For the first time in over 100 years, the leaders and members of the nations four historic black Baptist denominations met for a joint board meeting, January 24, 2005. The 3-day gathering, which features worship services, sermons, presentations and auxiliary meetings, is intended to send a unified message to politicians from a black Baptist perspective.
"There are a lot of people who say church doesn't have anything to do with politics. Politics affects every aspect of life as it relates to the people that we preach to," said Dr. Stephen Thurston, director of the National Baptist Convention of America (NBCA), one of the denominations represented at the meeting.
''A lot of times we're talking about the same things but don't always know it because we're in four different settings,'' said the Rev. George Brooks, who heads the educational programs of the (NBCA).
The other denominations represented are: The National Baptist Convention USA (NBCUSA), the Progressive National Baptist Convention and the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America. Together, the four groups represent some 13 million congregants.
According to the Associated Press, the conventions believe if they speak together, theyll speak with a louder voice, and someone will hear. The leaders plan to discuss the war in Iraq, the economy and the rights of American citizens.
''There has to be more focused effort to include minorities in the mainstream of this nation's life,'' NBCUSA's William Shaw said, ''in terms of ownership of economic resources, inclusion in the political structure, educational commitment, and changing the practices that make for the incarceration of so many people of color."
We want politicians to know that the black church has power,'' the Rev. James Thomas of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist in Nashville said Tuesday. ``We're going to be speaking on social, political and spiritual issues.''
"The Republicans that don't want us and the Democratic Party that don't know us, he continued. "We need to get America to pay attention, in America. America, putting all of our issues on the back burner as historically done in the past.
Politics aside, most of the nearly 10,000 members in attendance are focused on the historic implication of the first-of-its-kind gathering.
We have already accomplished a tremendous amount of unity and camaraderie,'' said Dr. Major L. Jemison, Progressive National Baptist Convention president.
The four denominations were once united as one body, but they began splintering over policy and operation disagreements over the last century.
The first division occurred in 1915, creating the National Baptist Convention USA and the National Baptist Convention of America in Shreveport, La. The two groups clashed over the ownership of the conventions publishing house.
The second division occurred when the Progressive-National Baptist Convention broke away in 1961 over disagreements in tenure policy for management. Some 30 years late, the National Missionary split from the National Baptist Convention of America over governing disputes.
The largest of the four groups is the Nashville-based National Baptist Convention USA. The gathering, slated for January 24-27, 2005, at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee, can be viewed online here