Among the breakout sessions at the recent Baptist Border Crossing were two showings of EthicsDaily.com’s documentary “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism.” Following both showings, panelists discussed how Baptists could work to cross racial borders and answered questions from the audience.
The Baptist Border Crossing was the second regional meeting modeled after last year’s Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta.
The first breakout showing of the film included as panelists two pastors from Columbia, Mo., John Baker of First Baptist Church and Clyde Ruffin of Second Missionary Baptist Church. The second session featured Donna Watts, associate pastor for Christian education at Kirkwood Baptist Church in St. Louis, and Jim Hill, executive director of Baptist General Convention of Missouri. Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, moderated both sessions.
During the first breakout, Baker and Ruffin talked about how the DVD had already brought their two churches closer together as a result of a joint screening and discussion. Baker shared the story in a column in February.
After viewing the DVD, Baker shared it with Ruffin in hopes the two congregations could view it together. About 55 members of First Baptist traveled to Second Missionary Baptist to join about 65 members of that church in watching the documentary.
During the breakout session, the two pastors talked about how the event raised awareness for members of their churches and has encouraged them to work harder to build relationships between the two churches. They shared that some lay leaders from the two congregations had taken the initiative to meet together in hopes of discovering areas where the congregations could work together.
Ruffin shared his excitement about the progress represented by the election of Barack Obama. However, he and Parham both pointed to issues and facts discussed in the DVD to explain that racism has not been completely removed from American society.
After the session, Baker expressed his appreciation that the breakout helped Baptists discuss important issues often ignored.
“Prejudice, bigotry, slavery, racism—these can be difficult issues to talk about in a multi-racial group setting,” Baker explained to EthicsDaily.com. “The DVD was helpful as it provided both a framework and content which facilitated rich discussion that could have gone on much longer than the allotted time.”
“The Baptist Center for Ethics and its EthicsDaily.com are involved in important Kingdom work as they seek to create effective tools which lead various people of faith to understand, love and accept one another,” Baker added.
During the second breakout, panelists also reflected on the issues raised in the film. Hill, who is interviewed in the DVD, talked about his experience at the Baptist World Alliance’s reconciliation service held at a former slave castle in Ghana. He also told the story of his grandfather, who remained in his neighborhood and church even as both made a complete racial transition.
After the breakout, Hill expressed his hope that the session and the Baptist Border Crossing would lead to greater efforts by Baptists to cross racial borders. Hill served as co-chair of the planning committee along with Wallace S. Hartsfield II of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Kansas City.
“I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the ‘Beneath the Skin’ breakout session,” Hill told EthicsDaily.com. “This video has been a significant resource in stimulating genuine dialogue regarding racism and racial reconciliation. The long-term divide between white and black Baptists has been a tremendous loss for predominately white congregations and the Kingdom. We have so much to learn from each other and so many opportunities for collaboration and partnership. I was grateful for the serious questions and dialogue the video prompted.”
In March, Hill screened the DVD during the annual Baptist General Convention of Missouri’s executive board retreat and encouraged board members to play it in their churches.
Watts, who joined Hill as a panelist for the breakout session, also expressed her excitement about the potential of the DVD to inspire Baptists to make further efforts in combating racism.
“‘Beneath the Skin’ is an excellent tool to inspire conversation,” she explained to EthicsDaily.com. “The stories from the video provide prompts for group participants to not only share their own story but to listen with compassion.”
“Beneath the Skin” was previously screened during the first regional New Baptist Covenant meeting, which was held in Birmingham, Ala., in January.
Plenary speakers at the Baptist Border Crossing in Missouri included author Tony Campolo, Baptist World Alliance President David Coffey, North American Baptist Fellowship President David Goatley, evangelist Carolyn Ann Knight and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.
Brian Kaylor is a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com and an editorial assistant for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri.