When newly installed South Carolina Baptist Convention president Marshall Blalock speaks of “Building Bridges,” his theme for the coming year, the reference is more than a metaphor.
On Sunday evening, June 21, 2015 — four days after a white supremacist gunman murdered nine black Christians during a Wednesday night prayer meeting at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church — Blalock saw thousands of his native Charlestonians line the two-mile span of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge in a display of unity in the face of racist violence.
“The whole city was transformed by an act of grace that only God could inspire,” said Blalock. That act of grace, he says, was when the families of the victims stood before the killer at a bond hearing and told him they forgave him. One of the family members, Anthony Thompson, whose wife was leading the prayer meeting and was among those murdered, not only forgave the killer, he also urged him to “give [his] life to the one who loves [him] most: Jesus Christ,” Blalock said.
“As I watched and heard Anthony Thompson, it was my conclusion that God’s grace is the most powerful force known to humanity,” said Blalock. “Hatred, terror, killing — none of those things can match it.”
The city took its cue from Thompson and the other families, Blalock said. Thousands of people stood on the Ravenel Bridge — along with thousands more who couldn’t get onto the bridge — and sang “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.”
“Even the atheists were out there singing ‘Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound’ when they saw the power of God’s grace,” Blalock said.
“I knew at that moment that God had called our city and people in it like me to do all we could to bring the hope of racial reconciliation in the gospel, because I’m convinced it took God’s grace to bring that to our city,” he said.
“My whole goal from that point on is, first of all, to share God’s grace — the power of the gospel — to help break down the barriers that have kept us apart for all these centuries.” Blalock says he longs for spiritual unity as described in Revelation 7: “Around that throne there will be people of every language, every culture, every race.”
“If that’s the way heaven looks, then His church ought to look the same way,” he said.
But Blalock’s “Building Bridges” theme is about much more than racial reconciliation, he said. “Building bridges with the gospel includes much of what it means to follow Christ with our lives, and I want South Carolina Baptists to capture all of these opportunities,” he said.
“Building bridges through the gospel includes reaching to every corner of the world through our International Mission Board,” he said. “I am grateful for the efforts of churches to support and assist through praying, giving and going. This has long been on my heart and was my primary reason to support the Great Commission Resurgence initiatives the SCBC adopted seven years ago.” Blalock has invited IMB president David Platt to speak at next year’s SCBC annual meeting.
Charleston First Baptist Church, where Blalock serves as pastor, has four families serving across the world with IMB. “We are committed to being a praying, giving, sending and going church,” he said. “Our state convention has done great work this past year to look beyond ourselves to impact lostness across the world.”
Building bridges also includes church planting and revitalization in South Carolina, said Blalock. His church is sponsoring two new church plants in Charleston. “Revitalization is just as important as church planting if we are going to bridge the gap to reach the growing population in our state,” he said. “Our convention needs more healthy churches of all sizes if we are going to take the gospel to every person in South Carolina.”
Blalock said building bridges also includes “investing in leaders and including our college students.” He said he is grateful for the convention’s Baptist universities and their campus ministries “as we build bridges to the next generations.”
Another issue close to Blalock’s heart is adoption. He and his wife, Cathy, have three children, one of whom is adopted. “We know both the joys and challenges of adoption, and one of our ministries is to help adoptive families,” he said.
“Adoption is a wonderful privilege for families who are called to do so. It is a beautiful picture of God’s grace.” Blalock expressed his gratitude for the convention’s continued emphasis on adoption and foster care, “including our Connie Maxwell Children’s Home ministry partnership.”
“Building Bridges” — across racial divisions, across chasms of spiritual lostness, across broken churches and fractured families — is at the center of Blalock’s prayer for South Carolina Baptists in 2018. “It is the gospel of Christ that will enable us to build these bridges,” he said.