Assembly 2015 / Newsroom

Cooperative Baptists challenged to build bridge over “gaping wound of racism” to conclude 2015 Assembly


June 19, 2015

By Aaron Weaver and Carrie McGuffin

DALLAS — “Salvation is about healing and wholeness. Now our broken world could use some of that,” said Jim Somerville, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., as he addressed the topic of salvation in light of the tragic shooting at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Somerville’s devotional message came Friday evening during the final worship service of the 2015 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly.

Jim Somerville

Jim Somerville

“We need to hear their names,” he said, speaking aloud the names of the nine victims.

Somerville reflected on his life growing up in Lowndes County, Ala., just outside of the historic city of Selma, and on the racism that he witnessed as a young boy with a father who was a United Methodist pastor. He vividly recalled a cross that was burned on his front lawn because his father refused to give the opening prayer at the meeting of a local chapter of the White Citizens Council, relating his father’s response that “he didn’t think Jesus would say the opening prayer at the White Citizens Council.”

The “gaping wound of racism,” Somerville said, borrowing the term from Jon Stewart, “is what our world needs to be saved from. Let’s build a bridge over that. But what do you do, where do we start?”

Somerville shared with attendees the advice he had shared with his daughter, a resident of Charleston, S.C., when she asked what she could do in response to the deadly shooting. Sitting in silence can be misinterpreted, he told her.

“Get up the nerve, get off your couch, and go into your community to embrace one another and weep with one another,” Somerville encouraged the crowd. “That’s what you do to build a bridge across the racial divide. That’s how healing begins. That’s how wholeness begins. That’s where salvation begins.”

Julie Merritt Lee

Julie Merritt Lee

The Dallas Assembly also heard from Julie Merritt Lee, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Hendersonville, N.C., who asked attendees to dream with her about the life of Jesus — a baby Jesus that cried and a Jesus who went through the terrible twos, a Jesus with acne, and a Jesus with a bad haircut.

“The Jesus baby, child, adult that I believe in cries,” said Merritt Lee. “This is what makes the incarnation so powerful. Christ becomes one of us….The moments of life aren’t the ones that are planned, anticipated and neat. Truly human moments are disordered, complicated and raw.”

The messiness of the incarnation, Merritt Lee said, is hopeful for us, and teaches us that God is with us in the messy places of life. But we have difficulty with the incarnation, she asserted, as many times we prefer to only focus on the divinity of Jesus.

“The incarnation is scandalous, and what’s scandalous is that Jesus reconciles us to God through his body….Jesus is the living bridge for us through death — and the materials of reconciliation: his body and his blood.”

“The living bridge of Christ,” Merritt Lee said, is our reconciliation as Christians and makes the body of Christ-followers reconcilers in the world.

Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., followed the Assembly’s worship theme of “Building Bridges” in his devotional message.

Preston Clegg

Preston Clegg

“Some of the most expansive bridges are made of words,” said Clegg, as he explored the creation story in the Book of Genesis and the risk of speaking powerful words.“Before the very first sermon was preached, before the first choir harmonied, before the first organ hummed, before the first prayer was prayed, there were words God spoke: ‘Let there be,’ and there was. God made a bridge out of words.”

Wondering with attendees about the risks in bridging a gap with words, Clegg asked if God knew that speaking out of creation was risky. We know that there was trouble in the garden, we know the story of Noah — the biblical narrative is filled with pain and pricey situations, he pointed out. “The moment that God said ‘let it be,’ Clegg said, “a door was opened to pain, to agony, to suffering, Simply in speaking, the divine became vulnerable.”

With these words, Clegg emphasized, not only did this possibility for pain and suffering become real, but the possibility for risky and vulnerable love became possible as well. Through the pain God continues to create and continues to speak bridges into being because of this great love, he said.

“Love always builds the bridge. Always. This is why God’s love — God’s relentless, stubborn, real, eternal and cosmic love — God’s love is life to us.”

Ellis Orozco leads Assembly attendees in celebrating Communion

Ellis Orozco leads Assembly attendees in celebrating Communion

The 2015 CBF General Assembly concluded with Cooperative Baptists observing communion led by Ellis Orozco, pastor of First Baptist Church in Richardson, Texas, with La Rondalla de la Americas guitar ensemble of CBF-partner Baptist University of the Americas providing music during this time around the table. An offering was also taken up to support the work of CBF Disaster Response at

“CBF is partnering to renew God’s world — from the mountains of Nepal to communities and congregations right here in the State of Texas,” said Ron Fairley, CBF’s associate coordinator of projects and services, addressing the call for funds to assist in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s disaster relief efforts  in response to recent flooding in Texas.

The registered attendance for the Dallas Assembly was 1657. For complete coverage of the 2015 CBF General Assembly, including news, photos and videos, please visit


CBF is a Christian Network that helps people put their faith to practice through ministry eff­orts, global missions and a broad community of support.The Fellowship’s mission is to serve Christians and churches as they discover and fulfill their God-given mission.

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