It is time to break silence on systemic racism, said Preston Clegg, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Little Rock, Arkansas.
Referencing Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 4, 1967, speech delivered at New York City’s Riverside Church, Clegg declared, “This is a time to break silence because, in these days, silence says as much as speech does. Our faith in God’s will and way demands it. Our hope in God’s future demands it. Our love for all of God’s children demands it. This is a time to reclaim a radical revolution of values.”
To that end, Second Baptist’s staff and deacons published a statement of “Convictions and Beliefs on Systemic Racism.”
Calling racism “antithetical to the Christian faith and an abomination to God,” the statement emphasized that it is not only present within individuals and groups but also exists in social institutions and structures.
White supremacy is the root of racist ideology and policies; it is the “the foundational injustice and original sin of our country … the sin into which we were all born.”
Confessing and repenting of the ways in which this original sin has been manifest in and through the church, Second Baptist committed itself “to work towards redemption, healing and wholeness for ourselves and for our community.”
The statement then offered a series of reforms and recommendations for churches, criminal justice and policing systems, local governments and community groups in the state.
These include making antiracism a part of the church’s discipleship program, supporting the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces, encouraging the adoption of hate crime laws for locales where little or no legislation exists, urging increased training in “cultural competence and de-escalation tactics” for police, and calling for high-quality, traditional public education to be available for all students.
“As people who strive to follow Jesus and are called to the virtues of truth, compassion, justice and love, we stand as a congregation today and say, ‘We see systemic racism at work, and it’s past time we address it and make the necessary changes,’” Clegg stated in his article accompanying the church’s formal statement. “To do so, we need other faith leaders, other congregations, political leaders, community leaders and people of genuine good will to join us in this effort, even as we join those who have been doing this work for many long years.”
While welcoming the efforts of all who share their vision for racial justice, the church statement emphasized that the time was long past “for incremental baby steps” and declared that “large strides towards equity” are necessary.
“We do not long for a justice that merely trickles down,” Second Baptist said. “Like the prophet Amos, we pray for justice to flow like mighty waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
The Little Rock church has a long history of standing up for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized. This includes:
- Working in tandem, then-pastor Dale Cowling and then-member Rep. Brooks Hays helped to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
- Establishing during the civil rights era an outdoor center as a place for children and families of all races and backgrounds.
- Affirming the full participation of LGBTQ persons in all areas and capacities within the congregation.
The congregation’s story will be explored in a Good Faith Media narrative podcast currently in preproduction.
Clegg will be interviewed this week by GFM’s CEO Mitch Randall and Executive Director of Marketing and Development Autumn Lockett for an episode of Good Faith Weekly, which will be available here on Friday.