Alan Cross blogs at Downshore Drift where this post originally appeared.
It has been 5 years since the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force was appointed by then-SBC President Johnny Hunt in 2009. The GCR Task Force, chaired by Ronnie Floyd, gave its Report/Recommendations at the SBC Annual Meeting the following year. The Task Force had 22 people on it, including one Asian, one Hispanic, and one African American. Almost all of the participants were from the Deep South. Did this overall lack of ethnic diversity on the Task Force lead to the GCR Report basically ignoring the issue of how we can increase participation and leadership in the SBC from non-white populations and ethnic groups? Reading over the report again 4 years after its release, it is somewhat striking how the issue was barely addressed, save one statement regarding a need to plant churches among ethnic groups and how we need to reach all people with the gospel regardless of race or ethnicity.
Why the omission? It seems that in a rapidly diversifying America, overt and clear strategies for how the SBC can reach and make disciples among minority populations and cultivate minority leadership at every area of Baptist life should be well articulated and known. Why did the GCR Task Force basically not address this issue, especially considering the SBC’s abysmal history in regard to racial sin?
The problem seems to have been present from the beginning. Johnny Hunt initially appointed 18 members to the GCR Task Force and named Ronnie Floyd as chairman. Once Southern Baptists had a chance to see the make up of the task force, we noticed that it was composed of 17 white members and one Asian. I remember writing about this at the time in different venues and calling for a more diverse representation. Others did as well. In response to the call for more diversity, Hunt placed four more members on the Task Force:
Following the Convention, Hunt added four more members, saying, “After announcing the names of the GCR task force, I received feedback about the need for greater representation,” Hunt said July 8 in a statement to Baptist Press. “I have added an African American who is a church planter, a Hispanic, an additional woman who also is familiar with the western region of the U.S., and a representative of the Northeast region.
“I want Southern Baptists to know I heard their concerns and have responded,” Hunt said.
You can see who was on the Task Force in the link above.
I am not in favor of quota systems according to race/ethnicity. We should first look to Christian character, calling, and experience. But, in a Task Force designed to consider the future of the SBC in regard to carrying out the Great Commission in North America where Race and Ethnicity are MAJOR issues, why was racial/ethnic diversity and representation an afterthought? And, why were there no concrete recommendations for our churches/entities regarding how we can reach people from diverse ethnic backgrounds and cultures, especially when we consider how Southern Baptists have historically struggled in this area? My guess, if I had to make one, is that it just was not thought of. The focus was on NAMB, reorganization, money, the Cooperative Program, and funding issues. The major players who led the Task Force and made it up had their own concerns and those concerns were reflected in the report. Becoming a more ethnically and racially diverse convention of churches was not a part of what they were addressing.
Five years have passed since Johnny Hunt put his Task Force together to reshape the SBC. Baptisms and membership continue to decline. Some of this is inevitable and is based in demographics, not necessarily a lack of fervency. There have been great strides made in church planting and NAMB’s reorganization has been a seeming success. I thank God for the election of Fred Luter as our first African American president of the SBC in 2012. We are seeing more and more ethnic church planting and we are seeing greater participation from various races and ethnic groups in Baptist life. I am encouraged by the progress that seems to be occurring just because the gospel is bearing fruit.
But, we have a long way to go for the SBC to be a denomination that is reaching all people effectively. Next year marks the 20th Anniversary of the landmark 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation that apologized for slavery and racism in our founding and our past. We have made progress in this area of gospel reconciliation. But, we have a lot further to go.
- How do we continue to break down historic barriers and see our churches become multiethnic so that every SBC church can be effective in reaching its own community that is also becoming more and more multiethnic/racial?
- How do we raise up leadership from ethnic minorities so that we can all learn from one another how to reach different groups with the gospel?
- What are some concrete ways that our churches can reach and disciple people from different cultures in our communities by demonstrating sacrificial love and service?
- How can we minister holistically to immigrants and their families who are among us in ways that recognize that the nations have come to us and that God is sovereignly allowing us to be in close geographic proximity to people from every nation under heaven?
- Can we develop leadership development programs through our seminaries and state conventions with the purpose of raising up ethnic leadership, considering the fact that this was an area of historic weakness?
- How can our trustee boards and denominational committees do more to include representatives from different backgrounds and regions of our country?