Black Baptist group renews historic calls for civil rights

The Progressive National Baptist Convention this week marked the 60th anniversary of its forging in the heat of the civil rights movement, citing its founders as inspiring new calls for racial justice, against voter suppression and in favor of critical race theory.

The historically Black denomination held a virtual annual convention with a series of worship services, panel discussions and votes on policy resolutions.

It denounced voting restrictions approved in multiple Republican-led statehouses, comparing these efforts in a resolution to past suppression of the Black vote.

“There is not a voter fraud problem in the United States,” the resolution said, rebutting the justification often used for restrictive voting laws. “There is a voter suppression problem in the United States.”

The denomination also voiced support for critical race theory, which has been a target of religious and political conservatives.

The resolution disputed claims that the theory is even being taught in elementary and secondary schools, saying it is primarily a graduate-level topic.

But the resolution said the theory is valuable for focusing on how “systemic, institutional racism has been at work in every aspect of American life since before the nation was even formed.”

Another resolution called for passage of a long-pending bill in Congress that would require studying the issue of reparations for African Americans due to the impact of slavery and discrimination.

And a resolution declared that gentrification — in which poorer residents often are priced out of their neighborhoods after wealthier people and businesses move in — to amount to a “state of emergency in Black America which requires a righteous action agenda,” including private and government funding to counteract its impacts.

The convention, with churches across the United States, the Caribbean and other lands, was founded in 1961 in a split from the larger National Baptist Convention USA.

Founders included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters, who wanted their denomination to put its full support behind the civil rights movement.

The Progressive National Baptist Convention “was born … as a freedom-fighting movement,” said the Rev. Frederick Haynes, co-chair of its social justice commission and senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas. “It was born seeking justice.”

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