Black Baptists urged to move from 'pulpit to the pavement'

March 12, 1994|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

Men and women of all ages, teen-agers and even little children came to be challenged and reassured, comforted and filled with the determination to make a better world.

"I want you to decide that your life is going to make a difference in this city, this state, this nation," exhorted Pia Taylor, a lively lay leader from West Baltimore's Timothy Baptist Church. Her class was attended by about 100 polite, mostly eager boys and girls, ages 12 to 14. Many hands were raised with questions and answers.

In another, quieter class, the Rev. John A. Lunn, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore, offered guidance to young adults concentrating on four social problems: AIDS, alcohol abuse, homelessness and teen-age pregnancy.

"The wellness of the whole person -- the physical, the emotional, the social, the intellectual -- is centered on the spiritual," Dr. Lunn said.

Among the dozens of speakers and discussion facilitators, a veteran pastor from Michigan was the star attraction.

"I contend that the black church is too silent in the midst of world-shaking problems," declared the Rev. Frederick G. Sampson, pastor of Detroit's Tabernacle Baptist Church. "Unfortunately, in many areas, we're permitting the social issues to eclipse the spiritual issues."

His listeners, more than 2,000 strong, were the cheerful, spirited clergy and laity from about 30 black Baptist congregations in Baltimore and across Maryland.

On five successive nights this week, beginning Monday and concluding yesterday, they converged on the bright, carpeted expanses of New Shiloh Baptist Church, an imposing, modern complex of red brick that fills a square block at Clifton Avenue and Monroe Street.

The churchgoers' cars were parked bumper to bumper in long double lines in every direction. The neighborhood, directly south of Mondawmin Mall, was patrolled by the church's small army of watchful, though friendly, security guards.

Drawn by the annual institute sponsored by the United Baptist Missionary Convention of Maryland and Auxiliaries, the participants scattered on their arrival at 7 p.m. each day to the handsome Harold A. Carter Chapel, to the many classrooms, meeting rooms and wide hallways, to all corners and both levels of New Shiloh's spacious main sanctuary for 39 seminars, workshops and leadership training sessions.

Shortly before 9 p.m., they came together for worship in word and song and to hear the "Encounter Challenge and Theme Emphasis" delivered daily by Dr. Sampson.

The visiting preacher's theme for the week was "Challenges Beyond the Pew."

"The black church must leave the altar and relocate in the arena, relocate in the midst of the world," he said Thursday night. "From the pulpit to the pavement!"

The Detroit pastor recited an agonizing litany of concerns: "Drugs, AIDS, housing, crime in the streets, moral corruption in government, a general lack of ethics, racism." Yet, in the face of such challenges, he said, his message is never despair but hope, "for we have the answer in our spiritual dimension."

Dr. Sampson called on the federal government to "give us the kind of human rights at home that we cry out for abroad."

While he chose not to bring up the controversy over remarks by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and aide Khallid Abdul Muhammad about Jews and Roman Catholics, Dr. Sampson said in an interview that he saw inconsistencies in the demands that blacks censure the Nation of Islam.

xTC Contending that similar demands are not made of white Americans in the case of the Ku Klux Klan "or senators that say things we disagree with," Dr. Sampson asked, "Why should our nation constantly call on black leaders to confront other black leaders?"

On the subject of gays and lesbians, the church must be evenhanded, the preacher said. "We are in need of healing. I'm not suffering from homophobia." Homosexual promiscuity and heterosexual fornication are equally "an abomination in the sight of God," he said, "and the seven deadly sins are also." He referred to the sins of pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.

As for the integrity and vitality of the old, traditional black congregations, Dr. Sampson said, "The black church challenges herself. The politicians don't do that. They let their constituencies color their speeches.

"But the black Baptist preacher is different. He will challenge the congregation from whom he needs to get the cash to carry on."

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