Summer is in full swing, and people all across the country have fired up their grills, purchased their summer wardrobes, and started traveling. For Black folks, summer often means family reunions (especially after the pandemic lockdown), barbecues (cookouts/kickbacks/get-togethers/BBQs), and finding things for the kids to do (like sports, activities, or playing outside). We all look forward to summer vacations, summer hours, and summer…denominational general conferences?
For whatever reason (probably the pandemic), 2021 has been the year of many denominational general conferences when the saints of God have gathered together to elect new leadership, hear inspiring teaching, and debate church policy. Some people are not looking forward to these conferences every few years, and many believers don’t even know they are happening. A lot of us don’t even have denominations to host conferences, and we’re fortunate if our church leadership gets together with other leaders to decide how to more effectively love God and love people.
But more than ever, people are actually hearing about these conferences, usually because of controversy. We have heard everything from debates about same sex marriage to whether systemic racism is real. We have seen rejoicing and anxiety over the appointment of new leaders, reports of how to handle abuse and instructions on how to handle finances. And many Christians ask, why are we having these conferences? Why are these issues being debated? Why aren’t we just doing what the Bible says?
Well, we are actually doing exactly what the Bible says. The Bible is where we find the church resolving debates over contemporary issues and developing administration together in Acts 6, the commissioning of Barnabas and Paul (Saul) in Acts 13, and the first church-wide conference at Jerusalem in Acts 15. At that conference, the Gospel was articulated for Gentiles. Plus, we see Apollos teaching right doctrine after meeting with Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18. There is no law in scripture for every situation, especially as the world changes and God continues calling us to follow Him. We need a relationship with God and the power of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. It was the Pharisees and Sadducees who believed they could keep the letter of the law perfectly and had no need for God’s Spirit to lead them.
In the Old Testament, we read that before any major decisions were made, the kings of Israel sought wise counsel–not just as advice–but as wisdom from collaboration. The prophets, priests, and advisors would weigh in, and they would all pray to receive God’s wisdom for leadership. In the New Testament, we read that the apostles and elders were accountable to the community of believers and met together to pray and seek God’s guidance and receive instruction for the churches they led. None of these people were perfect.n the contrary, God met them with wisdom in the midst of their flaws.
We should continue to value church conferences and approach them with honor and hope. We cannot take for granted that many believers across the world cannot gather together publicly in general, let alone in large conferences. We should embrace and celebrate our opportunities to do so. If God was able to show up with wisdom for believers in the Bible, we know that despite our flaws and problems, God can show up for us with wisdom as well.
The virtual choir of Grace Baptist Church performs ‘I Am Thine,’ which was included in the April 19, 2020, online service from the Mount Vernon, New York, church. Video screengrab
Top officials of seven black Christian denominations have joined civil rights leaders in calling for people to stay home until it is safe in states whose governors are lifting shelter-in-place orders.
“We regard this pandemic as a grave threat to the health and life of our people, and as a threat to the integrity and vitality of the communities we are privileged to serve,” they wrote in a statement released Friday (April 24). “For these reasons, we encourage all Black churches and businesses to remain closed during this critical period.”
The signatories include leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; Christian Methodist Episcopal Church; Church of God in Christ; National Baptist Convention of America, International, Inc.; National Baptist Convention, U.S.A. Inc.; and Progressive National Baptist Convention Inc.
Some of those denominations have tallied or been the subject of reports of COVID-19 deaths among their clergy and members.
“The denominations and independent churches represented in this statement, which comprise a combined membership of more than 25 million people and more than 30,000 congregations, intend to remain closed and to continue to worship virtually, with the same dedication and love that we brought to the church,” they added.
The denominational officials and faith leaders, including the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson of the Conference of National Black Churches and the Rev. Al Sharpton of the National Action Network, joined presidents of the NAACP, the National Urban League and other groups as signatories.
They noted that an April 21 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 20% of the COVID-19 deaths in the United States were of African Americans. In comparison, blacks constitute 13% of the U.S. population.
“Across the country, we see the same disproportionate impact,” they said. “Our families need us. Our communities need us. We must continue to telework wherever possible, and to tele-worship for however long it is necessary to do so.”
The letter comes in the same week the conservative law firm Liberty Counsel has organized a “ReOpen Church Sunday” initiative, encouraging clergy to begin in-person worship again on the weekend of May 3. That Sunday falls in the same week as the annual observance of the National Day of Prayer.
According to The Hill, some governors have never issued stay-at-home orders, others’ mandates are expiring within days, and still, others stated no end date.
Likewise, states have varied widely in their decision to have or not have religious exemptions in their orders about staying at home.
The black church officials and civil rights advocates said they understand some people may believe they need to be involved in public life. The leaders urged those who do to follow precautions about physical distancing and wearing masks.
“We do not take it lightly to encourage members of our communities to defy the orders of state governors,” they added. “But we are compelled by our faith, by our obligation as servants of God, and by our commitment as civil rights leaders, to speak life into our communities. Our sacred duty is to support and advance the life and health of Black people, families, and communities in our country.”