Michael Bell
Baptist Reflections
April 1, 2008


It has been almost 15 years since three Tarrant Baptist Association pastors and I stood in the library at Broadway Baptist Church, Fort Worth, to announce the formation of an interfaith, multicultural clergy consortium that we named Tarrant Clergy for Inter-Ethnic Peace and Justice (TCIPJ). There were already other ministerial fellowships and unions that were meeting throughout the county, but none had the breadth and width of this newly organized coalition.

In a nutshell, TCIPJ was formed to promote interracial and interfaith conciliation and respect. Our group gratefully claimed an imam, priests, rabbis, and pastors as members. There were Cambodian Americans, Vietnamese Americans, Korean Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Anglo Americans, and Thai Americans who associated with our partnership. These women and men, numbering over 60, were committed to peace, goodwill, and justice. They willingly gave of their time, energy, expertise, and resources in an effort to promote healing and mitigate misunderstanding. These leaders discovered that the realities of life are experienced and processed differently by distinctive racial/ethnic communities.

Once each quarter, we would host an assembly – complete with breakouts and a plenary session – and invite the public to attend. These meetings were well-attended, fueled by the hope for meaningful community dialogue aimed at decreasing racial polarization. In November 1994, the Fort Worth Human Relations Commission recognized the work of TCIPJ “for improving and promoting positive human relations.”


After 3 or 4 years, probably because it had run its course, the group was discontinued. However, the beneficence birthed out of this effort at racial rapprochement continues, in subtle ways, today.

During the time we were together, planning and engaging each other conversationally, there was a palpable anticipation that we just might experience breakthrough. We did not have to beg, bribe, or cajole our members to attend. It seemed as though everyone knew that to ignore the unyielding truth that something needed to be done would be to sentence our community and our children to the same unresolved and unaddressed muddle that we had inherited.

It’s been over a decade now since TCIPJ closed shop, and I am yet convinced that there are still some well-intentioned women and men, on all sides, who are grieved by the loss of speech across lines of difference and the subsequent erosion of relatability. Recently, during the months leading up to the convening of the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta, I sensed a familiar undertone of optimism, tempered with caution, among the couple dozen or so African American pastors within my orb of friendship.


The presidents of the four largest African American Baptist conventions had gone on record as endorsing the New Baptist Covenant, a culturally diverse network of Baptists. The presidents even planned their winter meetings to coincide with the scheduling of the New Baptist Covenant Celebration. There was a distinct air of anticipation, especially among a good number of African American church leaders, about the Atlanta gathering. I, along with an appreciable number of my pastor friends, cleared our calendars and made preparations to participate in what Covenant program chair Jimmy Allen characterized as “the most significant meeting [Baptists] have had in a hundred years.” We were not dissuaded by the lamentable myopia of the glass-is-half-empty crowd who noisily concluded that this opportunity (to at least take a baby step toward reversing the prevailing oppositional dynamic of race relations) was no more than a partisan political plot.

Unfortunately, because of my oldest sister’s unexpected death, I could not attend the Celebration, but – throughout the course of the meeting – I received phone call after phone call from friends who testified to its success. The consensus was that the journey was worthwhile. Even those brothers and sisters who went with no or low expectations returned to report that the Celebration was indeed a step in the right direction.


This is not to say that cross-cultural suspicion and distrust has been assuaged or that estrangement has been overcome. Truth be told, the Covenant never urported to be the vehicle that would move us past the current climate of alienation. But enough good occurred over the course of those 3 days in Atlanta to keep hope alive just a bit longer.

Two months after the Celebration, I am trusting that we haven’t seen the end of this movement. I am anxious to see how the recommendations that were formulated in the March follow-up meeting at the Carter Center will pan out.

Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated 40 years ago this April, asked a question that still resonates today, “Where do we go from here?” Those of us who embrace the mission of the New Baptist Covenant find ourselves struggling to answer Dr. King’s question, knowing all too well that without struggle there is no progress.