I made the assertion in a previous post, based on solid information that has been given to me, that there have been no minority interviews in the hiring processes at our entities. I asked, even begged for information to correct that. If one of the search teams has interviewed a minority, I would love to be corrected and will publicly and loudly publish that correction. To this point, I have received no such corrections.
So, assuming that there have been minority applicants (there have – qualified ones) and that these minority applicants have not gotten through the vetting process to the interview stage, the obvious question is why that is the case. Andy Williams asked such a question in the comment section of that previous article and I ignored it, not intentionally, I just tend to move on pretty quickly and I didn’t see it until this morning. In addition to being a pretty good crooner, Andy asked a good question. I answered him, then thought perhaps my answer my make a good post. Permit me to rephrase the question.
Can we simply blame racist Baptists for the fact that no minorities have received interviews at our entities?
Questions and Answers
The answer to that is complicated – no simple yes or no will suffice. Here is my take.
- Are our search committees populated by racists who have determined to fill our entities with white leaders and exclude minorities from the process?
Absolutely not. I only know one of the leaders personally (having met Steve Swofford and sat next to him at a lengthy meeting after the 2017 Pastors’ Conference). If I still had a spleen, I would wager it that Steve is not a racist and that he is grieved that all of this focus over race has come to his committee. There are two minority members of his search team. NO, the search teams at our 5 open entities are not racist in makeup or intent.
- Do the process and the outcome APPEAR to be racist, or at least racially unfair to the minority communities of the SBC?
I have tried to assure minority Southern Baptists that we are making progress and that the intent of people on committees is not to exclude Black Southern Baptists or other minorities from the hiring process. But when we have 5 openings and to this point, not a single minority candidate has even gotten an interview, my words start ringing hollow. Thank God for JD Greear and his appointments. But then, people have complained loudly about his diverse appointments, so what does that communicate?
Again, I do not believe racism is in the hearts of all these people making the decisions, but the effect is hard to explain to minority communities in the SBC.
- Can we do better?
We have to!
Every estimate I have seen says that the USA will be “majority minority” within 30 to 50 years. If the SBC doesn’t become a more welcoming place for minorities – including them not only in our fellowship but also in our leadership, we will have no hope of reversing the slow statistical march to death we are on.
The future of the SBC MUST be as a multicultural and multiethnic denomination, or it will be as a small, regional, and insignificant (once great) convention.
Why are we where we are?
If it isn’t racism, what is it? I would make 3 suggestions.
1. The “Good Old Boy Network” is prominent in selecting new leaders.
We choose the leaders we know and are comfortable with, and those are white men (from that small circle of megachurches or from SBC academia). This does not come from an exclusionary heart.
You tend to choose those you know (and trust) for positions of power and influence. And, not to ignore the elephant in the room, power and influence are brought to bear on people to choose those “Good old boys” for those positions.
What is the solution to this? The “JD Greear approach” is probably best. Though there has been a hue and cry from some circles about his diverse appointments, he is getting new blood and fresh faces into trustee circles. If we keep doing this for about 6 to 8 years, the good old boy network will be made ineffectual and the next time there are openings, the search teams, made up of a new batch of trustees, will be more open.
It is a slow solution, but the SBC bylaws only allow for glacial coup d’etat by the election of new trustees. If we want change we have to be patient and consistent in elections at the Annual Meeting.
2. The Black Quarterback Syndrome
I am older than most of you and can remember when there was a quiet assumption among many that Black quarterbacks didn’t have what it took to play in the NFL. Of course, over time they have proven this wrong, but why would an eventual Hall of Fame QB like Warren Moon have to spend years in the Canadian Football League before he got a chance?
I hear statements that on the face of them seem to be reasonable.
Let’s ignore race and just pick the best man for the job.
God only made one race, not many. We should stop promoting racial differences.
I considered it an odd irony that in a previous article I wrote, I promoted the consideration of minority candidates for the leadership positions in the SBC and was roundly labeled a racist in the attack-drone circles of social media. Oh well.
The fact is that when we ignore race, we have a 180-year history of picking 100% white leaders in our entities. If we want to change that history and prepare for a denominational future that is more than just looking back on the good old days, we need to make racial inclusion a priority.
But we have an assumption that when we include minority candidates we must be using “affirmative action” – lowering the standards to pick minorities instead of choosing the more qualified white candidates – it is what I call “Black Quarterback Syndrome.” I have seen question after question that says essentially the same thing.
Should we ignore more-qualified white candidates to choose a minority candidate?
First of all, that assumes that the qualifications are so clear that we can rank the candidates in an objective order. Puh-leeese! The committees’ have such loose bases upon which they choose that ranking candidates is an exercise in more subjectivity! And the idea that there are always 5 or more white candidates more qualified for interviews than the best minority candidate – can we see how that might be offensive to our minority communities?
There are qualified minority candidates. I can name them, but would rather the discussion not be about X or Y or Z, but more theoretical.
3. The elevation of social and cultural norms.
Pardon me whilst I offend, okay?
We have elevated cultural, political, and social preferences as theological norms in conservative America. I am a pretty conservative guy – probably too conservative for my own good. But I’ve been called a liberal about 2372 times because I do not fully support the policies of Donald Trump. Not just a political liberal – my Christianity and my theology has been called into question. We are at the point where we (all too often) equate the GOP political platform with biblical fidelity.
And minority communities come from a different cultural milieu. They do not see the world through the same social and political eyes we do.
- When we talk about the greatness of America in the 50s and 60s, Black Americans may sometimes roll their eyes. They were on the other end of segregation and systemic oppression, so they may not view those times with quite the idyllic zeal we do.
- We view abortion as the single great moral issue of our day. But many Black Baptists would say that while they agree with us that abortion is heinous, the dehumanization and degradation of racism grow on the same tree as the dehumanization and degradation of abortion. If we are truly pro-life we must be both anti-abortion and anti-racism. It is not that they are pro-abortion, but that they see racism as a sin of equally or near-equally heinous effect.
- Many white Christians view voting Democrat as a denial of the faith (see the abortion discussion above). Many black Christians are willing to vote with the Democratic party because they see the GOP as hypocrites on abortion and as suspicious on racism.
- Many white Baptists view Donald Trump as a gift from God to save America. Most black Christians have…uh…um…well…let’s say a different view of President Trump.
None of these things touches fundamental doctrine, but we tend to treat them as if they do. So, when we discuss including minorities, some panic because we are afraid that they will compromise.
When Baptist Press published its article on the appointment of Curtis Woods as chair of the Resolutions Committee and Keith Whitfield as his vice-chair, there was a comment on the article on Facebook, bemoaning the danger of doctrinal drift. No one questioned whether Keith was going to lead us astray, but the appointment of a Black man as chair brought out immediate fear of doctrinal drift. Dr. Woods is a solid man who holds to the BF&M, so what reason could we have to question his doctrinal fidelity? He works at the Kentucky Convention – hardly a liberal bastion. Why the panic? Because appointing a black man takes us out of our comfort zone.
Is that racism? Probably not. But it reveals racial issues that we need to continue to fight until we no longer need to fight them!