A call to racial justice took center stage during the opening session of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s first-ever virtual General Assembly June 25.
Due to the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is “a most unusual General Assembly,” said Paul Baxley, executive coordinator of the Fellowship. He spoke via video link from Johns Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga. He addressed an empty room, while those who normally would have gathered in Atlanta this year watched from computer screens in their homes and workplaces across the country.
This year’s General Assembly will be shaped not only by COVID-19 but also by the demands on Christians to address racial justice in America, added CBF Moderator Kyle Reese of Jacksonville, Fla. He noted the work CBF and its congregations have been doing for years prior and declared: “It is time for these seeds to come to full flower so we can proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ that includes everyone.”
CBF churches and Christians, he said, must “step up in this moment and faithfully proclaim the God of justice and love.”
Emmanuel McCall, a pioneer among Southern Baptists and CBF Baptists in the work of race relations, gave the opening address of the assembly. Baxley introduced him as “a courageous and respected leader in Baptist circles.” Baxley also urged the CBF community to “set a new table here for the love and service of God” because “the Holy Spirit is calling us as cooperative Baptists to do more than just speak the language of racial justice.”
Last week, on Juneteenth, CBF launched the Emmanuel McCall Racial Equity Fund to support “the current and long-term racial justice and inclusion work of the Fellowship.” A $400,000 goal was announced for 2020.
McCall is pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church of East Point, Ga. Earlier, he served on the national staff of the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board and then became an early leader in the CBF movement. He recently has taught at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology and currently serves on the CBF Governing Board.
In his address, McCall urged all Christians to live out the calling of 2 Corinthians 5 to be “ambassadors for Christ.”
“One does not need a religious title to do God’s work,” he said. “All who proclaim Christ as Lord are servants of God. … We are all God’s representatives, God’s ambassadors.”
Ambassadors, he said, are selected and not self-appointed. They also are responsible to the one who sent them and must not be sidetracked by other interests beyond their calling.
“God will use any of us willing to let God use us,” McCall insisted. “There is no talent we have that is not given and that God cannot use. Good ambassadors are resourceful, they see the needs around them and apply the skills God has given.”
Even in a time of global pandemic, the work of God’s ambassadors goes on, he said. “The gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached wherever people are, not just in what is called a church building.”
He closed with the words of an old Spiritual, urging Christians to persevere even in these difficult times: “Walk together children, don’t you get weary.”