September 16, 2016
By Carrie McGuffin
ATLANTA — ‘Holy Conversations’ marked the second day of the New Baptist Covenant Summit in downtown Atlanta, as denominational leaders spoke of the necessity of racial reconciliation and the importance of the New Baptist Covenant to the larger Baptist family.
“I want to frame my remarks in three ‘holies’ — that’s holy cow, holy smoke and Holy Ghost,” said Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter. “That ‘holy cow’ moment for me was waking up anew to the priority of racial justice and my role in it. In coming to CBF, I moved from ‘holy cow’ to ‘holy smoke’ and thought ‘let’s light a few things on fire.’ Let’s create some fuel for this journey of prioritizing our greater communities around this important work of racial justice.”
To mobilize this priority as a collective of Baptist organizations, Paynter said, relies on the movement of the Holy Ghost — “the movement of the Spirit among our networks to draw people closer to the movement.”
These ‘holy conversations’ with leaders from across the spectrum of Baptist life aimed to foster greater collaboration and broader unity among Baptists and translate these conversations, connections and ideas into local action within communities. In addition to these conversations, numerous breakout sessions highlighted day two of the summit, featuring individuals and groups sharing about their successes in forming Covenants of Action around pressing issues.
During a breakout session titled “Pioneers on the Path: Black, White and Hope All Over: Stronger Together in the City of Ali,” Kevin Cosby, senior pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church and president of Simmons College, and Joe Phelps, senior pastor of Highland Baptist Church, reflected together on how racial reconciliation efforts are taking place in their respective congregations in Louisville, Ky.
In Louisville, regarded as one of the most segregated cities in the country, Cosby and Phelps have been meeting weekly for the past 15 months for discussions around the issue of race and have brought together faith leaders from across the city to join in an ecumenical coalition called Empower West Louisville.
“The things you are passionate about are not difficult,” Cosby said. “I’m excited, because I think we have a model of what can happen if we work together.”
“We’re stronger together,” said Phelps, citing the motto of Empower West.
The two friends began with a goal to empower West Louisville, the predominantly African-American and economically challenged part of the city, not through just “being do-gooders,” said Phelps, but by coming alongside the community and being allies and advocates for the community.
Phelps said that the initial tour through West Louisville by Cosby was eye-opening, as he went down streets and through neighborhoods he didn’t know existed. But Cosby knew that Phelps was going to be open to a non-paternalistic, authentic partnership and willing to grow together.
Through programs that bring churches and communities together, the pastors promote fellowship and dialogue. Members of Highland Baptist and other predominantly white congregations are encouraged to reach out to African-American business owners for services. Through tough conversations about privilege and power as well as the need to uphold and support African-American institutions, Cosby and Phelps said they are stronger together.
Responding to structural racism
The commitment of Baptists to engaging in the work of the United Nations was another point of discussion during the summit. Breakout session leader Scott Stearman, who serves as senior pastor of Metro Baptist Church in New York City, spoke about historical and global injustices against people of African descent and the way Baptists are combating these issues around the world. Stearman, a Cooperative Baptist pastor, represents CBF and the Baptist World Alliance at the United Nations on pressing issues as part of an expanded partnership between the two Baptist bodies around global advocacy efforts.
During the session, Stearman provided an overview of the work of the United Nations and the key areas of peace and security, human rights and development. The room of diverse Baptists learned about the Sustainable Development Goals — 17 global goals that the U.N. seeks to achieve by 2030. Stearman said the U.N. Office of Human Rights’ response to the systemic discrimination of African descendants and structural racism is currently addressed through a decade-long commitment to eradicate these injustices.
“This is not just an American reality, but a global phenomenon,” Stearman said. “At least part of this can be traced to the commodification of the brown or black body…and then there is the growing reality of colorism.”
Some of the first steps in this commitment are to understand insidious structural racism and colorism and find practices that can combat these structures and cycles, Stearman said.
The 2016 New Baptist Covenant Summit concluded Friday with continued holy conversations and an address from keynote speaker and noted author, Tony Campolo. Learn more about the work of the New Baptist Covenant, a CBF partner organization, at www.newbaptistcovenant.org
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.