BIRMINGHAM (BP) -- Marshal Ausberry says he and other blacks are often asked why they're Southern Baptist, given the Southern Baptist Convention's history of slavery, heritage of white supremacy and hiring of mostly whites.
Ausberry, president of the National African American Fellowship (NAAF), offered a defense at the George Liele Mission Support Banquet June 10 at the historic Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham.
"I believe that there is something, despite the history, the heritage and the hiring, there's something that God has for us to do and a reason why we are here for such a time as this," Ausberry said in his sermon based on 1 Peter 3:15.
"I am Southern Baptist because I have an unshakable, undeniable, unequivocal sense of being called to be Southern Baptist by the Lord Jesus Christ," he said. "It's not explainable and many of your friends may not understand.... I hope all of us have some part of us, some part of us, that feels that God has called us to be Southern Baptist."
Unity will help Southern Baptists reach the world for Christ, said Ausberry, pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, VA.
"When we get it together and be one body under God, we can sure enough make hell shudder and heaven shout," Ausberry said. "Despite our history, our heritage, our hiring, we are Southern Baptist if we're Christian, we choose to be (Southern Baptist), and because we're called."
Ausberry's sermon resonated with greetings from SBC Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd before the banquet meal was served.
"It's a real privilege to be able to join with you in partnership in the Gospel," Floyd said at the event preceding the 2019 SBC Annual Meeting. "I want us all to just remember tonight, that's what we're doing.
"It doesn't matter where we are in life, what kind of church we go to, what kind of church we pastor or lead, whatever elements or variance we have," Floyd said, "ultimately what needs to be who we are ... means that we partner together and cooperate together for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we put our eyes there, we can do a lot more than if we put our eyes anywhere else."
Defending love juxtaposed to a problematic history, Ausberry in his sermon offered guidance from the Genesis story of Joseph, who was mistreated by his brothers.
"When Joseph comes face to face with his brothers who had sold him into slavery, he could have been bitter, angry, unforgiving, and yet look what Joseph does," Ausberry said. "He loves, my God, and those beautiful words in Genesis 50:20, 'You meant it for evil, but God,'" Ausberry said, stating "but God" repeatedly, "'but God worked it out for good.'
"In our journey, some folks may have meant evil, but that's alright," Ausberry said, "God is working this thing out for good and the salvation of many."
NAAF's annual banquet was this year named for Liele, a former slave and the first Baptist missionary from North America, predating Adoniram Judson and William Carey. NAAF is working to establish an annual George Liele Day on the SBC calendar the first Sunday each February, create a George Liele scholarship, and increase awareness of Liele's contributions.
NAAF unveiled a preliminary edition of a new video on Liele's work, designed for distribution across the SBC family. NAAF presented awards to Julia Frazier White and Deborah Van Broekhoven, who authored in 2013 the book "George Liele's Life and Legacy: An Unsung Hero" with David Shannon Sr. Shannon died in 2008 before the book was completed.
Pastors honored including E.W. McCall, St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church, La Puente
Ken Weathersby, SBC EC vice president for convention advancement, honored late pastors T. Vaughn Walker and E.W. McCall, who both died this year. Walker, who pastored First Gethsemane Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., for nearly 35 years, made history as the first black professor at an SBC seminary in his position at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. McCall helped found NAAF during his 37-year pastorate of St. Stephen Missionary Baptist Church in La Puente, Calif., and was active in several areas of Southern Baptist life.
Sixth Avenue Baptist Church pastor John L. Cantelow III hosted the 6:30 p.m. banquet, preceded at 4 p.m. by NAAF's annual business meeting.
NAAF unveiled a new website at naaftogether.org and a new logo, rebranding the fellowship to better reach, unify and serve the nearly 4,000 African American Southern Baptist churches and missions. New social media emphases are planned, leaders said.
NAAF announced the addition to its slate of directors two at-large women directors and two at-large directors drawn from pastors under the age of 40. The positions, currently unfilled, would include one-year terms.
"There is a need to make sure that we hear from our sisters," Ausberry said. "They need to be in the room meeting with us.... When issues come up, we'll have resources that we can reach out to, to get that sister's perspective, not secondhand, but firsthand."
In other business, NAAF
-- updated members on its partnership with World Vision in mission trips to Kenya and Guatemala, emphasizing a continued firm commitment to the International Mission Board;
-- encouraged pastors to participate in the SBC Annual Church Profile (ACP). Among predominantly African American churches, an estimated 40 percent do not complete the ACP, Ausberry said, compared to perhaps 25 percent nonparticipation convention-wide;
-- heard an update on the NAAF partnership with Southern Baptist pastors in the U.S. Virgin Islands, created after the devastating 2017 hurricane season;
-- praised SBC progress in ethnic diversity, noting African Americans serving as state convention presidents, state executive directors, trustee board leaders, trustees and other posts.
The current slate of officers will return for an additional term. In addition to Ausberry, officers are vice president Frank Williams, pastor of Wake Eden Baptist Church and Bronx Baptist Church, both in Bronx, NY; secretary Bucas Sterling, pastor of Kettering Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, MD; treasurer John Rollins, pastor of Simeon Baptist Church in Antioch, TN; and historian Robert Wilson, pastor of Light of the World Baptist Church in Atlanta.
Also retaining their posts are eastern regional director Jerome Coleman, pastor of First Baptist Church of Cresmont, Willow Grove, PA; central regional director Jeffery Friend, pastor of Suburban Baptist Church, New Orleans; mountain regional director Garland Moore, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Milan, NM; and western regional director Kevin James, pastor of New Creation Bible Fellowship in Tracy. Retired pastor Dennis Mitchell continues as NAAF executive director.
Adron Robinson, a member of the SBC Executive Committee, delivered the devotion during the NAAF business meeting. Robinson, pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Country Club Hills, IL, focused on "A God-sent witness," based on John 1:19-34.