An American Baptist Churches USA Taskforce on Race and Race-based Violence, first introduced at the Biennial Mission Summit in June 2015, met for an inaugural meeting on December 7 and 8, 2015, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The members of the Taskforce met to wrestle with the issues of race, racism and race-based violence. Throughout the meeting Taskforce members shared their personal experiences with challenges of race and why they felt it was an important issue for ABC.
“This group is developing workable strategies that impress me. Their individual openness in this meeting resulted in remarkable progress. The whole family will be blessed by their work,” said Interim General Secretary Susan Gillies. Roy Medley, now General Secretary Emeritus, also attended the meeting to provide historical context, hopes and expectations for the group.
The short term goal of the taskforce is to produce a report with recommendations and strategies for the Board of General Ministries Executive Committee meeting in March 2016. The long term goal is to see the taskforce and its work become a permanent part of denominational life and provide a comprehensive plan to educate, encourage and empower regions and local churches to become involved and engaged in the issue of racial justice in their context.
The taskforce is being co-chaired by Rev. Dr. Larry L. Greenfield, executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan Chicago, and Rev. Dr. Jacqueline A. Thompson, assistant pastor at Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California.
“This is critical work and our ABC Family definitely needs to know how the important issues of Race, racism and racial violence are being addressed,” said Thompson. “We are living in a time of increased racial tension and race-based violence….Addressing issues of racism and race-based violence dates back to the very founding of ABC in its decision to not to appoint a candidate for missionary service who held slaves. ABC is one of the most racially and culturally diverse denominations in the world. The work of task force is designed to ensure that the tradition of diversity is preserved. God is calling each of us to bear one another’s burden as we work toward a more loving, diverse and authentic witness of Christ in the world.”
“Racism has been a central part of the American character from the very beginning and we are seeing that it continues with virulence and violence in our nation today. For good reason racism has been named out country’s “original sin.” It’s a pervasive and deadly sin that finds residence in both our personal and public lives, including our spiritual lives and in the lives of our churches and our denomination. If we as American Baptists truly believe that God through Jesus Christ can redeem us from our sin, then we as American Baptists must open ourselves to God’s salvation of our own sin of racism and to God’s power, through the Holy Spirit, to become agents of the Good News of redemption in our nation. That defines work of our task force,” said Greenfield.
The Task Force originally came into being during General Secretary A. Roy Medley’s June 2015 biennial sermon addressing the American Baptist biennial attendees. In his sermon, he named the scourge of racism and race-based violence as an issue that must be a concern and priority for the ABC family, expressing his own fear for his bi-racial grandson and the need to create a safer place reflective of the Beloved Community. At the time, Medley announced that a task force would be created to examine the issue, its impact and make recommendations.
The Taskforce plans to present recommendations on how the entire denomination can get involved, specifically working on strategies that can be employed by individuals, churches, regions and denominational bodies.
The Taskforce left the initial meeting with specific assignments around areas of advocacy, awareness, theological approach and action.