We were all pleased two years ago when the Southern Baptist Convention took the next step in racial reconciliation, in plucking the roots of racial discrimination and oppression that have dug so deep into the soil of the SBC, by electing Fred Luter as the president of the SBC. But can I be honest? His election was more of a coronation. Somehow, word got out a year or so in advance that Pastor Luter would be nominated and the collective SBC whispered a quiet, “amen.” There was no opposition. None. It would have been denominational suicide to run against him.
But the question has been whether the election of Fred Luter will be a Calipari-style “one-and-done” or if it would be the start of a new era of racial unity and reconciliation in the SBC. I certainly hope it will be the latter. So I was very happy a couple of weeks ago when I was approached by a friend to ask if SBC Voices would run an article announcing the candidacy of a Korean pastor from Maryland, Dennis Manpoong Kim. I did not know him at the time. Since then, as I’ve read about him I’ve grown more enthusiastic about his candidacy. He is a qualified Southern Baptist leader, active in denominational affairs in his state and across the SBC.
He is also Korean.
Does that matter? Should it?
That is the question of the day in SBC life. What role should race play in an election for president in the SBC. Should we ignore it? Should we intentionally elect candidates to demonstrate racial diversity? Does promoting minority candidates promote further racial division or racial reconciliation?
On the discussion of Pastor Kim’s nomination, there have been several objections raised to identifying the candidate as Korean. Why should race be an issue in the election of officers in the SBC today? We’ve moved past our racist history and we ought to seek the glory of the kingdom in which all human distinctions are subsumed in Christ. Why can’t we just elect a candidate regardless of his race?
Permit me to offer a few random thoughts on the topic.
1) An officer of the SBC should be elected based on his QUALIFICATIONS for office, not his race.
Absolutely. The election of Fred Luter in 2012 was not a Baptist form of affirmative action in which a less qualified candidate was elected because of the color of his skin. No one could ignore that he was black and the historical significance of the event was undeniable. The SBC elected a black president. Wow. But make no mistake about it – we elected a qualified, capable, Southern Baptist leader to be our president. If Fred Luter were a lily-white guy like me, he’s have still been qualified to be president. The way he has conducted himself in office has given evidence to that fact.
And if you vote for Dr. Kim, it should not be just because he’s Korean, or a minority. It should be because he is a qualified candidate for the office. Ronnie Floyd, the front-runner for election, is eminently qualified and capable. If he is elected as SBC president we will be well led in the next two years (assuming a second term). He can handle the job. He’s demonstrated by his increased CP giving and his involvement in denominational life that he is a qualified and capable leader. But the more I read about Dr. Kim, the more I realize that he is just as qualified and just as capable.
There is no sense in which we must lower our standards for office in ANY WAY to vote for Dennis Kim as president.
- He has been heavily involved in national SBC life – on the recent Pastors’ Task Force, on the Committee on Resolutions, at other levels.
- He has been an active part of the Maryland Convention. It was his fellow Marylanders (?) who sought him out to encourage him to run. Those who know him best are most enthusiastic about his candidacy.
- He has experience in leadership with his church – the largest of any type in Maryland. (By the way, pastoring a large church is not a prerequisite for office, but neither is is a shameful thing that disqualifies someone from office. It is not a sin to have a large church. I can’t believe I actually had to say that.)
- His church gives 4.5% to missions through the CP. If you look at larger churches, you will find that this is a comparatively high percentage. I think it’s in the same range that Floyd’s church now gives after he led them to raise their giving.
- His church has been exemplary in evangelism and missions. Read the Shannon Baker article for more details (link below).
All that to say that if Dennis Kim’s name was Dennis Smith and he were the pastor of First Baptist Church of County Seat, Alabama, his character and work would qualify him as a candidate for president of the SBC. Of course, that is my opinion. There are no official standards as to who is qualified and who is not. Each of us has to decide what qualifies a man for office and vote accordingly.
