Meeting 20 minutes from Ferguson, Mo., Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd convened a historic national panel discussion on racial unity and the church in America June 14 at the America’s Center Convention Complex in downtown St. Louis.
Floyd, pastor of Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, said in his presidential address Tuesday morning that communities in America can no longer ignore growing racial tension within the United States.
“Any form of racism defies the dignity of human life,” Floyd said. “Regardless of the color of one’s skin, God has put his divine imprint on each one of us.”
Floyd denounced racism as “a major sin and stronghold in America” at a meeting site blocks away from the historic courthouse where the lawsuit was filed that ended with the 1857 Dredd Scott ruling that no person of African-American descent could claim U.S. citizenship, widely considered 159 years later as the worst decision in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“It is with deep regret that I can do nothing about the stained past against our African-American brothers and sisters,” Floyd said. “But with all I am, and with all I can, I join you in creating a future together that binds up the nation’s wounds and always marches ahead knowing we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Jerry Young, president of the predominantly black National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., said he is “absolutely, totally convinced that the problem with America can be placed at the doorstep of our churches,” because the Bible assigns the church the responsibility to be “salt” and “light” to unbelievers.
“Those who would like to suggest that racism is not indeed a problem for the church but rather it is a sociological problem, I would argue it is without question a sin problem,” said Young, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church of Jackson, Miss. “Since the church is the only salt and light in town, if there is darkness and decay in America, it appears to me that the church must be guilty.”
Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., shared a personal teachable moment, when an African-American pastor friend invited to join him for a walk through a black neighborhood in the city.
“I had driven by there thousands of times, but I had never noticed any one person,” Blalock said. “They were black people.”
“We stopped and shook hands and visited with people, and for the first time I realized it was me; my own heart was segregated,” Blalock said. “I had no intention of living that way. It was subtle and allowed to sneak in my soul.”
Blalock said before leaving Charleston for St. Louis he met with the pastor of Emanuel AME Church, where nine black members where killed a year ago June 17 during a Bible study by a white assailant hoping to incite a race war. Blalock said the pastor told him the church receives hate mail and death threats every week to this day.
“I asked her, ‘What should I tell the Southern Baptist Convention?’” Blalock said. “She said ‘live out your faith.’”
In his presidential address, Floyd said he believes the issue of racism “is from Satan and his demonic forces of hell” and “an assault on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Racism is completely opposite of the message of Christ,” Floyd said. “Racism is completely opposite the message of love. Racism is completely opposite the message of reconciliation.”
Floyd called on Southern Baptists to “rise together as one and decry this atrocity.”
“Silent denominations die, and their message dies with them,” Floyd warned.
“We are not black churches. We are not white churches. We are not Latino churches. We are not Asian churches. We are the church of Jesus Christ. We are members of the one body, and the hope for all racism to end in America is found only in Jesus and through his triumphant church.”