I am old enough to have played dodgeball before it was declared unhealthy to children’s self-esteem. I have watched with dismay as many in our midst have played what seems to me to be a form of dodgeball with issues related to racial reconciliation.
Let me be clear. I believe with all my heart that most of the pastors in the SBC are not racists at heart, but I think many hold attitudes that hinder the progress of racial healing in our denomination. Whenever there is an effort to advance racial reconciliation in our fellowship, there is a corpus of regular clichés and axioms trotted out that often sound great but are unhelpful to the process.
These “dodges” (and again, I think they are sincere and well-intended, even if poorly-thought) fall into a few basic categories.
1. Variations on the “Put the Past in the Past” Theme.
Many people cannot understand why we just can’t put this issue in the past and move on to the colorblind society that MLK advocated.
But I’ve never owned slaves.
Of course, you haven’t. and hopefully, you didn’t lynch anyone or do any of the despicable things that were done to Blacks through the centuries. I am sure you have never preached the Curse of Ham theology or advocated “separate but equal” or voted to exclude people of color from your fellowship.
But there is in the Bible such a thing as corporate sin and responsibility. Hezekiah repented for the sins of his ancestors. God judged all of Israel for Achan’s sin. The judgment of God on entire nations is well-established (and I intend to develop that more fully in a subsequent post). We are Americans and we are Southern Baptists. America is a great nation with a horrifying history of treatment of Blacks, Native peoples, Asians, and other minorities. The SBC has a shameful history of racism, segregation, and the exclusion of minorities which has created an atmosphere of distrust among minorities.
We have taken steps to correct this – repenting and making statements of our determination to do differently. But we have a long way to go. I was roundly vilified on a Facebook group for this statement, but I stand by it. In the SBC, racism was a white problem and we should do all we can to fix it. Black people didn’t create slavery, segregation, and its attendant problems. We need to take the initiative in fixing what our forebears broke.
But that is White Guilt.
No, it isn’t. White Guilt is feeling ashamed of being white or believing that there is something morally deficient or offensive about our race. That is simply not the point. It isn’t about guilt but responsibility. There is a problem out there that our forebears created with their sinful and ungodly attitudes and actions. We need to act in godly and biblical ways to rebuild what sin has broken.
How many times do we have to apologize about the past?
This borders on the absurd. We have repented and most of our other actions were not apologies but specific corrective actions to better the situation. Even then, slavery, racism, and segregation have gone on in this country for over four centuries. The SBC practiced one form or another of racism for well over a century. Our efforts at reconciliation are still in their infancy.
Of course, the biggest problem with this view is that racism is NOT in the past. I have gotten a stream of the vilest and most racist comments here just about every time we post on this topic – from people who claim to be SBC. I have a file of comments from a man who was an SBC pastor filled with vulgarity and the most racist vitriol you can imagine. He was a regular commenter at another SBC blog site (I believe they finally blocked him recently) but privately flushes vile racist comments. Active racism is still a problem. And so is passive racism – the failure to include minorities in any way more than a token participation in leadership, trustee appointments, committees, and task forces.
When the past is truly the past then we can argue this.
2. Variations on the “All Lives Matter” Theme.
For many Southern Baptists, the chief concern is often not theological or moral, political. If we engage in racial reconciliation we are in danger of support (gulp) Democrats or extreme political groups.
The irony was that this year’s resolution that caused so much roiling was accompanied by one on gambling, yet none of the folks complaining about this complained about why we keep on having resolutions about gambling (or alcohol, or abortion, or…).
Racism affects all races, not just whites.
Of course, it does. But we are Americans and Southern Baptists. Here, the effects of racism over the centuries have been pretty much one-sided. There seems little point to argue that or to argue with one who denies that.
Why don’t we condemn BLM and other racist groups too?
Baptists want to see things in binary terms. If you don’t support Trump, you love Hillary. You are either Calvinist or Traditionalist. We resist nuance. But fixing racism in the SBC does not require embracing the political aims of BLM. They are a politically extreme group with views we see as in conflict with our biblical values. But one need not choose one or the other.
And there is little point in condemning BLM and other such groups – there isn’t much support within the SBC for BLM (the political organization, not the concept). The SBC is still dealing with and trying to correct the effects of our century and a half of blatant racism. That is what we need to address.
3. Variations on the “Gospel Issue” Theme.
I believe racism is a gospel issue. Jesus died to redeem ONE people from every tribe and language on earth. But “It’s a gospel issue” is sometimes used as a dodge as well, I’m afraid.
Racism is a sin problem, not a white problem.
Of course, racism is a sin problem. To demean another because of skin color shows a heart contrary to Christ. But saying, “It’s a sin problem,” does not mean that the problem is not also one for us to address. We address it because it’s a sin problem. We bring the grace of Jesus Christ to bear and seek to rebuild the mistrust, the brokenness, the evil effects of 400 years of racism in our land.
Only the gospel can solve racism.
Well, duh. But believing that Jesus is the hope for marriages doesn’t stop us from counseling struggling couples, does it? Racism is a heart problem that needs to be dealt with by Christ’s grace, but does that preclude us from working in the Spirit’s power to make things better? Are we saying that we should simply preach the gospel and do nothing?
Let me end this as I began it. I am not accusing those who advance these positions of racist hearts, but I do believe that advancing these and other positions can be a hindrance to making real progress in racial reconciliation.
What Am I Saying?
I see my views on racism misstated regularly. Permit me to try to state them clearly and succinctly.
1. Racism is wicked sin, common to the human experience. There is Black racism, Asian racism, and there is White racism. But in America and in the SBC, the vast majority of the problem has been White “Christians” mistreating minorities.
2. The effects of that racism are seen throughout our culture. Many of the social and cultural issues in minority communities have DNA strands that trace directly back to slavery and brutal dehumanization inflicted on minorities. We cannot deny the reality that our forebears’ actions created problems that exist still today.
3. The hope for solving these problems is Jesus Christ working through the church. Racism is a “gospel issue” and can only be fixed by the work of Christ through us. Human solutions outside Christ are doomed to fail – as they always have.
4. We, white Southern Baptist Christians, have a responsibility before God to work to fix the problems that the sins of our forebears have created, both in our culture and in our convention. No, we are not “guilty” of their sin, but have a responsibility to seek to fix sin’s effects.
Why would we fight this? Why would we shirk this?
5. That responsibility entails building relationships, making genuine efforts to include minorities at every level of leadership in the SBC, and seeking to break down walls of division. A big part of this is discerning what is biblical and what is cultural in our fellowship and being willing to give up our cultural heritage to build unity.
6. This is no easy task. It defies cliché and simple solutions. Racial divides are deep and distrust is strong and anyone who thinks we can throw a couple of resolutions, elect a couple of officers, chant a mantra or two, and fix the problem must be in Colorado smoking something illegal around here.
This is going to be a marathon, but if we have the heart of God we will run with perseverance.