But a presidential candidate ought to be qualified to do the job. I have come to believe that Dr. Dennis Manpoong Kim is qualified for the position, not because he is a Korean, but because he is a Southern Baptist leader. Read the article by Shannon Baker at Baptist Life Online to get more information. What would anyone want in a president other than what Dr. Kim is? Each of us is free to vote for the candidate of our choice, but I think we have to recognize that Dr. Kim is a qualified candidate for the position.
2) The goal of color-blindness is noble, but we are not there yet.
One day, we will all be dwell in the visible kingdom of heaven in which nothing matters but our oneness in Christ. Whether one is male or female, what race a person is, what social or economic strata he or she was a part of – none of these things will matter. What a day that will be! A glorious day.
This is not that day.
I am currently reading Alan Cross’s new book “When Heaven and Earth Collide,” a powerful account of the relationship between the white church in the south and the civil rights movement. (It is a must read. Order it. Read it. Don’t argue with me, just do it.) I’ve only read one chapter, but it made me depressed to read what CHURCHES did to brutalize black people, what “good, Christian people” did in gushing hate on people simply because of their race. I am convinced that the biggest problem among Southern Baptists today is not Calvinism or Traditionalism or anything in-between, it’s not our stands against homosexuality and immorality, but it is that we are still dealing with the after-effects of our racist past as a denomination
Yes, we repented. I was there and I am glad we did that. It was a good first step. Yes, we elected Fred Luter, another good step. We’ve elected a few people to responsible places in our entities. But in 2014, as we head to the SBC Annual Meeting, we can still say that 100% of the entity heads and seminary presidents in SBC history have been white. Every single one. Of all the presidents of the SBC in our history, one and only one has been black. None have been Hispanic, or Asian or any other ethnicity. Is that accurate?
So, we have come a long way, but we cannot grasp our lapels and say, “mission accomplished” because we elected Fred Luter as president. There is still much to be done.
3) The path forward is not self-flagellation, but intentional engagement.
We need not beat ourselves up. The vast majority of white Southern Baptists are not racists, despise our racist past and wish we could undo it. But just because I did not perpetrate racism does not mean that I am relieved of the burden of correcting it in our denominational structures. I am part of the racial majority (at least for now) in America and in the SBC that treated blacks and other races with disdain. Our forbears (just a generation ago) did not just turn a blind eye toward discrimination – many actively participated in it.
And there is nothing I can do about that.
I cannot change what white “Christians” did in the name of God and Country in the last few hundred years in America. It does no good for us to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves. We have repented, and I believe that repentance was sincere. But the by-product of repentance is change.
Now, what we must do is intentionally engage people of minority descent and work to include them in the inner workings of the SBC. That means that we intentionally find qualified black, Asian, Hispanic and other minority candidates to run for SBC office. It means that we seriously examine and eventually hire a minority seminary president or entity head. It means that at every level of participation and leadership we include people from minorities. We must do it intentionally, purposefully and consistently, until the job is done.
We cannot be colorblind until people of color are just as rooted in the SBC as white guys like me are. We should look to the past to inform ourselves (again, even after one chapter I STRONGLY recommend Alan’s book) but we need to look forward. Our question ought not be, “Why were our forbears so awful in the past?” but “What can we do to make the SBC as multicultural as the kingdom of God?” We need to rely on God’s power to seek a more Christlike future.
Racial issues are a minefield. I tread lightly when I speak of them. It is easy to give unintentional offense to minority brothers and sisters and there are many whites who are defensive about people “playing the race card.” But what we need to do is to continue the path of constructive and intentional engagement towards racial reconciliation.
So each of us must decide for ourselves whether a candidate is qualified and whether we want to vote for him. But I am hoping that both the nomination AND the election of minority candidates for the offices of the SBC will become so regular that soon it will not even be new anymore.
One step along that process is to elect a minority candidate in a tight race against other qualified candidates. That will be quite a day.