The good ship SBC was cruising toward NOLA with excitement – our cruise would be marked by progress in racial reconciliation. Can you remember a year when there was less drama about the presidency when the office was being vacated? Fred Luter will be unopposed, at least by any serious candidate. It will be historic, encouraging, a move in the right direction. We were chugging along with eyes bright and heads high.
Then, suddenly, the good ship SBC hit a rocky shoal when Richard Land decided that it was a good idea for the head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to step into the quagmire known as the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Why did he feel like he needed to step in that one? I don’t know. But it seems that much of the goodwill that Luters’ election was bringing has leaked out of the good ship SBC.
I’ve never addressed the killing of Trayvon Martin. There is a good reason for that. I don’t know what happened. And neither do you. And Richard Land does not know what happened. I don’t think he should have ever jumped into the fray on this one – especially not when he is seen as representing all of us.
Dwight McKissic was absolutely right in his last post when he said that there is a tendency for blacks to view this one way (another instance of the lack of justice for black Americans) and for whites to view it another way (men like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – and perhaps the president – using this tragedy for political gain.) Of course, these are generalizations, but ones that are not divorced from reality.
I don’t know what happened that fateful night. I hope that the full truth comes out and justice is served – whatever that is.
But here is a fact we must face: as we continue to seek racial progress in the SBC, we are going to face moments like this. Race is anything but a dead issue in our culture. We are not just going to join hands, sing kumbaya, and see hundreds of years of racial injustice melt away.
The SBC has made progress. I’m glad we did. We repented of racism. I was there that year and stood enthusiastically to repudiate the shameful history of our denomination and to ask God’s forgiveness for it. Last year, the EC presented a very good report with recommendations for dealing with race in the SBC. The election of our first black president will make another statement of the intent of this denomination to navigate new waters.
But it is silly to act as if the racial problem was solved by repenting and or by the election of Fred Luter. Those are steps in the process, but they are not the culmination. There are still racists among us. They may be less prominent now and they may have to hide their views, but they are there. And blacks still struggle for inclusion in the higher echelons of SBC leadership. A couple of years ago at the convention, Dwight McKissic pointed out to me that every person on the podium during the entire SBC was white. I’d never even noticed until he told me.
The racial problem in the SBC will be solved when black pastors and people have a sense that they are full partners in our convention and in its leadership. We all hope and pray that such a day will come. That day has not come yet. We’re a little closer. Hopefully, we will be a little closer next year. Southern Baptists turned a blind eye to the evil of slavery, to segregation and discrimination and racism. God is beginning to open our eyes and we must not ever close them again.
We must continue the process until the battle is won, regardless of how long it takes.
It is perhaps arrogant for me to attempt to “set the course” for the SBC in racial matters. I’m a white guy from a predominantly white area (over 95%) who pastors a predominantly white church in Iowa. I hold no office and do not have plans to run for any in the future.
But I am going to give my opinion here and tell you what I think we need to do in the days ahead to continue to process of repudiating our past and forging a future free of racism.
1) White folks, it is OUR job to drive this process.
One of the shameful truths of American history is that blacks had to demand their rights; had to march for them, protest for them and fight for them. Our constitution says that all human beings have been endowed by their Creator with rights that should never be taken away. We took away from black people the rights that God gave them, instead of recognizing their full humanity and equality.
The church cannot take the pattern of the culture. Dwight McKissic has been a voice of conscience for our convention, and I love and appreciate him for it. But Dwight should not have to demand what God has decided. Jesus came to die for people from every tribe and language on earth. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” Black Baptists ought not have to beg for the equality that is already theirs in Christ.
In the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, it was whites who condoned slavery and racism and it is whites who should lead out in correcting the problem. Blacks ought not have to force their way into the symbolic doors of the convention, but whites ought to throw those doors open, invite them in and hug them (symbolically – I’m not much of a hugger) as they step inside. It is our job to root out every last vestige of racism and discrimination from our convention.
Whites did the damage. Whites need to fix the problem!
2) This is a process, not an action.
Repentance was important. Electing Fred Luter is important. There are many who think that the name-change proposal can be an important step in the process (while others disagree). But there is not a single action that solves the problem. There’s not a resolution we can pass, not a motion we can make that will solve the problem.
It is a process of reaching out, of making friends, of breaking down barriers day by day, year by year. It is like a marriage – a commitment that lasts a lifetime.
3) We must take an unequivocal stand against racist churches in the SBC
I saw tweets a couple of weeks ago that blew my mind. A prominent leader announced that he knew of SBC churches where blacks were not welcome and could not become members. I knew that was true 20 or 30 years ago. I pastored in an area of the rural South where racism was rampant and unashamed back in the late 80s and early 90s. I know of a church in Florida that was blatantly racist. But I thought this was a thing of the past.
I don’t want to be in fellowship with churches like that. It makes me mad that racists would pervert the message of the Cross by acting as if the fountain filled with blood is for whites only.
We need to do something about this. I’m not a convention operations expert. But we need to find a way to say to churches that discriminate on the basis of race that they are not welcome among us. Until they repent of their sin, we don’t want them in our fellowship.
Can you be an exclusively white “Great Commission” church? I think not.
4) We need to continue the process the EC articulated last year.
It’s pretty simple. We need to take proactive steps to include blacks and those from other ethnic groups on boards of trustees and in leadership positions around the SBC. We need to keep on opening the door, and welcoming them not only into the fellowship but into the leadership.
5) We have to clean up the Richard Land mess.
Richard Land set the process back with his comments. I do not believe that Richard Land is racist. But his comments were foolish and ill-advised. What can be done? Here are my suggestions.
- A truly repentant apology might be a good start. Land’s apologies were less than convincing to a lot of people, and did not evidence, in my opinion, much repentance.
- Perhaps Land could reach out to Fred Luters and Dwight McKissic and a few other black leaders and talk things through. Face the music. My impression of these men is that they are not vindictive nor do they want to hurt anyone. If he would reach out to them directly, and follow that up with a statement, it might go a long way to cleaning up the mess.
- On the other hand, it may be time for Dr. Richard Land to do what noble warriors have done through the centuries and fall on his own sword. If he is not willing to help clean up the mess he created, maybe he should walk away from it so others can clean it up. He is pretty close to retirement age. That time may have come.
We need to get the good ship SBC back off the shoals and chugging along toward its destination. We need to do what is necessary so that NOLA 2012 will be remembered historically as a turning point in SBC history – for good reasons.
May God grant that!