Alabama’s Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has launched a “Let Justice Roll Down” initiative to bring a goodwill Baptist public witness to bear on issues like racism, poverty, equality of women, education and constitutional reform.
Kicked off at last month’s Alabama CBF spring meeting, the campaign draws from the admonition of the Old Testament prophet Amos to “let justice roll down like waters (Amos 5:24).” In a Baptist Center for Ethics-produced YouTube video accompanying this story, Alabama CBF Coordinator Brent McDougal says the task must begin at home.
“Helping our churches to understand that delivering justice and making justice a pro-family value is a very difficult task, because for so many churches it is not even close to how they conceive of their mission and the way that they practice their faith,” McDougal says. “We’ve got to begin by helping churches to embrace the cause of justice as an important part of what they do week to week as the people of God. We’ve got to help them see that God’s command to do justice is a mandate.”
Sarah Shelton, pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, Ala., describes a “pro-family experiment in justice” she participated in two years ago, when she took her 10-year-old son with her to Africa to do HIV testing with oral swabs. Together, they watched while a Maassai warrior reacted with excitement upon learning he was not HIV-positive, but her son was the one who told her the 16-year-old girl in front of them had tested positive. He read the test, showed it to his mother and sat beside her as they discussed with the girl what her future might look like.
“One of the hard things about justice is how do you bring it down to my family,” says David Hull, pastor of First Baptist Church in Huntsville. “Essentially justice is about making something right. And what is more of a family value than that?”
Pastors interviewed in the video–produced by BCE Executive Director Robert Parham and EthicsDaily.com Culture Editor Cliff Vaughn–offer a laundry list of justice issues they see facing the state’s Baptists. They include the equality of women, treatment of the poor, racism and a lack of dialogue between races, an educational system that hurts the poor, poverty and hunger, immigration, illiteracy and reforming Alabama’s constitution–a 1901 document that critics say locks in a tax system that unduly burdens the poor.
“On a personal level I think it’s important that Christians develop a sense of fairness about all of these issues,” says Gary Burton, pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church in Hope Hull, Ala. “Something in us ought to recoil at the thought of people being treated unjustly.”
At their spring meeting, Alabama CBF participants adopted a resolution joining United Methodists, American Baptists, Episcopalians and other Christians in voicing support for the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.
The blueprint goals address eight initiatives: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating a global partnership for development.
The Alabama CBF resolution affirmed “the spirit and character of the moral vision” represented in the Millennium Development Goals and called for establishing a work group to “find intentional, practical ways in which we can join other world citizens to work toward the fulfillment of these goals.”
In the video, McDougal says the message of justice for all could open doors for goodwill Baptists.
“If the Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship becomes known statewide as a ‘let justice roll down’ organization, we’ll be known as a friend to the poor,” McDougal says. “We’ll be coming alongside those who have the greatest needs in Alabama, and thereby have an avenue to share the gospel.”
“The second thing is we’re going to see genuine transformation take place,” he says. “We’re going to see the poor lifted up. We’re going to see the year of Jubilee come to those to whom Jesus also came to serve when he was on the earth.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.