One of the under-the-surface themes at the Convention this year was the increased desire among messengers to move past the issue of race and see a growing diversity in SBC involvement and leadership. Among the many positive indications of an increasing racial/ethnic diversity and unity in the Convention, I noted the following in Baltimore:
- Fred Luter completed his historic presidency as the first non-Anglo leader of the Southern Baptist Convention.
- A Korean nominee, Dennis Kim, was a serious candidate for his successor and made a strong showing garnering more than 40% of the vote.
- The IMB report highlighted work among Cuban people and NAMB noted that of the 936 church plants in 2013, more than half were non-Anglo starts.
- Messengers approved a resolution “On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act” that again acknowledged the sins of our past and an affirmation “That we thank God for the increased racial and ethnic diversity within Southern Baptist life” over the past 50 years.
- Outgoing president of the African American fellowship, A.B. Vines urged not merely participation, but an increased stake by African Americans in SBC life including sacrificial giving to the CP, increased missions involvement and servant leadership in the Convention.
- The Cooperative Program booth featured panel discussions on urban ministry and ethnic diversity and featured a “Many Faces” exhibit to highlight the racial and ethnic diversity in the SBC.
- Messenger Kris Burns made a motion that the Convention Program move to a multi-ethnic worship style and, though messengers voted to refer the motion, the Committee on Order of Business presented it’s worship leader for SBC15: Mexican-American “Global Worship Leader” Julio Arriola.
All of these are positive signs. Southern Baptists are demonstrating their desire for a Convention that reflects the demographic diversity of our communities and that pursues the heavenly vision of one people of God from every people, tribe, tongue and nation. Beginning with the 1995 Resolution on Racial Reconciliation, Southern Baptists have continually expressed this desire, and have moved steadily in practical ways to build a more racially and ethnically diverse Convention.
I am thankful for the progress we have made thus far. I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Convention and left with a sense of unity and purpose and a bright hope for our future. I trust our current leadership and have faith in the trustee system. Because this is a blog post, however, let me share my personal opinion and recommendation for two of our entity boards. Coming out of SBC14, I see two opportunities I believe our trustees have to make major steps forward in this quest toward God-honoring diversity.
1. I would urge the IMB presidential search team to choose a person of color to lead our International Mission Board.
As the center of the global missions movement moves from the West to the East and South, there are other strategic missiological reasons for choosing a non-Anglo president, but that is a subject for another post. For this discussion, I believe that the next major step in seeing diversity in SBC leadership is for a person of color to head one of our SBC entities. This vacancy at the IMB is our best opportunity, and likely last for a while, to do so. While I would not make this particular appointment a litmus test of our commitment to diversity in leadership, and we do indeed need the “best man for the job” in this important role, I would urge the committee to be intentional in seeking out candidates that are non-Anglo. If David Uth and the search committee desires input from the messengers, count this messenger as one who would like to see you hire one of our many well-qualified, passionate, gospel-loving, missiologically sound, non-Anglo Southern Baptists to lead the IMB in reaching the nations for Christ.
2. I would urge the Executive Committee to move quickly on the motion made by messenger Alan Cross. In light of the 20-year anniversary of the resolution on racial reconciliation, his motion would form a task force “to assess our current progress in pursuing Biblical racial reconciliation within our convention and to make concrete recommendations to the messengers regarding how Southern Baptists, facilitated by the Convention’s entities and seminaries, may better reach, make disciples, and raise up leadership from and among diverse racial and ethnic groups in North America.” Such a task force is timely in light of the coming 20-year mark since we first took major steps toward racial reconciliation. This task force would help us to get a real, comprehensive assessment of our progress rather than an anecdotal assessment like the first part of this post. Are we making real progress? How much progress? How are we doing at our entities, our seminaries, our State Conventions, our churches? What further steps do we need to take? How can individual churches be involved in this process? These are all questions the task force could report to us in 2015.
I would have liked this motion to come to the floor in Baltimore, not to force the EC’s hand, but under a realization that the work of a Task Force takes time to complete, and delay makes a report for next year’s Convention more difficult. For this reason, I urge the Executive Committee not only to take up Cross’ motion, but to do so quickly.
All in all, I am pleased with what seems to be positive progress in our goal toward racial and ethnic diversity in the SBC. My prayer is that we keep moving forward. These are merely two suggestions for how we can do just that.