Sam Tolbert has announced that he is running for the presidency of the National Baptist Convention of America Inc. (NBCA), with the election to be held June 25, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn.
NBCA is one of the major African-American Baptist denominations, with 1.5 million members.

It is often confused with the National Baptist Convention, USA. The two bodies split in 1919 over disagreement related to the ownership of the National Baptist Publishing House.

The NBC USA president is Julius Scruggs, pastor of First Missionary Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala. After his 2009 election, he sat down with for a video interview.

Both NBC USA and NBCA collaborate today on projects and programs.

In terms of the NBCA presidential race, Tolbert is not the only candidate. Stephen Thurston and George Brooks are also running.

Stephen Thurston is pastor of Chicago’s New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church. I follow him on Twitter and have been with him in meetings through the years, including Baptist World Alliance gatherings.

I don’t know George Brooks, pastor of Nashville’s St. James Missionary Baptist Church. But the church does have a good reputation in Nashville.

Tolbert is pastor of Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Lake Charles, La., and has a campaign website. has quoted in a news story Tolbert, Thurston and Scruggs, who were involved in rebuilding efforts in Haiti following 2010’s devastating earthquake.

Tolbert and I first met at the 2008 New Baptist Covenant luncheon, where Al Gore spoke on climate change.

Sam was one of the many guests that we invited to sit at the Baptist Center for Ethics’ five tables. In fact, he and I were at the same table. later spent several days with Sam interviewing him for “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” our documentary that aired on 130 ABC-TV stations.

Here is a video clip of Sam from the documentary about how he first developed a relationship with Islamic leaders in Louisiana and Texas.

He shared in the documentary what happened when Hurricane Katrina struck, causing a mass evacuation from the coast of Louisiana.

Tired and hungry folk, many low on fuel, began stopping in Lake Charles, where Greater St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church began feeding 500 people.

Farhana Swati, an Islamic believer and the managing director and co-owner of Pak Oil, called Sam to ask if his church needed help.

Upon learning what the church was doing, she organized the Islamic community in Lake Charles and Port Arthur to open their stores and send supplies by the truckload to the church.

“Any person in need is my neighbor. A person in need does not need me to find out what religion they are. They need me to listen to them tell their story of their dilemma and if there is something in my power, in my influence, that I can do to help, they need me to bring that to bear to help them,” said Sam in the documentary.

It’s a positive story of how Baptists and Muslims share a common word and practice – love for neighbor. But this note is only part of the larger story of their interfaith action, which is retold in the film.

Soon after the documentary began airing, I got a text message one evening from Sam, asking if I was watching movie star Denzel Washington on BET’s “106 and Park” show.

He said Denzel was talking about our documentary. Indeed, Denzel gave us a terrific shout out.

Tolbert engaged constructively the Islamic community – long before it became acceptable in many quarters in the United States for two different faith groups to collaborate for the common good. And that’s commendable.

If you haven’t used “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” in your church or on your college campus, it’s a constructive moral resource that shows positive efforts of engagement by goodwill people of faith.

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

Editor’s Note: To order “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims,” click here.

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