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This week in Washington, Emmanuel McCall will become the first African-American to preside over the General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Being first is nothing new for McCall, 71, a pioneer in black-church relations among Baptists in the South, but he says it does signify that “CBF is open to all who willingly identify with it.”

Started in 1991 to defend Baptist principles like soul liberty and autonomy of the local church being redefined under fundamentalist leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, the CBF has made point of selecting leaders symbolic of the diversity of generation, gender and ethnicity of its members.

McCall’s predecessor, California pastor Joy Yee, was the seventh woman to be CBF moderator and the first Asian-American. His successor, Harriet Harral of Fort Worth, Texas, assumes leadership at the closing gavel of the June 28-29 General Assembly at the Washington D.C.Convention Center.

While most CBF members will see McCall in his role as CBF moderator for the first time in Washington, he has presided the last year over meetings of the group’s Coordinating Council.

McCall, an Atlanta pastor who for many years worked on the executive staff of the Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board, said one of his priorities was to help CBF take its rightful place in the Baptist World Alliance. The BWA accepted CBF as a member in 2003.

“Having been in the BWA since 1976, I knew the histories and parameters,” McCall said. “It can now be said that the nations in BWA solidly respect CBF.”

McCall is a vice president of the BWA in a term that extends from July 2005 to July 2010. He chaired the BWA Ethics Commission from 1995 to 2000 and the BWA Committee on Human Rights Awards from 2000 to 2005.

McCall, a former board member of the Baptist Center for Ethics who has spoken at and hosted BCE-sponsored events, is founding pastor of The Fellowship Group, a new church in East Point, Ga., constituted June 11 with 266 members. He is former pastor of the Christian Fellowship Baptist Church, from its founding in 1991 until November 2004.

From 1968 until 1991, McCall worked at Home Mission Board. He was the first African-American to earn a national assignment with Southern Baptists. He was also a faculty member at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1970 until 1996, where he developed a Black Church Studies program later used by three SBC seminaries. He also has taught in theological seminaries in Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and at Emory University. He is an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta.

McCall has written a new book, When All God’s Children Come Together, published by Mercer University Press, about progress he has witnessed in race relations among Baptists in the South.

“Baptists in the South are more open than they have ever been to those who share common objectives,” McCall told EthicsDaily.com. “This is reflected in the willingness of all four National Baptist Conventions to enter new cooperative ventures such as the North American Baptist Fellowship and the New Baptist Covenant.”

McCall said he is encouraged by new partnerships among Baptist being formed across racial and cultural lines. “National Baptists are now more open to trust and participation with others than ever before,” he said. “We are both learning from each other and giving to each other.”

A good example, he said, is a developing partnership between the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention and Mercer University Medical School. Mercer students will intern with mission sites of the Lott Carey convention. “The fun is just beginning,” he said.

This year’s CBF General Assembly includes a historic joint worship service with American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A. Friday night.

During their biennial meeting, also in Washington, American Baptists celebrate 100 years of ministry.

Constituted as the Northern Baptist Convention in 1907, Northern Baptists changed their name to American Baptist Convention in 1950 and to ABC/USA in 1972. American Baptists now number about 5,800 churches and 1.5 million members.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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