COMMENTARY | Meredith Flynn
One of the major stories out of last year’s Leadership Summit hosted by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was the negative reaction on social media. In fact, the “Reporter’s Notebook” column space in the following issues of the Illinois Baptist was devoted to “angry birds” who spoke out on Twitter about the speaker line-up, the subject matter, and the opinions expressed.
It seemed like almost everything that was said (or tweeted or blogged) at last year’s meeting made somebody mad.
This year, not so much. Yes, there was some chatter, according to tweets after the event, about Baptists having an agenda for tackling this year’s topic, racial reconciliation. At least one poster noted the Southern Baptist Convention should be honest about its past in regards to slavery and racial division. (One whole panel discussion and pieces of other messages were devoted to the topic.)
But most of the Twitter feedback was positive. Maybe it was because much of it came from inside the summit. Racial reconciliation may not have drawn the same large online audience as last year’s topic: sexuality. Or, there’s this possibility: At its core, the summit was a meeting about a problem that every Christian can identify with, and one for which even those outside the church see the need for a solution.
Divisions exist around racial identity, and in recent days, they have been especially ugly, violent, frightening and real.
Leaders at the summit seemed to view racism as a common enemy. And, for Christians, as sin. There are some things you don’t do anymore once you have a relationship with Christ, said recent Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter.
“Don’t tell me you’re saved and still lying like a rug. Don’t tell me you’re saved and still cussing like a sailor. Don’t tell me you’re saved and still mean as a pit bull. Don’t tell me you’re saved and still don’t like someone because of the color of their skin.”
From the podium in Nashville, summit speakers talked about racial division as a universal problem, and a universal responsibility. Thabiti Anyabwile compared having skewed ideas about racial identity to walking into a cafeteria and seeing one table of diners that look like you, and one that doesn’t. You immediately think the table that looks like you has something in common with you, and is therefore safe for you.
“The mind is a relentless stereotyper,” Anyabwile said. No matter who you are. At the ERLC Summit, speakers and attenders were unified by that knowledge, and in the belief that the gospel is the only thing that has the power to reconcile people to God and to one another.
And the angry birds, for the most part, stayed away.
Meredith Flynn is managing editor for the Illinois Baptist newspaper.