Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore Sr., president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC), posted a message on the organization's website a few days before the 51st annual meeting was to convene in Memphis.
"As your 19th President, the theme I have chosen for this year is: 'Securing Our Future: Prayer – A People of Progress,'" Dr. Baltimore wrote, adding his desire that those preaching during the course of the Aug. 5-10 confab align their messages with the theme of "The Beloved Community," drawing from Acts 2:42-47.
With a year's worth of planning in the bag, the organization's annual session has drawn about 4,000 delegates to the city. Progressive Baptists count some 2.5 million members in the predominantly African-American denomination that has its history steeped in the American South.
"Not only did we want to encourage and inform our delegates on spiritual matters, but Progressive Baptists traditionally have strong ties to issues concerning civil rights and equality," said Dr. Reginald Porter, chairman of the Host Committee.
"Activism and involvement in this year's presidential election is crucial. We conducted voter registration drives and placed tremendous emphasis on voter education and turnout."
While Dr. Porter stopped short of endorsing any candidate for president, the importance of voter participation permeated the convention's political events.
"More than, perhaps, at any other time, this year's election in November is a pivotal moment in our country," said Porter. "We plan to continue our legacy of civic involvement. It was a significant endeavor to inform and equip our people with the information they need to make an educated choice at the polls."
Dr. Baltimore expressed an urgency and necessity that activism be an integral part of this year's convention.
"The political climate of our nation, voter rights suppression issues, acts of violence equal to those against Trayvon Martin and countless other atrocities dictate that PNBC is present at the various tables of discussion to ensure justice for all," he said.
The Michigan Chapter Operation PUSH joined PNBC in a Tuesday afternoon press conference, which called attention to the latest acts of mass murder and advocated new and effective measures of gun control.
Dr. Noel G.L. Hutchinson, pastor of First Baptist Church-Lauderdale Street and communications director for the 51st Convention, envisions delegates returning to their communities with a renewed sense of purpose and civic responsibility.
"There is a great sense of connectedness among our members," said Hutchinson. "Some are Primitive Baptists, some Missionary Baptists, some Institutional Baptists, and other groups of Baptist organizations. But we are all Progressive Baptists. The Progressive National Baptist Convention brings us all together into one unified whole."
Mayor AC Wharton Jr. and Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell Jr. welcomed the Progressive Baptist delegates on Monday evening.
"They both gave us a sense of this year's meeting being historical and significant in context," said Hutchinson. "The city of Memphis will always have a meaningful place in the Baptist community. This was Dr. King's final stand for justice. We are committed to continuing the fight."