Mercer University’s 14th annual communitywide Building the Beloved Community Symposium will be Tuesday-Wednesday and its theme is “The Voice of Faith in the Cry for Racial Justice.”
Organizers said the theme is straight from the latest book of symposium keynote speaker, the Rev. Soong-Chan Rah. The book is titled “Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times.”
“The importance of lament in worship isn’t something we think about anymore nor is it something we immediately connect with justice and working through solutions to the social difficulties we face in America today,” said John Dunaway, symposium founder and professor emeritus of French and interdisciplinary studies at Mercer. “But it is. It is biblical and it’s very important and Soong-Chan Rah communicates its importance very well.”
Dunaway said the book is a commentary on the Bible’s Book of Lamentations and its application to modern turmoil.
“The Building the Beloved Community Symposium was organized to foster racial reconciliation in Macon and Middle Georgia and gets its name from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s reference to a community of racial equality and harmony.” Dunaway said. “Dr. Rah speaks powerfully to that in a very refreshing, nonjudgmental demeanor. You can be a prophetic force on racial issues and social inequalities without being condemning. He does that very well.”
In his book, Rah presents the case, as stated in its introduction, that, “Lament in the Bible is a liturgical response to the reality of suffering and engages God in the context of pain and trouble.”
Rah writes there are two types of worship: praise and lament. He notes 40 percent of all Psalms are psalms of lament but well under 20 percent of popular denominational hymnals are lament. Without diminishing the wonder and need of praise, he maintains lament must again find its place among God’s people.
“Connecting this to our predicament in America, Rah points out lament is how we bring our pain and suffering — whether personal or societal — to God,” Dunaway said. “And taking it to God is the right response to tragedy. There is faith in lament because it acknowledges God is listening and he will do something about it. That very much applies to the human tragedy and the suffering that comes through racial strife and inequality. Will we take our grief over it to God? As we do, it’s an encouraging reminder that it’s in Lamentations we find the beautiful passage of hope that God’s steadfast love never ceases and his mercies never end. We’ll never find our way out of our problems if we look from a purely political perspective.”
Matt Harper, assistant professor of history and Africana studies, is another symposium leader.
“The people of God need to be honest about suffering and injustice,” Harper said. “It’s what we’re up against every day. If we see and are moved by tragedy but only sing happy songs, pray happy prayers and don’t voice our mournful sadness honestly we miss the great opportunity to bring God into our suffering. If all we do is avoid it or politicize it we end up just being mad people. Rah points us to scripture showing we need to stop and be honest before God. It’s a message we ought to hear.”
Harper said the symposium begins at a 6:30 p.m. Tuesday banquet in the President’s Dining Room at Mercer’s University Center where Rah will speak. Central High School’s chorus will perform.
Wednesday symposium events begin with an 8:30 a.m. breakfast at Centenary United Methodist Church adjacent to the Mercer Campus, featuring Antonie Walker, pastor of Macon’s Grace Corner Church. At 10 a.m., a second keynote address will be given by Rah at Mercer’s Penfield Hall. It will be followed by a meeting of breakout groups at 11 a.m. with a light lunch following at noon to conclude the symposium.
Admission to all sessions and meals is free but reservations must be made for meals by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 478-475-9506 by the Friday reservation deadline.
Harper said all events are open to anyone wishing to be better informed of the work to help bring reconciliation across racial lines.
Dunaway said the symposium will end with an opportunity to process new information.
“I’m pleased this year we’ll be closing with small breakout sessions,” he said. “Sometimes participants can be frustrated wondering where to go from here with all they’ve heard. This way they can discuss and process it and come to terms with how to respond practically.”
Dunaway said he was particularly excited breakout groups will be led my Mercer undergraduate students.
“I’m proud there are so many concerned and engaged young people these days — I know it’s particularly true at Mercer — who are proactive concerning reconciliation. They’ll be coming away from this wanting to know what they can do right now. There’s just a greater involvement than I’ve seen at times in the past and I know Mercer is in that trend with students wanting to make their community a better place. I’m glad the symposium will reflect their youth and enthusiasm along with our more seasoned community members.”
Rah is associate professor of church growth and evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago and author alsp of “The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity” and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church.” He co-authored “Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith” and is a contributing author for “Growing Healthy Asian American Churches.”
He is founding senior pastor of the multiethnic, urban ministry-focused Cambridge Community Fellowship Church, has been part of four church-planting efforts and has served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Boston.
He’s spoken at gatherings such as the Urbana Student Missions Conference, Congress on Urban Ministry, Urban Youth Workers Institute Conference and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary National Preaching Conference.
Contact writer Michael W. Pannell at email@example.com.
Building the Beloved Community Symposium
Where: Mercer University
Featured speaker: The Rev.Soong-Chan Rah
Meal reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org, 478-475-9506