One of the great blessings of our Oklahoma Baptist family is its pronounced diversity. While Oklahoma Baptists, on the whole, are white middle class, we increasingly have become multi-racial and multi-socioeconomic in our background. In fact, Oklahoma Baptists are the most diverse denomination in Oklahoma, and the same is true of Southern Baptists in our nation.
Because my ministry takes me to a different church nearly every Sunday, I see and experience this amazing variety and flavor of our Baptist family. Worshiping in so many different settings is exhilarating and exciting.
Recently, I had the unique experience of being in one of our African-American churches on the Sunday before the Martin Luther King holiday. I had never had this opportunity before and was so blessed to see the significance of this day through the eyes of our black Oklahoma Baptist people.
Of first priority was worship of the Living Lord. While we applauded Dr. King and his achievements for racial equality, our greatest and highest praise was focused on King Jesus. And, oh, how we did worship our Savior! I am always touched by the simplicity of the music in our traditional black churches. For example, one song humbly and yet triumphantly said, “He brought me through this, and He brought me through that.” I had the distinct feeling that many with whom I sang could identify, as did I, with the faithfulness of God in every circumstance of life. He has never failed us in the “this and that” of life.
I was blessed to preach the Gospel during the service. My aim was to declare that all in Christ could be “free at last.” I love preaching in an African-American church. The congregation listens intently and encourages the preacher when he declares God’s truth. Preaching is not a monologue, but a team effort. When you have a preacher, the Holy Spirit, and the people engaged, God does a work.
At the end of the service, young people read excerpts from major events involving the efforts of Dr. King and others of his day who stood for the truth that “all men are created equal.” As I watched and listened, clearly the people gathered understood the great debt owed to Dr. King and others for paying the price, so they could have full access to the American dream.
One of the most powerful moments was when a young man eloquently read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech spoken on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. Have you read the words of that masterful speech lately or ever? I would recommend you do. Better yet, go online and listen to it as it was presented. The speech is simple, but eloquent; articulate, but filled with word pictures that cannot be ignored. Prophetic and powerful, Dr. King paints a picture of America where every person is treated with dignity and respect no matter the color of his skin.
It was a moving moment as I stood hand-to-hand with my black brothers and sisters as we sang the old spiritual, “We shall overcome some day.” For the first time, I felt the depth of the meaning of that song for them.
Dr. King was not worshipped, but revered by our African-American brothers—he should be. The best picture I can think to give understanding to those of us who are Anglo Baptists would be our respect of Lottie Moon. Clearly, something deep within the presenters and the people on that Sunday connected to the life and work of Dr. King.
That Sunday experience was an important one for me. I am so thankful that we, as Oklahoma Baptists, are not separated by race. In the end, we are not black, white, brown, or yellow—we are the people of God saved by His grace through faith in His Son. Nothing more nor nothing less. We are one in the Spirit of Christ. We cannot allow the color of our skin to divide us. Oklahoma Baptists are better because of our diversity.
I thank God, Walter Wilson, and the fine people of Lawton, Friendship for this extraordinary day. I was blessed.