We look back at those who founded the Southern Baptist and those who followed after with honor, even veneration at times. We fight over their heritage (were they Calvinists or not). They were men (and women too) of theological depth, evangelistic passion and exemplary character.
And they either participated in or turned a blind eye to slavery, racism and discrimination.
How could these great men not see the evil of their treatment of people whose skin had a different hue? How could they be so blind? How could they love Jesus while accepting cruelty to people Jesus loved?
We can navigate a couple of courses in trying to explain this. One is to downplay their sin in advocating or permitting racial oppression. They were just people of their times and their culture, right? Slavery isn’t specifically condemned in the Bible, so what they did wasn’t that bad, perhaps.
I reject that. It was sin. Heinous, horrible, unspeakable sin.
Or, we can reject them and say that they should not be honored. They were charlatans, fakes – wolves in sheep’s clothing. I’ve heard some who have nipped around the edges of such a viewpoint. I don’t think that is fair either.
But maybe there is a different way to look at our founders and forebears, one that is shaped by the gospel and the power of Christ.
Let me tell you about me. I am a sinner (I know, it comes as a shock doesn’t it?). I am completely unworthy of the love that God has shown to me. He set his affections on me absent of any merit on my part. While I was still a sinner, vile and disgusting in my sin, God demonstrated his love by sending Jesus Christ to earn my salvation with his perfect life and pay for my sins with his substitutionary death.
What I am today is not because of who I am, but in spite of it. I am a trophy of God’s grace.
Obviously, that was also true of our founders.
Maybe that is how we should view our convention. No, Jesus didn’t die for a convention, but the SBC is made up of churches and churches are made up of people – people loved and saved by grace. So, in a sense, the grace of God that is poured out on sinners like me overflows to denominations.
The SBC is anything but perfect, now or in its history. The racial history of our denomination is a dark stain that has sunk deep into the fabric of our fellowship. But in spite of all that, God has used the SBC in wonderful ways. His grace does not excuse the sin but nor does our failure negate his grace. He has done (and hopefully will continue to do) wonderful works through us – not because we deserved it, but because of his grace.
But it is important to remember that grace leads to holiness. I was accepted as I was, “without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me” but that is no excuse for remaining as I am. God accepts us as we are but does not leave us as we are. He transforms us. He conforms us to the image of Christ.
Perhaps he is also doing that with the SBC. He worked in us by grace, overlooking our faults. But we cannot use that as an excuse to continue in our sins. Perhaps God has blessed the SBC in spite of the horrors of its racist past, but we must grow and mature and move beyond it. We must take definitive action to put the racist past of the SBC once and for all behind us.
We neither have to defend our past nor reject our founders. Every one of us is a sinner with blind spots and faults and areas where God’s grace his not yet had its full effect. It is not surprising that our convention would reflect our own failings. But we must grow. We must face our sins and grow to become what Christ died for us to be.
The failures of the past are the canvas on which Christ paints his glory. Create a masterpiece in my life, Lord, and in our convention. By your grace!