MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Members of the Southern Baptist Convention hope to keep their focus on faith during this year’s annual get together, which is meeting in Tennessee for the first time in a long time.
It comes during a moment in our nation’s history where racial tension is a focus of the world, and also the church. Some local pastors believe this meeting is an opportunity for healing.
“It has been a year like none other, not only for myself but for all my pastor friends in our area churches,” said Pastor Danny Sinquefield of Faith Baptist Church in Bartlett.
COVID-19 effectively brought the world to a halt. Many schools, businesses and churches sat empty as people filled their hearts and minds with the cares of the world.
The hugs and that face-to-face interaction of church service were much needed as many sat home in isolation, dealing with loneliness and watching the state of race relations in our country.
“We’re a touchy-feely church. We’re the kind of church that loves hugging and shaking hands and just being with one another,” said Pastor Michael C. Ellis of Impact Baptist Church in Frayser.
In the midst of this changing world, pastors say, it’s the perfect time to shift the focus on something that never changes.
“Whenever we have crisis in our country and world, shifting the focus to Christ is the balancing ruler,” Ellis said.
Impact Baptist Church’s congregation is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention, a network of more than 47,000 churches across the united states.
They all work to fulfill the great commission — bringing souls to Jesus Christ — but after a year of division in our nation, they know it will take a renewed commitment to get back to their main mission.
“The gospel is the great unifier and always has been, especially when it comes to people of different races, different ethnicities, different ages,” said Pastor J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
As the largest protestant denomination, convention leaders say 63% of its churches started last year were by leaders of color.
But many will tell you those voices aren’t reflected in the diversity of leadership. That concern and other questions about race prompted several high-profile black pastors to leave the convention in recent years.
“Some of what we deal with now in our leadership,” Greear said. “The fact that proper Black and brown and Asian leadership is not reflected in our convention is, let’s just say, the result of years of negligence.”
It’s something sure to be discussed at this year’s convention, especially given curent conversations about race in our country.
Baptist churches responding to racial injustice
“The George Floyd situation really opened the eyes of our congregations from the standpoint of we still have a lot of work in America,” Ellis said.
Greear said he understands the issue of race – in America and the church — impacts each member differently.
“We can say, ‘I want to understand why a situation like Ahmaud Arberry or George Floyd, why does that emotionally impact you? And help me understand that, help me see the way I process things may not have been aware of the questions you bring to it,’” he said.
Encounters with law enforcement touch close to home for Pastor Ellis. He recalls a specific incident at his son’s apartment complex.
“The security guard saw his guns and instantly pulled his gun out on my son and put it in his face,” Ellis said.
He said he trained his children how to handle those kinds of situations, but he understands the outcome could’ve been different.
“We have to look at what would Jesus do if we have racism. What would Jesus do because he dealt with racism. How did he handle it?” Ellis asked.
Meanwhile, 20 miles away in Bartlett, close friend and fellow SBC pastor Danny Sinquefield said there have been a lot more conversations about race with members and fellow pastors this last year.
“Racial tension has been around a long time in our community. We live in the deep South, we know it’s a real thing. It’s symptomatic of the greater problem and that’s the problem of a sinful heart,” Sinquefield said.
They keep in mind what brought them together in the first place. They also know there may be uncomfortable conversations and disagreements.
“If we’re planning on going to heaven we’re going to have to focus on Christ because He’s not going to have a line for whites, blacks, other races. There’s just one line,” Ellis said.
Members say what unites them is much stronger than what divides them.
“We also know that as the largest Protestant denomination that the whole world is looking and listening,” Sinquefield said. “So we want to be very careful that we show brotherly kindness, brotherly compassion and we’re begging the Lord to bring unity in those meetings and I’m hopeful it will happen.”
They’ll constantly remind you, “It’s what Jesus would do.”
“My prayer is that even in the midst of all of the problems that we’re having is that our convention stays focused on the great commission of reaching all nations,” Ellis said.