Walking up those historic steps, I confess that I was more in a hurry and distracted by the sight of familiar faces to fully understand the gravity of that moment. The full weight of the moment just didn’t register until, with hundreds of voices raised singing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” together, this predominantly white crowd gathered at the 16th Street Baptist Church for the opening event of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly voiced the second verse: “we have come over a way that with tears has been watered, we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.” In that moment, with searing and sickening remembrance of the four girls who were killed in this holy place by an act of white supremacy, I wept with urgent lament for what was, what is, and what is yet to be.
Yesterday’s events of the CBF General Assembly — divinely-timed, it seems, on Juneteenth in this 400th year of the first slave ship arriving to America’s shores — pressed our Fellowship to confront deeply, honestly, and painfully the racial injustice encoded in systems all around us. Through worship and witness, conversation and presentation, our brothers and sisters committed to the deep work of racial justice and reconciliation bore witness to why such relationships are essential to the fullness of the kingdom of God we all proclaim. We heard stories of conversion and awakening, stories of raw anger and real confusion, stories that confirmed the truth that confronting America’s original sin of slavery and all its persistant effects, as Paul Baxley said, “compels us to recognize that the dark of the storm has not yet passed.”
Our Fellowship spent much of the day at 16th Street Baptist Church yesterday, and I won’t soon forget the sounds of this experience. Holy words from Exodus read with humility. Survivor Carolyn McKinstry remembering that September 15, 1963, the sermon title set for that day (“A Love that Forgives”), her layered grief over the loss of her friends and questions about why she survived when they did not. Case after case of redlining, of racism encoded right in a city’s real estate. Confession and lament from white pastors who have been awakened. Calls for reconciliation and reparation.
And amidst the creaking floorboards, the fussy babies, the buses groaning by the door, and the freedom songs rising, I heard a persistent invitation from the One who calls each one beloved:
Open. Sit. Lament. Wail. Relinquish. Repond. Reconcile. Repair. Listen. Listen. Listen.
Together in the work of Love,
Photo credit: Bojangles Blanchard