A Reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. Day from ABCUSA General Secretary Dr. C. Jeff Woods

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A Reflection on Martin Luther King Jr. Day from ABCUSA General Secretary Dr. C. Jeff Woods

As Heather McGee writes in her book, The Sum of Us, too often the work of antiracism is a Zero Sum Game. The majority of Americans believe that in order to Blacks to do better, whites must suffer. McGee sites many examples as evidence including the draining of swimming pools in the 1930s, that resulted in loss of a public good.

In this radically polarized society of ours, too often political parties also believe that one side must suffer for the other side to accomplish something. This belief stifles solutions that could benefit all of humanity.

We read in John 10:10 that the “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus, however, declared, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Part of believing in God’s abundance is believing that justice is good for all of us. Justice benefits all of us. American Baptist Martin Luther King Jr claimed that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” God doesn’t just offer trickles of justice. God has streams of justice; rivers of justice to offer that are available to collectives working together to do the right thing.

The work of antiracism is a work driven by justice, as well as compassion and righteousness. It is work that ultimately benefits all of humanity. When we recognize the gifts of the other we present to God more gifts at the altar for God to accomplish mission and ministry throughout the world.

By many standards, our American Baptist family is the most diverse denomination in the U.S. With such differences comes responsibility. God has called American Baptists to accomplish work that no other denomination can do; work that we must do together. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Michael Emerson and Christian Smith in their book, Divided by Faith, introduced the conceptual term that Americans live in a “racialized society.” Our circles of friendship, our neighborhoods, and our congregations, are too often drawn along racial lines. It is imperative for Christians to embrace the other.

During a recent ABCUSA staff training, author and consultant Deidra Riggs challenged our staff to consider that we are more different than alike. Indeed, during a staff retreat that followed, our leadership team confirmed this notion. From a quantitative perspective, we could name many more differences than common factors among us. Of course, our commitment to Christ is a huge factor that bonds us in our work, but it is important to explore the differences among us that can reveal new strengths and lead to new ministry opportunities. Consultant Riggs encouraged us to always engage one another with the values of curiosity and compassion. We have committed to doing that as a staff.

Strengthening one another is not a zero-sum game. It is biblical. The gifts God gave are for “building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:12-13). As American Baptists we are called to love one another, to get to know one another, and to work in unity in God’s mission and ministry. We are United in Christ and Together in Mission.

Dr. C. Jeff Woods
General Secretary
American Baptist Churches USA