VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 7/15/16)—In less than a month, our nation has been riddled with acts of unspeakable violence. On June 12, 2016, forty-nine people were killed and fifty-three more wounded in an Orlando nightclub. More recently, two men – Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile of Falcon Heights, Minn. – were fatally shot and killed by police officers. These acts once again have opened historical wounds for many African Americans and sparked outrage in the streets reminiscent of that seen following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and many others including the Emmanuel Nine. These sentiments of frustration and anger have been compounded by the senseless killings of five innocent police officers and the wounding of seven others in Dallas, Texas.
On July 6, 2016, ABCUSA President Rev. Judy Fackenthal, reminded the ABC family that “we are better together” through a video message. Sadly, these most recent acts of violence have left our nation deeply divided around issues of race and racial violence. There are those within our ABC family that have been deeply impacted by these events. Many are hurting, questioning and feeling powerless to address this behemoth that has plagued America since its inception.
Maintaining unity often requires difficult and courageous conversations. Thanks be to God for our General Secretary Emeritus, Dr. Roy A. Medley, for issuing the clarion call to the American Baptist Churches USA family to not retreat from these issues but rather face them head on. In his Biennial Address, June 27, 2015 – Dr. Medley stated, “Like any deadly virus, racism depends on a host in which it can live, grow and multiply. Racism depends on good people not speaking up. Racism depends on good people looking the other way. Racism depends on good people doing nothing. We can’t afford to be good people.” As one of his final acts before retiring, he appointed a taskforce to prayerfully work, discern God’s leading, and recommend ways the ABC family can begin to effectively confront the divisive issue of racism and race-based violence.
This issue seems so pervasive that we are left asking, “What can we do…How can we make a difference?” The American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) has provided for us an excellent example of how we can begin. In November 2015, they hosted “Space For Grace” in Los Angeles, Calif. Space for Grace sought to restore human connections in a world divided by race, religion, culture and class by intentionally inviting diverse voices to explore differing perspectives about contemporary issues affecting congregations and communities across the United States today.
The Taskforce on Race and Race-Based Violence encourages American Baptist local congregations, regional offices, national program boards, associate ministry organizations, individuals and collaborations to answer the call to prayer issued by the National Executive Council AND to actively commit to creating a “Space for Grace” in your context. We can do this by engaging in earnest reflection and extending intentional grace to others in these tension-filled moments. Remember: reconciliation for Christians is not optional, it is imperative: “be ye reconciled” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We invite you to consider the following:
– Consider your own personal (and corporate) explicit or complicit sin in matters of racism and race-based violence; appropriately confess privately and publicly pleading for forgiveness from God and others; and pray for freedom from the bondage of racism and a violence-saturated culture and for the individual and corporate empowerment toward the ministry of reconciliation.
– Create a private “peace-space” for people in your congregation/organization to reflect, meditate, and have heart-to-heart conversations.
– Create a public space, such as a prayer wall, for people to offer their heart’s cry.
– Plan a seminar designed to promote cultural and racial understanding.
– Invite local political leaders to share local issues of justice.
– Exchange pulpits with Pastors of another race.
– Sponsor a Racial Justice Sunday in partnership with local activist organizations.
– Select a book around race to study as a congregation.
– Host a Service of Reconciliation with churches of other races and ethnicities.
– Seek and trust God’s Spirit to guide you and your community toward creative and transforming inter-relational and systemic practices.
Understanding that we need each other and being committed to staying together are key components of facilitating hope and healing. ABHMS Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray underscores this notion in his statement to End Police Killings of Innocent Black Lives. He says, “Ultimately, we need respect for the dignity of all human life with a firm resolve as a nation to live together in peace as a beloved community.” LET AMERICAN BAPTISTS LEAD THE WAY!
This letter is only the beginning of the good (and difficult) work God has called us to do. We invite you to make use of the resources available on the ABHMS webpage http://abhms.org/groundswell/racial-justice/ and to continue the conversation on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/groups/groundswellforjustice/. We need the encouragement of one another, the prayers of one another, and the love for one another to help generate a new life of unity, peace, and reconciliation.
Taskforce On Race and Race-Based Violence Members
Jacqueline A. Thompson, Co-chair, Assistant Pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, Calif.
Larry Greenfield, Co-chair, former Regional Minister of ABC of Metro Chicago, Chicago, Ill.
Susan Gillies, ABCUSA Interim General Secretary, Valley Forge, Penna.
J. Alfred Smith, Sr., Advisor, Pastor Emeritus of Allen Temple Baptist Church, Oakland, Calif.
Linda Callaway, Member of First Baptist Church, Junction City, Kan.
Ernest Flores, Pastor of Second Baptist Church, Germantown, Pa.
Zina Jacque, Pastor of Community Church, Barrington, Ill.
G. Travis Norvell, Pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minn.
Marie Onwubuariri, Regional Executive Minister of ABC of Wisconsin, Elm Grove, Wis.
Deborah Svec-Carstens, Member of Wellspring Community Church, Des Moines, Iowa
Justin Thornburgh, Pastor of Emerson Ave. Baptist Church, Indianapolis, Ind.
Michael Ware, Pastor of Webster Baptist Church, Webster, N.Y.
American Baptist Churches is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with over 5,200 local congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.