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No reconciliation without cross, NAAF guest says

PHILADELPHIA (BP) — Gus Roman, pastor emeritus of Canaan Baptist Church in Philadelphia, looked at Southern Baptist executive David Waltz and said aloud, “You remind me of that fellow who kicked me in my stomach.”

Roman, 82 and black, grew up in Louisiana during the Jim Crow South; Waltz, white, grew up a pastor’s son in the Pittsburg suburb of Mount Lebanon.

“I know what it is to be in the [New Orleans] French Market shining shoes as a boy,” Roman said, “and a gentleman, a white gentleman, somewhat inebriated, when it came time for him to pay me the quarter or whatever it was, he gave me a kick in the stomach.”

Roman, a longtime pastor and member of the predominantly black National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., and Waltz, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania/South Jersey, addressed the issue of racial reconciliation at the Kingdom Symposium of the National African American Fellowship [NAAF] of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“I don’t like you,” Roman said allegorically to Waltz. “But fortunately, I love Jesus. I don’t like you, but I have to find a way to live with you.

“Have I done anything to you to deserve that kick? Just a boy, trying to make a dime. Why did you do that? Can’t you see how wrong, how wrong that was?” Roman asked, continuing his allegory. “Can’t you see the [psychological] damage that you done to this boy? And that happened, oh my God, over 70 years ago. But I just can’t shake it.”

Waltz rose from his seat, strode up to Roman, thanked him and hugged him roundly.

“When I think about racism in America, like you I have been shaped by my own experiences,” Waltz said. “Each one of us has different experiences. I grew up a sheltered white boy in a suburb of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.”

Christians need to address racism, Waltz noted.

“As Christians we are living in a bubble and only kidding ourselves if we think that we can have a significant impact for Christ on a broken, hurting, dying world, when we continue to ignore brokenness and hurt, and yes racism, all around us,” Waltz told the 75 pastors and guests gathered Sept. 29–30 at Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia. “As [NAAF president and host pastor] K. Marshall Williams often says, we need a Great Commandment resurgence before we can have a Great Commission resurgence. We need to learn to love one another.”

Waltz and Roman, as well as panelist Marshal Ausberry, senior pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Va., said reconciliation can only be realized in the strength of the Holy Spirit.

“Who is the One Who can deal with me, deal with me and that kick that left a wound in me, that’s got your handsome image all messed up in my head?” Roman queried Waltz. “Who can help my eyes get cleared so I can see you [as an individual]? Nobody but the Spirit. There can be no reconciliation without the cross. There can be no reconciliation without confessing. There can be no reconciliation without the Spirit of God moving in me and even if He doesn’t move in you, it does not relieve me about allowing Him to move in me.”

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed several measures to speed racial reconciliation, including a 1995 resolution acknowledging the SBC’s racist past, seeking forgiveness, apologizing to African Americans for past racial injustices, and pledging to “eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry.”

“This racism thing is deep within the DNA,” Roman said at the symposium. “It’s what we are as minorities in this country and what whites are in this country. It’s not gone because you move a sign.”

Waltz never saw a “Colored Only” sign until he visited Ridgecrest, N.C., as a child, he said, and had to ask his mother what the term meant. But he sees clearly the results of racism and segregation today.

Not one black was among the 700 classmates who attended his 45th high school reunion in Pittsburg in September, he said, because in his 12 years of education prior to college, no blacks attended his school district.

“In fact until 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed, there was systematic exclusion of realtors not showing people houses, banks not being willing to fund a loan,” Waltz said. “As a small boy growing up in Pennsylvania, I thought racism was a Southern problem in my own naiveté.”

His racist surroundings became evident when he learned as a teenager that his sports hero, baseball great Roberto Clemente, had been blocked from buying a home in Waltz’s Mount Lebanon neighborhood.

“I couldn’t believe it and had to face the fact that racism wasn’t just something confined to the South,” Waltz said. “Racism permeated our American experience.”

Ausberry referenced the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, and Jesus’ request that the Lord’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

“We’ve got to pray His will, capture the picture of His will, and then … practice His will,” Ausberry said. “We need to be praying the will of God in the aspect of racial reconciliation. What’s His will for the church in this area of racial reconciliation? What does God want His church to look like and act like?”

Just as heaven is not segregated, neither must Christians model such divisions, Ausberry said.

“We are to be a picture of heaven on earth, a taste of heaven on earth. We are like his ambassadors on earth,” he said. “The church has got to get it right. And I submit to you if the church gets it right, then the world will get it right. … I believe the church is the rudder for turning the world.”

The church modeled the love of Christ in Charleston after Dylann Roof killed nine people at a Bible study at historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Ausberry said. Family members of the murder victims expressed their forgiveness to Roof in court proceedings, and churches gathered across denominational and racial distinctions in united expressions of sympathy.

“What a beautiful picture,” Ausberry said.

Ausberry offered practical steps of reconciliation, including interracial fellowship Sundays that involve swapping preachers as well as choirs, unity worship services focused on prayer, and sweating together in community service projects.

“Know the reason you do what you do,” Ausberry said, “is that you’re doing on earth as it is in heaven.”