Mirror-image news again: Mother Emanuel hosts historic racial-reconciliation service

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to give thanks for a recent event linked to racial reconciliation in the deep South, a worship service held in a highly symbolic sanctuary.

I will get to that in a moment.

But first, let’s engage in another “mirror image” experiment. This is a common GetReligion device in which we create a news story — an upside-down or inside-out version of a real story — and then ask what kind of mainstream news coverage it would have received.

So, let’s imagine that the leader of the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, had traveled south to preach at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. Readers may recall that Curry delivered a long and spectacular sermon at the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It was quite a scene.

Readers will, of course, remember that Mother Emanuel was the site of the massacre by white supremacist Dylann Roof, who gunned down eight worshippers during an evening Bible study.

So let’s say that Curry comes to this holy ground to preach on racial reconciliation. The church is packed and another 400 people watch the service on closed-circuit video in another sanctuary nearby.

My question: Would this event have received significant coverage in local, regional and even national media?

I am guessing that the answer is “yes.”

Now, the mirror-image question: Was it news when Southern Baptists — led by South Carolina Baptist Convention President Marshall Blalock — filled Mother Emanuel for a “Building Bridges” worship service, praying for racial reconciliation in their state and in America as a whole? Yes, 400 more watched a closed-circuit feed at Citadel Square Baptist Church.

Was it news? As best I can tell, with online searches, the answer is “no.” This surprises me, since Southern Baptists statements on race have made news in recent years. Maybe that’s an old story now?

Anyway, here is some key material from Baptist Press:

"I don't know if we've ever been in a more sacred place," Blalock told messengers and guests. "As we gather in Mother Emanuel Church, the place itself speaks to us of the power of faith in Christ Jesus. We're in a place of safety because, while it's where hearts were broken, it's also the place where the life-saving power of God's grace is."

Blalock's heart was changed in the months following the race-motivated murders at Mother Emanuel on June 17, 2015, he said, when he realized there was unintentional segregation in his own network of relationships. …

Ronnie Floyd, who emphasized racial unity during his Southern Baptist Convention presidency 2014–2015, was among guest speakers; joined by host pastor Eric Manning, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) assistant professor Walter Strickland, and Anthony Thompson, whose wife Myra died in the 2015 shooting.

It was a day for blunt talk by Southern Baptists — black and white.

As an African American and a Southern Baptist, Strickland admitted to being "confounded at what to say … in this building filled with a number of Southern Baptists, with our thorny past marked by the affirmation of slavery that sends reverberations into the present day."

Strickland, SBTS associate vice president for Kingdom Diversity Initiatives, praised the host church. "Emanuel has not allowed foiled slave revolts, arson or a massacre to thwart a vision for making Christ known and hastening the coming of His kingdom," Strickland said.

Ah, but what about, well, you know who? Were there any references to the man in the White House, the font of all news value in this day and age. After all, Southern Baptists are supposed to be best buds with the spirit of the Donald Trump age. Right?

If mainstream reporters had been present for this worship service, I would have hoped that someone would have asked a follow-up question about the remarks by former SBC president Floyd. Read carefully:

"Racism is an assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Floyd said. "When you belong to Jesus, you belong to love. You forfeit your right to choose whom you will love."

He recalled the 2015 SBC Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio. The evening of July 16, messengers were on their knees praying for the country to have a spiritual awakening. Less than 24 hours later, he began hearing the shocking news coming out of Charleston.

"It was genuine grief," Floyd said. "It felt like Satan had seen us on our face before God and said, 'I'll show you'.

"But you showed the world what love is," Floyd said, gesturing toward Thompson. "Love is God's way to build bridges.

"Southern Baptists, you are not known by your creeds, songs, doctrine, knowledge, achievements, dress, appearance or color of your skin," Floyd said. "You are only known by His love and His love through you."

Living out the Gospel brings credibility to what the church believes, Floyd said.

"We need to live it out," he said. "We need to stop letting our nation define who we are. Love is the one note of the true church."

“Letting our nation define who we are”? Print it.

So, did any other news agencies print a news report about this historic, and highly symbolic, gathering?

I found only one: At Black Christian News Network One.

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