Dr. Aidsand Wright-Riggins, III
Growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s in a de-facto segregated community in South Central Los Angeles, Baptists were everywhere. And anywhere a Baptist happened to be, that Baptist was Black. Until I was in my teens, I just assumed that being Baptist and being Black went hand in hand. It was incomprehensible to me at the time that a person could be Baptist and White, or Baptist and Hispanic, or Baptist and Asian or Baptist and anything else.
Imagine my shock when I went to seminary in 1972. At the time, I was unaware then of words that Dr. Martin Luther King had spoken just nine years earlier when he said, “We must face the fact that in America, the church is still the most segregated major institution in America. At 11:00 on Sunday morning when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation. This is tragic.”
In seminary I awakened to just how tragic segregation is. There I encountered a world so different from the one I grew up in for the first twenty-one years of my life. It was a Baptist seminary. It was a Baptist seminary in the “north”. I was the only Black in my class (they only admitted one of us per year back then). I was the only Black who resided on campus. For the first year or so there, many of my White classmates hardly recognized me as a Christian or Baptist at all. My Blackness, theological perspectives, ecclesiastical practices and cultural distinctives were not received as gifts to the church but as detrimental differences. They were differences that created barriers. A setting which should have nurtured “I-Thou” relationships fostered innumerable “I-it” encounters.
King went on to say in that same address that “The church, itself, will stand under the judgement of God. Now that the mistake of the past has been made, I think that the opportunity of the future is to really go out and to transform American society, and where else is there a better place than in the institution that should serve as the moral guardian of the community. The institution that should preach brotherhood and make it a reality within its own body.”
I believe in starting where we are and doing what we can. I believe that American Baptists are uniquely positioned to do something about it. As perhaps the most racially diverse Baptist denomination in America, we don’t have to look far or reach out at great distances to break down walls and create bridges.
In partnership with the New Baptist Covenant and using many of the excellent resources it has developed, we can address historic divisions within our Baptist family. We can become stronger together by mending fractured fellowships as we take action, commit to transformation and engage in constructive reconciliation.
As Executive Director Emeritus of the American Baptist Home Mission Societies and as a member of the Executive Team of the New Baptist Covenant, I want to invite American Baptists to a reception hosted by NBC at our Biennial Summit. The reception will be held at the Missions Biennial Summit on July 1, 2017 following the night plenary session. Let us do what we can to exemplify the oneness that Christ called toward. The whole world is watching.