As South Carolina Baptists, we have a unique opportunity before us on Tuesday evening, Nov. 13. We have been invited to hold our annual worship service during our state convention at Mother Emanuel Church in downtown Charleston where nine black Christians were murdered in June of 2015.
Pastor Eric Manning has graciously offered us this invitation to come to this historic sanctuary for our corporate worship service. The worship will be designed to honor Christ above all with great music and anointed preaching. The plans for the evening, as exciting as they are, will be eclipsed by the silent witness of the blood stains on the floor in the basement below. The building itself will magnify God’s limitless grace in ways no other place can.
The killer went to Emanuel Church on that fateful Wednesday night in order to foment a race war as he mercilessly killed nine people who had welcomed him to hear God’s Word taught. The city was in shock as the news spread, and other cities had gone up in flames over much less. Everyone wondered what would happen next. No war broke out, largely because the families of the Emanuel Nine showed the grace found only in the Cross of Christ to forgive the killer. The grieving families of Mother Emanuel chose to live the reconciling power of God, and the city of Charleston, the state of South Carolina, the nation and the world got a glimpse of the most powerful force known to humanity: God’s amazing grace.
Three years later, Mother Emanuel is hosting the evening session of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Honestly, it’s another act of grace on the part of Emanuel. They are inviting us into their spiritual home so that we may experience something of their lives. The events of June 2015 brought a new conviction to my own life: that I must work toward gospel-oriented racial reconciliation.
Many of us in white communities think racial problems are over, that racial discrimination is a thing of the past. We are ready to move on. I have had moments when I thought exactly that. My black friends have helped me to see that reconciliation is not a simple matter of moving on, but listening and taking time to understand those whose lives have been seriously affected by racial hatred. Authentic Christian love calls us to build those bridges over the racial divide. Nothing else can do it but relationships built on gospel grace.
That’s where politics gets in the way. I have had friends suggest that what we are doing may be interpreted by some as political. Allow me to be as blunt as possible here: I hate the politics of race. Why? Because politics can never be the pathway for racial reconciliation. Only the gospel can bring true and lasting reconciliation. The political world is filled with craven cowards reciting meaningless racial platitudes in an effort to gain an advantage. Even our best public servants have limits on what they can do, and renewing hearts is clearly outside of their capacity. The atonement of Christ is the one and only basis of our reconciliation to God and to one another.
This annual meeting’s theme is “Building Bridges,” a theme that centers on the gospel, which is God’s reconciling work to build a bridge to us. I am asking Baptists to join together in Charleston on Nov. 13-14 to focus on building bridges to the lost in our state, our nation and around the world. On that Tuesday night, I am praying we have a work of God in our hearts to move us to bridge the racial divide. When the world sees the power of the gospel to reconcile people who have been separated by race, they will notice God’s power like never before. Be a part of the miracle — no politics, just gospel.
— Marshall Blalock is pastor of Charleston First Baptist Church and president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.