June 23, 2016
By Blake Tommey
GREENSBORO, N.C. — What does the racial landscape look like in our nation and among Cooperative Baptists? What is racial justice? What is racial reconciliation? Are they the same? How can we reconcile with each other if we never established a relationship in the first place?
What legacies of Jim Crow are still holding us back from relationship and solidarity? Where are Cooperative Baptists already discovering hope in the fight for racial justice? Where is the spirit leading us next?
These are questions explored during the Thursday workshop titled “Racial Justice in the United States in 2016” at the 2016 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Greensboro, N.C. The panel featured voices in the Fellowship leading the fight for racial justice, including Judge Wendell Griffen, pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
Melissa Browning, a professor at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology, said addressing racial justice is something that churches and individuals alike must do.
“I would argue, as a Christian ethicist, that it is not optional if we are people of faith,” Browning said. “We certainly should follow the example of Jesus, who as a prophet, decided he would stay detached but instead come and be with people, especially those on the margins.”
When Griffen looks at the work of racial justice in the church, he said, it seems that the institution must decide whether it can handle the cost of being prophetic. No matter what community it concerns, the church must start to establish a history of community across dividing lines that simply not existed yet in the church and that may come at a great cost to institutions that depend on the status quo.
“There is no salvation or liberation that is cost-free,” Griffen said. “Salvation is priceless, but it is never cost-free or risk-free. The truth of that is demonstrated for us in the cross and there is no follow-ship without cross-bearing. You cannot talk about racial justice without talking about the fact that so much of the racial inequity in our society is not based upon non-white deficit, but upon white privilege.”
Randy McKinney, pastor of Longview Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., who serves on the Racial Reconciliation Ministry Team of CBF of North Carolina said his journey began when the congregation from Cornerstone Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American congregation, surrounded his own church with love and solidarity following the burning of their church in Greenville. McKinney said that what he came to learn is that the Spirit is moving black and white churches into relationship and solidarity with each other for the sake of the Gospel.
“We have to determine whether or not this work is about recruiting black churches to CBF or helping churches that are already a part of CBF become aware that there is a problem because there aren’t more black and brown faces in our midst,” McKinney said.
“Our churches are suffering, and, in fact, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is suffering because we are not one,” McKinney continued. “We pretend to embrace the Gospel but when it comes down to it, we are divided on purpose — we choose to be that way. Until we reach that unity in the body of Christ, we are not who Christ has called us to be.”
As Cooperative Baptists continue to discover what the work of racial justice looks like, the panelists agreed that individuals and congregations cannot wait for others to take the lead.
Time is the enemy of the oppressed and ally of the oppressor, Griffen concluded, and we must begin now.
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.