News of a racially-charged song by fraternity members rocked the University of Oklahoma’s campus and garnered national attention. It was one of many incidents spotlighting the need for racial reconciliation in communities across the nation. As these events unfolded, three very different Baptist bodies joined together to offer another kind of narrative about racism in the Sooners state.
The Progressive Oklahoma Baptist State Convention, Oklahoma Indian American Baptist Association and Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma are the latest to join the New Baptist Covenant movement with a Covenant of Action that is generating important results. This Covenant of Action is unique in that it connects three networks of Baptist churches representing Native American, African American and Anglo American Baptist churches that are working collaboratively to improve race relations and transform communities in Oklahoma. The three Baptist bodies restored the OIABCA’s campground in Anadarko, Okla., and also plan to adopt and enhance at-risk urban schools in Oklahoma City.
Their 2015 mission has been to work alongside one another with each group having an equal amount of influence and authority. The three groups began this journey together in a worship service in April and later worked together at the OIABA Campgrounds. The Covenant of Action has moved the groups outside of the walls of their churches and compelled them to engage with one another in ways they would not have normally interacted. Their collaborative work is crossing old racial and denominational boundaries while modeling new ways for African Americans, Native Americans and Anglo Americans to be in relationship with one another.
According to Rev. Wil Brown, pastor of First American Baptist Church in Hobart, Okla., the Covenant of Action brought the groups together in the short-term but he believes long-term relationships were built.
“The partnership got us out of the box to work with each other. Sometimes there are invisible barriers that may go up when people are from a different culture but after we got to know one another those things came down,” Rev. Brown said of the partnership.
“There was mutual commitment, mutual Christian love for one another. The project brought us together but Christ was the common denominator and we were able to build long-lasting relationships with one another.”
For the OIABA Campground Restoration aspect of the Covenant of Action, the tri-denominational partners worked together to refurbish the facilities on the Native American campground, which sustained major damage in a tornado that hit it about five years ago. The property, which was used for camps and other ministry efforts, was rendered unusable. As part of the COA work, the primary focus of the work was to replace the tabernacle’s roof. Smaller planned projects included renovating the bathhouses, repairing the softball field to a working condition and clearing the brush piles.
The groups began this work in May with more than 100 people representing all three groups gathering to beautify the IOABA campgrounds. In addition to relationships being built, a major accomplishment that day was having a new roof placed on one of the bathhouses. Moreover, one of CBF OK’s affiliate churches was so inspired by the day’s activities that they gave an unsolicited monetary gift to help cover the costs of repairing the tabernacle, which has now been restored.
Rev. Brown believes this collaborative effort that showed Christians of different cultures and heritage working together also helped to build God’s kingdom. “Nonbelievers see that Christ has no barriers, that we are one and it is a witness to others.”
In addition to the work restoring the campgrounds, the groups also plan to take collective action to engage with and encourage third graders, their parents and teachers at at-risk urban schools in Oklahoma City to help them “raise the grade.” Reading devices will be purchased to equip classrooms with a valuable tool that can aid students with word recognition and reading comprehension.
Rev. Brown believes that this work was especially significant for Native American Baptists. Since most churches in the OIABA are small, the partnership made it possible for them to complete the work to the campgrounds and make new friendships.
“For us, a lot of people don’t get out of their small churches or their small towns. But, through the Covenant of Action there was a lot of sharing of resources, time and commitment. We helped each other through the need.”