Baptist State presidents convene in Jackson
By Rev. C.J. Rhodes – On January 21 Barack H. Obama was sworn in for his second presidential term using Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s traveling Bible. The day was significant because of the first black president’s second inaugural ceremony and that it was intentionally held on the federal MLK holiday.
Many rightly remember King as a civil rights leader, a drum major for justice who called upon the greatness of America’s founding principles to make our nation “a more perfect union.” Sadly, we often neglect that King was foremost a fourth-generation Baptist preacher who saw his leadership in the civil rights movement as an extension of his Christian ministry. In a certain sense, King was a prophet who pastored and nurtured that nonviolent revolution with moral courage and spiritual insight. We would do well to remember this about him.
King would have turned 84 on January 15. Though the Dreamer is dead, his dream lives on in those of us who still have the strength to love our nation enough to call it to true greatness—a greatness measured by what it does for the least of these. This prophetic patriotism has been a unique gift of the black church traditions from which King was formed and nurtured. In particular, the black Baptist tradition has historically called upon us to turn to Jesus for soul salvation and social liberation. King simply shared and showed the Gospel we preach to a lost and dying world. We must do likewise.
On King’s birthday four of the six Mississippi state Baptist conventions met at the Mississippi Baptist Seminary in Jackson to discuss how we can work together to improve the spiritual and social conditions of the people we serve. The Rev. Isiac Jackson, Jr., president of the General Missionary Baptist State Convention and pastor of Liberty M.B. Church in Canton, initiated the historic gathering. It was the first of its kind. Some of these conventions emerged out of geographic necessity while fewer were the result of splits. But our coming together that Tuesday morning was about believing that collaborative leadership is the best means of redeeming the soul of Mississippi.
The meeting concluded with a resolve to work together around the myriad issues that plague our people. Since pastors and preachers are still the most effective leaders in our beloved state, we contend it is up to us to renew our charge to serve both our congregations and larger communities. Miseducation, economic disempowerment, physical and mental health disparities, social immobility persist. HIV/AIDS, inadequate housing, crime, and a cradle to prison pipeline stultify our people. The church must be in the business of preaching and living a Gospel that changes lives from the inside out. Transformed people can transform communities. That is what King taught us about the Gospel. We must continue that legacy in the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of our liberating Lord and all-sufficient Savior Jesus Christ.
May black Baptists—and all Christians of good will—be determined to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed until all experience the transforming power of Jesus.