VALLEY FORGE, PA (ABNS 8/25/20)—On Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, more than 400 individuals joined the American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS)-sponsored online panel discussion titled “Faith & Activism Town Hall.” The event, which was purposed to garner ideas about transforming faith into activism, was the first in a series of similar ABHMS-hosted events.
The Faith and Activism Town Hall was designed to allow participants to listen to the perspectives of a panel who are engaged in activism efforts throughout the nation. Participants were also encouraged to ask questions via a chat function.
The forum was powered by Zoom on ABHMS’ ministrElife social networking platform, where a video of the event is available. Please view the video at www.ministrElife.org or visit www.ABHMS.org, where it will also be posted in September.
“We’re so pleased to sponsor today’s interactive town hall,” said ABHMS Executive Director Dr. Jeffrey Haggray. “ABHMS has long supported social justice…since our founding in 1842.”
“All racial and ethnic minority groups have had their baptism in injustice and inequality in America,” he continued. “Some communities of faith have not acted when they should have. We must call it out when we see it.”
Panelists were the Rev. Dr. Teresa Smallwood, postdoctoral fellow and associate director of Public Theology and the Racial Justice Collaborative at Vanderbilt Divinity School; the Rev. Greg Jarrell, co-founder and “chief door answerer” at QC Family Tree; Geronimo D. Desumala III, Master of Divinity (2021) and BTFO coordinator, Yale Divinity School; the Rev. Naomi Washington Leapheart, director for Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs for the city of Philadelphia and adjunct professor at Villanova University; and the Rev. Douglas S. Avilesbernal, executive minister of the Evergreen Association of American Baptist Churches. Moderator was the Rev. Kadia Edwards, ABHMS national coordinator, Volunteer Mobilization and Disaster Response Ministries
When asked how she engages in faith and activism, Smallwood referred to activism as a muscle that needs to be exercised by relieving the wrongs done to racialized individuals.
“Faith and activism are inextricably linked,” she said. “It shows up for me both conceptually and literally in the work we do daily.”
A Filipino-American who began demonstrating for affirmative action at the age of 12, Desumala said he is guided by the Filipino concept of kapwa, which, in his words, means “better together with the other person.”
“It’s a virtue ethic that helps me,” he said. “Do we regard people on same level as us, with equal sense of humanity, treat them as our kapwa?”
Leapheart expressed concern that the charge to speak up in this challenging season would prove to be only temporary.
“Prophetic life has to be a habit—not a hobby,” she stressed.
Jarrell made the following observation about church and young people: “When I’m out in the street, often it feels more like church out there than it feels like church in church. Young people are leading us out in the street in ways that are more robust than in the church.”
Avilesbernal noted that one must love the oppressor as much as the oppressed.
“Faith is so profound that love cannot help but flow from that,” he said. “In the United States, activism is profoundly related to God’s calling us all children of God—then heirs. It means everyone gets equal access, the same love and the same inherent trust that everyone has.
“As Christians, we cannot help but be activists in the realm in which we live,” he continued. “We are called to do something about unfairness, injustice.”
American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.
American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.