30,000 African-American Baptists worship, learn at Cobo

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Detroit — For a second day, Cobo Center was transformed Tuesday into a cross between a house of worship and a Bible college.

The National Baptist Convention, the country's largest and oldest African-American religious organization, is holding the 110th session of its Congress of Christian Education this week at the downtown Detroit convention center.

An estimated 30,000 faithful are attending the congress, which opened Sunday. No events were held Monday and the session ends Friday.

“We have come to Detroit — the Motor City, D-Town, home of the Detroit Lions, the Tigers and the Pistons,” George Waddles Sr., president of the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education and pastor of the Zion Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, said Tuesday during the dean’s address. “We’ve come here to be a part of its rich Christian heritage.”

The National Baptist Convention USA Inc. was founded in 1880. Its Congress of Christian Education, responsible for religious training, is offering nearly 300 classes this week at Cobo.

During his address, the congress’ dean, Elliott Cuff, urged his listeners to stop trying to fix the mistakes of the past and focus on the future.

“Sometimes we spend too much time worrying about what went on yesterday,” said Cuff, who is also senior pastor of the Lincoln Heights Missionary Baptist Church in Woodlawn, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. “We need to turn yesterday loose and let God lead us to his promised future.”

He also referred to last week’s shooting that killed nine worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.

“Some of us are talking about the good old days,” Cuff said. “Yeah. Somebody in Charleston still thinks it’s the good old days. We can no longer travel in the same direction and expect a different result.”

Dylann Storm Roof, 21, who is white, is accused of opening fire during a Bible study session at the historic black church.

“It’s a tragedy,” said Lorine Martin, of Pontiac, who attended the congress with her husband, Pastor Robert Martin Sr. of Providence Missionary Baptist Church. “To think that many people died in a church during a prayer service.”

Church Mother Sylvia Steward of the Second Baptist Church in Romeo, said even though what Roof did is horrible, Christians must forgive him.

“If you want to be forgiven, you have to forgive — that’s the word of God,” said Steward, who lives in New Haven. “He must be sick. I don’t see how anyone in their right mind could do what he did. After all, he is part of God’s family.”

The resulting controversy over the public display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina Statehouse and elsewhere in the South was on the participants’ minds as well.

“The American flag is one thing, but the Confederate flag is another,” Lorine Martin said. “I don’t live in the South, but they can take it down as far as I’m concerned.”