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ERLC turns to race issue for March summit

NASHVILLE (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s ethics entity has announced a summit on race relations in the wake of grand jury decisions regarding police killings of black men that have provoked widespread protests and a nationwide discussion.

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will hold a leadership summit with the theme “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” March 26-27 in Nashville, it announced Thursday (Dec. 11). The ERLC previously had announced the topic of its second annual leadership summit on the same dates would be developing a pro-life ethic but changed the topic in response to recent events.

On Dec. 3, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a white police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner despite a widely viewed video of the incident. The failure to indict also occurred in spite of a ruling by the New York City medical examiner’s office that Garner’s death was a homicide.

That decision in a New York City borough followed by only nine days a St. Louis County grand jury’s refusal to indict a white police officer in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. No incriminating video existed of Brown’s August death in Ferguson, Mo., and witnesses provided conflicting accounts.

Extensive criticism and protests — as well as discussion about the different perspectives by many blacks and whites on the decisions — continue in response to both incidents.

In announcing March’s summit, the ERLC said, “[O]ur churches must reflect the united kingdom of Christ more than the divided states of America.”

ERLC President Russell Moore explained why relations between people of different skin colors and ethnicities are a Gospel issue.

“The New Testament is clear that the Gospel reconciles us not only to God but also to each other,” Moore said in a written release. “Racism and injustice are not just social ills; they are sins against God. Racial reconciliation is a matter of what Gospel we believe and to what mission we’ve been called.

“This summit will help equip us to tear down carnal divisions, to bring about peace, so that churches reflect the kingdom of God,” he said.

Joining Moore as speakers at the summit will be such African American leaders as John Perkins, Fred Luter and H.B. Charles as well as Hispanic pastor Juan Sanchez. Currently, the scheduled speakers are:

— Perkins, an author and leading evangelical voice in the civil rights movement.

— Luter, first African American president of the SBC and senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.

— Charles, pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla.

— Sanchez, preaching pastor of High Pointe Baptist Church in Austin, Texas.

— Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.

— Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

— Kevin Smith, assistant professor of preaching at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville.

— D.A. Horton, national coordinator for urban student missions at the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board.

— Trillia Newbell, an author and the ERLC’s consultant for women’s initiatives.

— David Prince, pastor of preaching at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., and associate preaching professor at Southern Seminary.

— Josh Smith, lead pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas.

The summit will take place nearly 20 years after messengers to the SBC’s 1995 meeting adopted a racial reconciliation resolution. The statement expressed repentance for the convention’s past racism and asked African Americans for forgiveness. The meeting also will occur within a week of the 50th anniversary of the voting rights march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery.

The Staten Island grand jury’s decision not to issue an indictment in Garner’s death elicited expressions of grief from both black and white Southern Baptists.

K. Marshall Williams, president of the SBC’s National African American Fellowship, called the grand jury’s action an “outrageous verdict” that is “a clarion call to us to be light in the midst of so much darkness.”

Moore was “stunned speechless,” he said. “We hear a lot about the rule of law — and rightly so. But a government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice.”

The ERLC said it plans to incorporate its plans for a pro-life summit into a major conference on the issue in partnership with January’s March for Life in 2016 in Washington, D.C.

The ERLC’s first leadership summit, held in April, was on the Gospel and sexuality.

Information on the March racial reconciliation summit is available at [URL=http://erlc.com/summit2015/]ERLC summit 2015[URL].