Racial turmoil in Baltimore commanded the nation’s attention April 27-28.
“While we watch on the screen and read what is happening in Baltimore,” Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd said, “we need to pray for our pastors and churches in Baltimore as they rise up together, calling Baltimore to a better way to live personally and collectively.
“This better way is God’s way, the gospel way,” Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas, said. “In this critical hour in our nation, the greatest hope for Baltimore and for all of America is a mighty spiritual awakening.”
Rioting, looting and arson broke out in Baltimore after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American who died of a spinal injury while in police custody 15 days earlier.
Screen capture from CNN.com
The tumult reflects the various cultural crises America faces, from race relations to whether same-sex marriage will be legalized nationally. The Supreme Court hears arguments today on the latter issue, which also has garnered the prayers of countless Baptists and evangelicals. Internationally, rescue crews are searching for survivors in Nepal of an earthquake and aftershocks that have claimed at least 4,000 lives.
In Baltimore, dozens have been arrested and injured, including more than a dozen Baltimore police officers.
Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, in comments about the upheaval in Baltimore, called on Southern Baptists to pray for the city. “Specifically, I ask us to pray in earnest for the ministers of the gospel who are standing in harm’s way trying to provide spiritual leadership in a divided city.
“But let’s also pray for the Gray family in their grief as well as the police officers who were wounded by a lawless group who took advantage of the situation,” Page told Baptist Press. “Pray for peace in Baltimore and, yes, justice for all those who have broken the law. It is a very sad day.”
Baltimore was the host city for the SBC’s annual meeting and Crossover evangelistic emphasis in 2014 in which volunteer teams worked alongside Baptist church members in the inner city and across the metro area. Baltimore also is one of the key cities in the North American Mission Board’s cornerstone church planting strategy, Send North America. It is the hometown of missions pioneer Annie Armstrong, for whom the SBC’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions is named.
Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called on churches to be agents of peace and reconciliation, in a statement issued to media April 27.
“There’s no question that Baltimore needs order and restraint of violence,” Moore said. “There’s no question that Baltimore needs investigation and justice in the untimely death of Freddie Gray. There’s no question that Baltimore suffers from poverty, racial injustice, family breakdown, illegal drugs, gang activity and a thousand other ailments. Government, civil society, law enforcement, and community organizations must confront all of these.
“But I would argue that the primary need Baltimore has is for the church,” said Moore, who convened a national summit of Southern Baptist leaders in March on the gospel and racial reconciliation.
“The witness of the church models for us that what we are told is normal isn’t normal at all,” Moore said, describing violence and hatred as “satanic, parasitic on a universe that God created for shalom.”
“When our consciences are formed, together, around the Lord’s table, serving one another, worshipping with one another, we are transformed to see the sort of universe God has in mind. We then work for justice and for peace, together.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)