Dear SBC Leaders,
I recently read your joint statement addressing the death of George Floyd. Calling for the end of racial inequality in how America distributes justice to African American men and boys is appreciated. Unfortunately, your statement is simply not enough. After we have cried out to God in prayer against racial evil and you have posted a statement advocating justice for all Americans, regardless of race or economic considerations, there are some things that the SBC must do to make our Convention better.
Who am I that I should be listened to on this matter? I am a Black man, saved by the grace of a loving God and called to preach the gospel and to build bridges between Black and White Christians in particular and all ethnicities in general. I have served primarily as lead pastor of four churches in our denomination over the past forty years. My wife and I have also worked with our former Home Mission Board, Birmingham Association, and Alabama State Convention as missionaries. I spent two years serving Arkansas Baptists as a Youth Chaplain with the Arkansas Department of Corrections while attending college. I was blessed to serve the Syracuse Association as Moderator and our Baptist Convention of New York as Vice President and President during my tenure in the Northeastern United States. My wife and I are currently leading a new church plant in the East Fort Worth area of Tarrant County, Texas. We have been blessed to share in the great work of advancing God’s Kingdom in South Africa, Malawi, Kenya, Brazil, Saint Croix, Saint Vincent, and Antigua. I have also held adjunct professor assignments at Ouachita University and Southwestern Seminary, teaching courses on Racial Justice. I recently partnered with Michael Emerson, author of Divided by Faith, to assist him as one of his Racial Justice Collaborators.
I woke up on May 28 extremely bothered by a legalized execution of a Black man in handcuffs lying face down on a Minneapolis street, as the knee of a white police officer pressed against his neck. My bother increased to anger as I remembered Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and too many others to name here. As I continued to think about my own six grown children and four grandchildren and the harm that they could potentially suffer at the knees and hands of other white policemen, I found myself complaining, “this is so wrong.” “Why can’t my children and grandchildren receive the same administration of justice that my fellow white ministers are receiving? I concluded in my own heart that “white evangelicals just don’t care about what we in the Black community have been telling them all of our lives, that white police treat Black people much more violently than our white counterparts. I proceeded to contact several of my white evangelical peers and challenged them with my concerns “do you care what we are facing in the Black community?” Several of my contacts assured me that they cared, however, I remained unsatisfied. One of these men suggested that we write a statement expressing some of our concerns. This letter captures a few items that are on my heart.
This is why I am encouraging you as my brothers and sisters in Christ, to do much more than merely post a statement, but to take meaningful action to implement a five-year racial equality strategy to decrease racism that exists in the agencies and entities of the SBC as much as possible, by significantly increasing African American employment in these institutions. If you are serious about your statement on racial justice, the Convention will need to seriously invest in developing a much stronger and effective racial diversity plan for our denomination. Secular corporations are doing much more than crafting well-meaning public relations statements for the sake of crisis management, in hopes of minimizing the damage to their brand and to keeping their revenues from significantly declining with the loss of Black support. These businesses and organizations understand something that the SBC seemingly has yet to internalize: eradicating racial injustice requires both word and deed. And solidarity that is only spoken rather than actualized sends a message that the Southern Baptist Convention is not really serious about a plan for racial equity.
The best way our Convention can show solidarity with African Americans in both word and deed is in the following ways:
First, our Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission must encourage Southern Baptists to understand that racism is much more than an individual sin. Rather, Southern Baptists must embrace the reality of structural, systemic, and institutional areas of racism. It is the criminal justice system that murdered George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery last month. The police departments, the district attorneys, the grand juries, police associations, status quo politicians, courts, and government policing policies, in general, have all conspired to use the knees and hands of officers like Derek Chauvin to squeeze the life out of Black people. Most Southern Baptists do not have a clue how the evil of racism that is in the hearts of individuals has been injected into the powerful mechanisms of human institutions to impose devastating harm on vulnerable groups. All institutions in America have been infected by racism, including the Southern Baptist Convention.
The prophets spoke against unjust structures, institutions, and impartial justice for all (Deuteronomy 16:19).In my opinion, over the forty years of my participation in SBC life, Russell Moore is the only white leader I trust to address the Biblical perspective of institutional racism. He is the only one I know who has expressed a consistent and clear emphasis on racism to bring light and understanding on what God calls us to do regarding justice and righteousness toward the vulnerable. He has made a call to acknowledge the reality of racism – both individual and structural – in the SBC. I urge the ERLC to form a team of Black, White, and Brown men and women to address our structural and systemic sins.
Second, to deliver on its statement regarding the brutality toward Black men and women, the SBC Executive Committee should allocate an adequate budget ($500,000 yearly minimum) to the appropriate entity in order to plan, develop and implement a comprehensive strategy to assist SBC entities with hiring African Americans to effectively accomplish their mission. Danny Akin has done a fine job increasing Black and Brown enrollment at Southeastern Seminary through the Diversity Office led by Walter Strickland. Other entities must do the same.
After decades of keeping African American employment to a minimum in the vast work of our Convention, specific action is required to adequately reflect the diversity of our denomination. Ample evidence exists to validate the need for this step. Southern Baptists finally confessed their complicity in the evil of slavery and Jim Crow segregation during our annual meeting in 1995. However, it took another seventeen years before our Convention elected the first Black SBC President. Further, over the past two years, at least five SBC entities hired new leaders. Not one of them was Black, Latino or Asian. Since minority growth has been a factor in keeping the SBC from declining more than it could have over the past thirteen years, at least one Black man and one Brown person should have been hired.
Also, when we take under consideration the minimum number of Black professors in SBC seminaries and colleges, Southern Baptists continue to exhibit a racist witness before a watching world. Additionally, the leaders of our forty-one state conventions are extremely white. I don’t believe there is only one Black man qualified to hold one of these Executive Director positions in our states. There are more than nineteen hundred Baptist Associations in the SBC and only five or less of the Directors of Missions are Black. This is a sinful and shameful witness before a multiracial country for a Convention which touts itself as the largest and most diverse denomination in the world. It is time for our Convention leadership to reflect the diversity of our churches.
There is so much systemic racism that our white siblings cannot see, and some don’t want to see. But we see it as African Americans and other racial groups. Some of us are wondering, do our white SBC family members really care about the righteous inclusion of all of us in the leading and staffing of the work of our Lord’s Great Commission?
Finally, I am asking our SBC Presidents for the next five years to ensure that this or a comparable racial equality plan in hiring Blacks to lead and staff our entities and agencies is fully and effectively implemented. I realize the SBC President cannot mandate the execution of a diversity plan, but the President can encourage our various entities to do what is right is the eyes of God. Only then will we be the kind of witnesses before a watching world that honors and exalts our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who declared, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, I’ll draw all men unto me (John 12:32).”
Thanks in advance for your prayerful consideration.
For the Sake of His Kingdom,
Rick Armstrong, Pastor
Great Redeemer Church
3600 Smith Barry Road, Suite 102-103
Arlington, Texas 76013
Cell: 786-942-0495; Email: email@example.com