. They quoted scriptures from the Bible that shows God’s redemptive plan for reconciling all ethnicities to himself.  

Besides coming from different races, King and Gray are from opposite backgrounds. King grew up on a farm in South Carolina and was raised in church. He began preaching when he was 15. Gray is from the west side of San Antonio, Texas, and his family never went to church.  

Football was Gray’s ticket out of poverty, and he got a scholarship to Brigham-Young University. He was drafted and played professional football in the NFL for five years with the Indianapolis Colts (1993-1997) and one year with the Carolina Panthers (1998).  

It was during his time with the Colts that Gray was transformed by the love of Jesus and the testimony of his teammate, Steve Grant. “On Aug. 2, 1997, I put my faith in Christ,” Gray told the audience. “I knew that I was loved, I knew that I was forgiven, I knew that I was different. For the first time, somebody loved me—not because I was fast, not because I was big, not because I was good at football—there was someone who loved me in spite of me, as I was, and he met me where I was, and I haven’t been the same since.”  

Two years later, Gray gave his testimony for the first time at an event hosted by King. Afterward, King told him they were going to be best friends. “We have learned so much about each other, our different cultures,” King affirmed. “We were brought together in common because of our love for Jesus Christ and his church.”  

Gray pointed to a passage in the Bible (Eph. 2:11-22) that talks about how Jesus creates the multi-ethnic family of God. “Jesus Christ, himself, forgives our sins and gives us peace with God,” he explained. “But, regardless of our ethnicities, we already have peace with each other. Jesus, the Lord of the universe, came to make us family, a forgiven family, a redeemed family. If you don’t see yourself as family and friends, you won’t advocate for each other.”  

King and Gray gave examples from their past of other pastors and family members who made comments about church segregations and mixed families. Both men have intentionally sought to make their congregations and ministries welcoming to all races.  

Gray also explained why the term “color blessed” is better than being “color blind.” He declared, “Every ethnic group has the image of God in them, and if I say I’m color blind, I’m muting the creative genius of God. I want you to see me. I want you to know my history. We don’t mute our ethnic distinctions, but our ethnic distinctions are not primary anymore; our in-Christness is primary.”   

Gray and his wife, Vicki, are the co-founders of Transformation Church, a multiethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community located in Indian Land, S.C., just south of Charlotte, N.C. King is a teaching pastor at NewSpring Church in Anderson, S.C., and the founder and president of Crossroads Camps, Conferences and Missions.  

Gray is the best-selling author of four other books on such topics as what Jesus teaches about true happiness, building a multiethnic church, trusting God with your future and the prayer that God always answers. His most recent book is “How to Heal Our Racial Divide: What the Bible Says, and the First Christians Knew, About Racial Reconciliation” (Tyndale, 2022).  

King is a 1995 graduate of Gardner-Webb University. He is the author of 18 books with Baker, Harvest House and Lifeway Publishers and the winner of the Christian Retailers Association Young Adult Book of the Year Award in 2015 for his True Love Project with Lifeway. Gray wrote the foreword for King’s recent book, “Reborn: How Encountering Jesus Changes Everything.” The book shares the compelling stories of 12 broken people who came face-to-face with Jesus in the New Testament and got a second chance at life.  

The program was sponsored by the GWU School of Divinity’s Pittman Center for Congregational Enrichment. Co-sponsors are the Offices of Christian Life and Service and Diversity and Inclusion.  

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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