March 18, 2021
By Paul Baxley
Just over 24 hours have passed since many of us awakened to the news that a 21-year-old white man (and member of a Baptist church) had taken the lives of eight people in Atlanta, including six Asian American women. We are only now starting to learn more about each of these who lost their lives violently, tragically and senselessly.
Today I invite all Cooperative Baptists to join with people across our nation who are praying for the families and close friends of those who died in these terrible shootings. As of now, we know the names of five of the victims, including Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz who survived but is in critical condition. Those who died included Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng and Paul Andre Michels. The names of other victims have not yet been released as family notification is still underway. But it is important that we call these children of God by name, pray for their spouses, children, family and friends in the midst of this horrific loss.
These deaths have also brought into sharp focus the violence and discrimination being experienced by Asian Americans every day. It has been widely reported that that this kind of hatred has been on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it did not originate a year ago. It has been with us much longer.
In the past 24 hours, I have heard painful witness of Asian American members of our Cooperative Baptist Fellowship community about their experiences over many years, and I have read the comments of Asian Americans far beyond our part of the Christian family. Those testimonies have caused me to remember the experiences shared with me by childhood friends who were Japanese Americans about the experience of their parents after World War II. Even as we have seen vivid demonstrations of the evils of white supremacy and racial/ethnic hatred being expressed against black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ, we must recognize that these sins reach farther and the damage to our world is even greater.
So even as we remember those who have died and pray for their families, we are also called to listen to our Asian American sisters and brothers, learn from their stories, identify the ways that we should speak differently and act faithfully to bring an end to all forms of violence based on race and ethnicity.
There is no doubt that God has established the church of Jesus Christ to be a beloved community consisting of people “from every nation under earth” speaking all of those languages, since that is how God formed the church at Pentecost. It is abundantly clear that the racial and ethnic diversity of our world is no accident, but instead the creative intention of a loving God. As followers of Jesus, we are called to be agents of that kind of community and God’s new creation in Christ.
But the reality in which we live (and too often the reality in our own hearts) is far from God’s design. It is not just that the perpetrator of this one act of violence attended church. Too often, the church and the individual disciples who comprise it, find ourselves in the midst of the perpetuation of white supremacy, violence, injustice and pain. So, these are days for deep lament, for genuine repentance, and for being committed to seeking a world that doesn’t seek the elimination of racial and ethnic diversity, but rather the flourishing of it as a restoration of all God intended. These are days to ask ourselves what has to change in our lives as people of God for us to be used by the Holy Spirit to make disciples whose lives enhance the beauty of God’s creation, extend the relentless love of God in Jesus Christ and repair the ruins of many generations. While lament is a beginning, that kind of transformation should be the end.
Paul Baxley is the Executive Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Decatur, Ga.