JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - When the President of the Southern Baptist Convention said “Black Lives Matter” on social media, it was music to the ears of one Mississippi pastor.
Dr. Jeff Parker, who has been the pastor at Southside Baptist Church on Raymond Road for 24 years, was asked to give the keynote address at the Mississippi Baptist Convention’s yearly meeting in 2001.
He knew he couldn’t give a routine speech -- it was too important. His message had to be about racial healing in Southern Baptist churches.
“That was probably one of the toughest days of my life and there’s been a lot of tears shed since then. Because the bottom line is there were hard things that needed to be said,” said the former missionary to Zimbabwe and England.
Things about serving your community regardless of racial makeup and not giving in to white flight. Pastor Mark Bowman, now at West Carthage Baptist Church, was there. At the time he was a staffer at Southside. He said Parker’s address hit on important points some people didn’t want to talk about.
“The fact that, as Martin Luther King said, 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America," said Bowman. "And he was encouraging us to do ministry together, but also to do ministry cross culturally.”
It met with both great approval and great dismay from those in attendance, and the ripple effect has continued for years. On Tuesday, Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear took to social media with a clear message:
“Southern Baptists, we need to say it clearly as a gospel issue: Black lives matter,” Greear said.
So all those years and all those tears weren’t in vain, Parker said.
“So it was good for me to hear that. And I think it’s a positive step, and I think there’s been a lot of change that’s been taking place," he said.
Southside Baptist Church under Parker, and West Carthage under Bowman, are both racially diverse and working to serve people of all races.
“Jeff Parker has always been ahead of the convention in terms of racial reconciliation, in terms of diversifying the church," said Bowman. "What you heard at the convention at First Baptist Church in Jackson was no different than what he lived, what he taught, and what he discipled us to be.”
Bowman added that Parker’s address 19 years ago would be much better received by Southern Baptists today than it was back then.