Racial justice requires moving beyond talk, presenters tell CBF

Screen shot of Paul Baxley, CBF executive coordinator, and Kasey Jones, associate coordinator of strategic operations and outreach, leading communion at the conclusion of the CBF 2020 general assembly

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At least three workshops during the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 2020 general assembly featured the topic of racial justice. In response to the coronavirus pandemic and social restrictions to avoid the spread of COVID-19, CBF offered workshops online.

Presenters appeared in short videos followed by question-and-answer sessions held via Zoom videoconferencing. Attendees were required to register for the general assembly to receive login credentials, which gave them access to the videos and Zoom sessions.

Second Baptist Church in Little Rock

Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., described important events in the church’s history that shaped its future.

In response to the crisis that arose around integrating Central High School in Little Rock in 1957, Second Baptist “took a hard stand” in favor of integrating—not only the school, but also the church. As a result, hundreds of people walked out of the church on one Sunday.

When then-Gov. Orval Faubus closed Little Rock schools in 1958, Second Baptist opened an accredited high school in its building. The school was open to the public for the 1958-59 school year.

Also in 1958, Brooks Hays, a U.S. Congressman representing Arkansas and a member of Second Baptist, lost his seat to a segregationist write-in candidate because of his advocacy of school integration.

From these events and others, racial justice became a central feature of Second Baptist’s DNA, Clegg said.

Clegg counseled pastors and other ministry leaders to know their church’s histories, to leverage those histories and to count the cost of becoming involved in justice work.

He also said desegregation and integration are not the same thing. Integration requires intentionality to create a church that “really looks like the kingdom of God.”

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Being intentional about racial justice requires coming to terms. White and Black people mean different things by the word “racism,” Clegg noted. For him and other white people, racism is “bad people doing evil and vile things.” Black people, on the other hand, aren’t talking about individual actions but about systems when they talk about racism.

Jeremy and Shantell Hinton Hill, new co-ministers of young adults at Second Baptist, addressed the idea of racial reconciliation. Jeremy, recognizing the intentional work of Second Baptist in addressing racial justice, said he appreciates not feeling like he was a token minority when he and Shantell came to the church.

Hill also noted Black Americans are “tired of talking” and “tired of panels.” There have been enough conversations, and people know the problem and what to do; they need to act on what they know.

In response to the phrase racial reconciliation, Hill said that, first, white people need to reconcile with themselves and with their part in systems perpetuating racial injustice. Clegg addressed the notion that a better word than “reconciliation” is “conciliation,” since “there’s nothing to conciliate back to.”

Actions toward racial justice

Kimberly Freeman Brown, a consultant specializing in racial equity, inclusion and justice, addressed how to move from deliberation and discussion to action.

Brown starts by being grounded in God. She referred to Proverbs 31:8-9 and Deuteronomy 16:19-20 to provide a biblical definition of justice.

She defined racial justice as “proactive reinforcement of policies, practice, attitudes and actions that produce equitable power, access, opportunities, treatment, impacts and outcomes for all.”

Racial justice “requires us to be proactive” and “not wait for another incident,” Brown said. It also requires a variety of ways to pursue justice—not just marches, but also writing, for example—actions that produce something positive for everyone.

Brown defined three core paths to pursuing racial justice: bearing witness; asking forgiveness and changing course; and serving and championing change.

Bearing witness involves moving from conversation to action, sharing God’s heart about equality, choosing to see and not overlook injustice, speaking out about injustice where possible, ending oppression and establishing justice.

To engage in forgiveness and change course, churches model repentance by investigating manifestations of racism within their own church communities and by creating space for individual and corporate repentance.

Examples of actions churches and individuals can take include: writing statements against racism and posting them on church websites; providing workshops to train church leaders about racial justice; speaking in the media against racism; talking to elected leaders; supporting and hosting events and activities with local racial justice organizations; and stopping racially offensive conversations and practices within the church and in one’s presence elsewhere.

To get started in racial justice work, Brown says to begin with prayer, saying, “This current moment has driven me to my knees” more than any other time. She also said to be “grounded in God’s will and definition for justice and equality” and to “let go of preconceived notions of how we’ll get to racial justice.”

For those wanting to learn more, a list of resources will be made available on the McCall Initiative website. The purpose of the McCall Initiative, named for Dr. Emmanuel McCall, is “to create avenues for God’s imperfect church to move toward meaningful unity between racially diverse communities.”

Engaging in self-reflection

“Anti-racism work is white people’s work,” Kay Scarry, community director of The People’s Supper and a member of the First Baptist Church of Herndan, Va., said during a workshop for white clergy.

For many white people, this work begins with self-reflection. Self-reflection can involve exercises such as describing a time when they first realized they were white. For Scarry, it came when schoolmates told her and her best friend, an African American, that they were a “Black and white version of each other.” Scarry noticed this statement seemed to hit her friend differently than herself.

Scarry offered a set of diagnostic exercises for gaining awareness of race within the church. Clergy can perform an audit of their resources in the church and at home to see if any nonwhite authors or contributors are included.

Also, those who preach and teach can examine whether they ever cite nonwhite theologians, authors and thinkers. In addition, clergy can be intentional about including nonwhite people in leading congregational worship from the pulpit.

Other suggestions for self-reflection included being mindful of immediate reactions to racially related events, considering in what ways a person has a failure of imagination for change, processing feelings of guilt, and examining the impetus to justify oneself or a situation.

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