Florida Baptists work for racial unity

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Earlier this week Lifeway Research released a survey of 1000 protestant pastors titled, “The Church, Racial Reconciliation and Racial Diversity”. It found that pastors desire racial diversity and that churches are making moves—even if slowly—towards racial integration and reconciliation in their congregations and communities.

In Florida, Baptists are celebrating and encouraging diversity and racial reconciliation in different ways but all with the purpose of uniting all people under the Gospel.

On Sunday March 18th, over 600 people came together in Pensacola for the Second Annual Unity March led by pastor Ronald Lentine, Myrtle Grove Baptist Church.

“Fourteen different churches were represented at the march and seven different denominations”, said Lentine. Not only that but there were also people from many different ethnic and racial backgrounds including Vietnamese, Filipino, Hispanic, African-American and Anglo.

Originally the group was going to march from Myrtle Grove Methodist to the nearby Escambia High School football stadium, but the rain caused the march to stop about half way at Myrtle Grove Baptist Church.

“Last year we had about 500 people come and this year we were expecting close to a thousand,” said Lentine. Still he was pleased that between 600 to 700 folks participated despite the rain because it showed they were all committed to the cause for unity.

“We did it like a mini Billy Graham revival, just focused on the Gospel,” he said.

In Jacksonville three churches of different ethnic backgrounds have formed a partnership to worship together every month with a 5th Sunday as a way of fostering racial unity and reconciliation. Jones Road Baptist Church, a mostly Anglo church partnered with Genesis Missionary Baptist Church, a predominantly African-American church and Biltmore Baptist Church, a primarily Anglo congregation in a community that is mostly African-American.  Orvin Feliciano, pastor of Jones Road Baptist Church, told reporter Nicole Kalil that he “want[s] to break the racial divide and behave like brothers and sisters in Christ.”

In Miami a group of multicultural pastors have been meeting regularly discussing and planning unity events one of which is the upcoming One Family in Christ Beach Baptism on May 5.  The South Florida pastors who make up this group are Guillermo Fernandez, Carlos Carbonell, Julio Piñeiro, Noel Lozano, Alberto Ocaña, Ricardo Peters, Erik Cummings, Willy Williams, Sherard Burns and Chris Hudson.

The event, to take place at Bill Baggs Cape State Park, will be followed by another baptism event on May 6 planned by the Miami Hispanic Fellowship of Baptist Churches.  The purpose of these events is to show that despite nationality, ethnic or racial background, all people are made one in Christ.

While significant steps are being taken towards racial unity, it’s important not to lose momentum and be aware of the obstacles.

Rick Wheeler, lead missional strategist of the Jacksonville Baptist Association, said that “In our preaching and teaching we must be clear that Jesus comes first and through our faith in him we are united at a much deeper level than any of our cultural differences.”

By Keila Diaz, Florida Baptist Convention, March 22, 2018

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