A virus broke out in early December in Little Rock, one that infects people of faith with a passion to do justice. Ground zero was, of all places, a Baptist church. And day one wasn’t even Sunday.
The outbreak almost didn’t happen. At first, nailing down a date was difficult. Panelists had schedule conflicts. Leaders worried that too few Arkansans would attend. An outside “consultant” even expressed doubt about a social justice-type event during the Christmas season.
Nonetheless, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas decided to sponsor a screening of “Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism” at the historic Second Baptist Church of Little Rock on an early December weeknight. Panelists were enlisted; some promotion was done.
Some 170 people showed up.
Organizers had promised that the event would last two hours, ending at 8:30 p.m. The program ended at 9:00. Some folk stayed around to visit for almost another hour, until the church custodian hinted they should leave so he could turn off the lights and lock up.
EthicsDaily.com reported on the details of the screening. Unreported is what the screening has sparked across the state—justice education initiatives. Simply put, the Little Rock screening has gone viral.
Chester Thompson, pastor of Zion Hill Baptist in Camden and moderator-elect of CBF of AR, has planned a screening at his church for the first Sunday in February.
A member of CBF’s national coordinating council, Thompson has arranged a DVD screening at the First Baptist Church in El Dorado, an African-American congregation, for the second Sunday in February, a date on the Southern Baptist Convention’s denominational calendar for race relations Sunday.
Steve Sheely, pastor of Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, is also planning a screening for the second Sunday in February at his church.
Fitz Hill, president of Arkansas Baptist College and a DVD interviewee, is traveling the state, showing the DVD.
One screening attendee, an older gentleman and member of Calvary Baptist Church, met Raouf Halaby, a professor at Ouachita Baptist University and a Palestinian Christian, at the screening. He then invited Halaby to speak during the Sunday school hour at his church about the pressures under which Palestinians live. Calvary Baptist announced from the pulpit and in the church’s newsletter about Halaby’s presentation.
Just Communities of Central Arkansas, an interfaith organization, is looking for ways to use “Beneath the Skin.”
CBF of AR has decided that it is going to encourage partner churches to hold screenings in February and provide DVD copies to churches that plan such events.
Goodwill Baptists ought to pay attention to what happened in Arkansas. It’s a positive model for justice education that brought Baptists and others together across racial boundaries for dialogue and fellowship. The screening was a moment that looks like it’s becoming a movement.
Imagine what could happen if other goodwill Baptists decided to replicate what took place in Little Rock.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.