June 23, 2016
By Blake Tommey
GREENSBORO, N.C. — “Every follower of Jesus must take on the burden of being black and every other burden that oppresses people,” said Darryl Aaron, pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., at the New Baptist Covenant luncheon on Thursday.
“Wherever there is racism, prejudice, homophobia, sexism, classism — any form of oppression,” Aaron said, “it is the joy of each believer to embrace that burden knowing that all forms of evil are dying and will die because of the will of God.”
Held in conjunction with the 2016 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, the annual New Baptist Covenant luncheon focused on engaging race and Baptist identity through conversation. Aaron alongside Bill Leonard, professor of church history at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, offered a candid dialogue on how the church can authentically grapple with racial division and discover its place in the fight for racial justice.
Speaking from their respective traditions and racial identities, Aaron and Leonard each identified pivotal challenges for the church to confront at it seeks to foster relationships and heal persistent racial divisions among Baptist communities. Where many churches still see an option for “prophetic” or “non-prophetic” ministry, Aaron said, the entire church must see only one option — ministry based in the disruptive gospel of Jesus.
“What other ministry is there apart from prophetic ministry,” he asked. “The church must come to see that justice work is gospel work, and gospel work is justice work.”
Leonard, who spent the past 23 years as a member of predominantly African-American churches, said that the central task for historically white churches is to sit in the tension and lessons of guilty without rushing past it. Instead, he said, the white church must allow guilt to lead it to an understanding of racial memory.
“How can we move through guilt but not from guilt,” Leonard asked. “How can we move through guilt to memory.
“That means we have to speak and act out of listening and understanding what memory means. When the North Carolina state legislature approves voter registration changes, memory means we understand that those changes draw the memory of voter-deny,” he continued. “When shootings of unarmed African-American males increase, memory means that my relationship with my pastor [Aaron] is affected. When I hear black preaching, memory means I remember how long we spent using the Bible to undergird our racism.”
Ultimately, Leonard said, moving through guilt to memory allows the church to listen to Jesus differently and understand the gospel from the viewpoint of the margins.
The New Baptist Covenant is a CBF partner organization and an informal alliance of more than 30 racially, geographically, and theologically diverse Baptist organizations from throughout North America that claim more than 20 million members. Representatives of these Baptist organizations have reaffirmed traditional Baptist values, including sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and its implications for public and private morality, as well as their obligations as Christians to fulfill the biblical mandate to promote peace with justice, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick and the marginalized, and promote religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.
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.