Baptist Convention in Park Slope

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Gospel and Race 5/3-5/4: Baptist Convention in Brooklyn

What happens when preaching to the choir is actually a necessity? The Metropolitan New York Baptist Association (MNYBA) decided to find out this past May when they organized a conference geared towards Christians titled “Gospel & Race.” Seven different speakers from around the country convened at the Park Slope Community Church to discuss how churches can become equipped to address the racial divisions that have our country on edge.

I was there. And as I listened to the speakers and observed the audience, I couldn’t help but see the conference itself as a panacea for racial wounds. But I am inclined to think in extremes: “This is the best <insert whatever thing I’m reasonably pleased with at the moment> ever!” In fact, my idealistic enthusiasm was exactly what most of the conference speakers emphatically urged against. A conference isn’t a cure-all. Sitting in a church pew isn’t a cure-all. However, one hopes such a gathering can be a good place to start for someone who doesn’t know where to begin.

Of the seven speakers, two were African-American, two were Korean-American, one was Mexican-American, one was Afro-Caribbean, and one was a white American. It seems like that’s the very good group to start talking about race stuff.

On Friday night, Pastor James Roberson of Bridge Church NYC, gave us all a history lesson. Roberson grew up in the Black Baptist Church but decided to do ministry in the Southern Baptist context to be a voice in a mostly white institution - an institution with a track record for turning black people away from their pews. In his sermon, Roberson not only called out the church’s undeniable participation in slave ownership and the repulsive behaviors that went along with it, but he also pointed out that the church hasn’t done much to help with race issues since abolition. His point is that the church at large was busily active in creating the racial wound, but quietly passive in its healing.

Trillia Newbell, an author and speaker based in Nashville, TN, shared a story from when Trillia’s bi-racial daughter came home and told Trillia that their neighbor’s daughter told her that her mom said “your mom and dad are wrong.” Trillia responded to the woman by initiating a frank, though gracious conversation. She told her neighbor exactly what her daughter had told her, to the woman’s mortification. She simply stated that she and her husband were not wrong for getting married. And she asked that she explain this to her own daughter. She reinforced the importance of listening to people’s stories, like her own, to gain a deeper understanding of what it’s like living in this country as a person of color.

Another speaker, Matthew Hopkinson, a bi-racial Korean-American, shared a story from his college experience at Bob Jones University, where at the the time interracial dating was not permitted. He was forced to choose to date either white American or Korean women. Yet another mortifying, tragic, example of Christian institutions perpetuating racism in the name of God. He concluded that even in our greatest efforts, we alone cannot fix this race issue. There is a spiritual element to it that is out of our hands. There’s a mystery to that, that frees us to act, but also frees us from trying to be a Savior.

This idea was reinforced by a workshop speaker, Raleigh Sadler, who founded Let My People Go, a non-profit that equips churches to recognize and respond to human trafficking. Raleigh stressed the importance of being in touch with one’s own vulnerability before trying to help those who are vulnerable to exploitation. It was refreshing to hear a white male tell himself and others that we cannot approach helping those in need, from a “White Savior” standpoint. To combat that impulse, we have to experience our own needs and pain first.

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Stephen Stallard, the lead pastor of Mosaic Baptist Church in Crown Heights and the lead organizer of the conference, spoke about how a multi-ethnic church can help address race issues. As a member of Mosaic myself, I’ve been struck by the church’s intention to create a nurturing family through the church body. This family is made up of a number of different ethnic groups. We celebrate each other’s cultures. I brought an apple pie to our potluck a couple months ago. It sat next to Haitian beef patties. Stephen, along with other speakers at the conference, encourage the church to be curious about and celebrate our cultural differences as we strive to heal wounds and love well.

Videos of the talks will eventually be posted on https://www.thegospelandrace.org/. Whether you’re part of the choir or not, we hope you take a peek.

– Katie Baker

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