(Trice Edney Wire) – If the Rev. Dr. Jerry Young, the new president of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., has his way, things will change in the Black community from the leadership down to the grassroots.
Young dreams of a day when Black leaders across the nation will set aside any competition and self-orientation that may exist. And then come to the table as servants to hone out an agenda that will successfully combat the devastating effects of the economic and social ills in the Black community.
“We’ve got to come to the table. And we’ve got to determine that God has not given us these gifts for competition but rather for cooperation,” says Young, elected Sept. 4. “And we’ve got to determine that we’re going to work collectively as a group to partner together to help bring about a renaissance in our communities. That’s what has to happen.”
Young rose to the top position from the office of the vice president at-large under the now former presidency of Dr. Julius Scruggs. Leading a membership of 33,000 churches that make up the largest Black religious organization in the nation, Young now has the national pulpit for the next five years to help make the renaissance happen.
“I am certainly going to do everything I can to seek to bring people to the table because here again this is a strong conviction of mine, that we must hold all of our leaders accountable and that all of our leaders have got to come to the table with a servant attitude who actually embrace the idea that God does not give to me what he gives to me for me, but for his glory and for the good of people,” Young says. “And I think that’s what we’ve got to do. I think we’ve got to come to the table.”
Gross economic disparities; police brutality and killings; mass incarceration; Black on Black homicides; roll backs of civil rights; and major health disparities are just some of the issues facing Black America that Young says must be addressed in a way that effects change for the nation as a whole. “We have got to be concerned about America – period – as well as our community.”
Young reportedly won about half (3,195) of all votes cast (6,400) for five candidates in last week’s election during the Baptist’s 134th Annual Convention in New Orleans. Therefore, he also apparently has the support to forge his vision.
A native of Scott, Miss., Young said the Black church has fallen from the leadership and advocacy role it once held during the civil rights movement. This could be largely because other organizations, including para-church organizations, have moved into that role, he said. He described a para-church as “those who operate outside of the traditional church, whatever those organizations are.”
He said there are many individual churches that are still active and vibrant. But using the parable of the “frog and the kettle” he illustrated the general state of the Black Church as it relates to social justice:
“A frog is placed in this water. The water is quite comfortable and gradually they increase the heat and because they do it gradually the frog literally remains in the water until the water kills him because he’s unaware that the temperature is changing,” he said. “Now had that water been hot all along then obviously the frog would have undoubtedly left that water a long time ago. But that’s what happens when things creep very slowly, very slowly, very slowly. And I think that has happened in the context of the church because of so many other para-church organizations that are involved.”
Fitting the description of the para-church are organizations like the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Actual network. Young did not specifically name these civil rights leaders; nor their organizations. But Jackson and Sharpton – both with roots in the Baptist church – are notably among America’s most prominent civil rights leaders and those who are most often on the forefront of issues related to injustices against Black people.
“Those of us who are privileged to be in leadership have got to come up with an agenda to deal with these ills in our community. We must,” Young insists. “Otherwise, why are we in leadership positions?”
Pastor of the New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss. for 34 years, Young’s vision of helping people largely springs from his childhood experiences. Having grown up in the South during the civil rights movement, Young says he will continue to draw from his roots in order to address social ills.
“I was born on a Mississippi plantation. I grew up as a boy on the plantation in the Mississippi Delta,” he recalls. “I have seen the worst that there is to see. And I have seen people exploited, dehumanized, and all the rest. I’ve been here all my life. And now that God has granted me the privilege to serve in this position, my greatest desire is to use this position to do good for other people. How can I make a difference in terms of the quality of life for people? How can I bring glory to God? That’s what I want to do. Show me where I can do that and Jerry Young will be right there.”
The National Baptist Convention was lauded by President Barack Obama, who sent videotaped remarks focused on its historic works.
“For 128 years, you’ve been bending the arch of the moral universe closer to justice by working to advance equality and opportunity and respect for all,” President Obama said. “On some of the most urgent challenges of our history, from the fight for equal voting rights to giving all of our children a chance at a world-class education, you’ve been out in front reminding us what’s right, pushing us to do better and to be better.” Obama also thanked the organization for their support of My Brothers’ Keeper, his staple mentorship program, announced last year.
Young says he has a particular heart for youth and education. His 3,000-member New Hope Baptist has “one of the best schools in the nation”. Students go from 6 months to 4 years old; then from kindergarten to the sixth grade. His congregation is currently building a new church that will teach students to the 8th grade.
Now on the national stage, Young says he has “absolutely no desire to become a celebrity” – only to remain a servant. He says balancing spiritual evangelism with social activism has always been the appropriate role of the church. God’s call to Christians is to be both spiritually and socially responsible, he says.
“I think the church has to, without a doubt, embrace a dual role within the community. We’ve got to be evangelistic. That’s priority number one. But, by the same token, we have to be socially responsible,” he says. “The God who is the God of our justification is the same God who is concerned about justice. I think that has to be clearly understood within the context of the church.”