Dave Miller recently committed to cyberspace his view of minority hiring in light of the five entity leadership roles which are or shortly will be vacant: IMB, Lifeway, Executive Committee of the SBC, Southwestern Seminary, and New Orleans Seminary. To summarize, Dave believes it would be a shameful turn of events if the SBC failed to appoint at least one minority leader to fill one of the five empty slots. Perusing the 165+ comments (yes, I read them all) leads one to believe there are four major schools of thought.
- Yes, please it is about time. Prioritize hiring of a qualified minority.
- Hey, if it happens that way, great! If not, we’ll be fine.
- No, no, we’re not returning to the days of skin color as litmus test; it was wrong then and it would be wrong now.
- GO ASTROS!
While I’ve attended Southwestern and Southeastern Seminaries, have shopped at Lifeway, and follow the ERLC’s very own rock star on Twitter (@drmoore), the only entity I know with any certainty is the IMB. Therefore, I’d like to examine the notion of preferential hiring of a qualified minority candidate at the IMB.
First, a few caveats:
- Let’s assume everyone in the discussion believes a person of color can fill Platt’s shoes. If you believe ethnic minorities inherently lack the character or qualities to be IMB president, this is not the discussion for you.
- We will use a previously-published list of basic qualifications as our fundamental requirements for this conversation. Other qualification exist, but I’m using that list just for today.
- Our focus here is on men; the question of a woman filling the role of IMB president is worth debating, but it requires a re-imagining of the several duties of the president and a review of the preaching and teaching roles that women in ministry, but outside a church, can fill. That’s too large and worthy a discussion to tag onto a race debate.
- These are my views and mine alone. Please don’t harass the good people in the IMB’s home office with complaints over what they are saying because they aren’t the ones writing here.
The Bible makes clear God’s love for all people. He planned from the very earliest to bless all of them (Genesis 12). To that end, Christ sent His followers into every part of the earth to call people to Him (Matthew 28). Eventually, a great gathering from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will bookend His plans by gathering before the throne (Revelation 5).
Racial variation seems to have been the plan all along. Filling the earth, as God commanded, requires spreading humanity to the point that those at one earthly extreme would look far different from people at the opposite shore. Consider the genetic studies of Appalachia or Martha’s Vineyard if you don’t believe me. Visit Iceland, where everyone looks like everyone else simply to due having filled one small, isolated corner of the globe. It’s just science.
Thus, we live in a world designed to bring forth unavoidable variation. He expects a worshipful response from the differently-hued image bearers He created. Race and cultural uniqueness exist because He invented a world in which such developments were inevitable, and we cannot ignore the reality of those variations. Christians of various racial backgrounds look, act, feel, and value differently even as they simultaneously worship Christ.
But wait, you cry, God loves all of us equally: Greek and Jew, slave and free, men and women. He is colorblind, status-insensitive, gender-indifferent, right?
Yes, when it comes to salvation, image-bearing, and love, God is quite colorblind; that’s Paul’s point in context. He values us all equally, but that’s not a valid justification for behaving as if the racial variation that He created does not exist. We must acknowledge it regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us or how others might have twisted racial reconciliation into a bludgeon.
So, we live in a world and nation filled with races, as God apparently intended, and must function in light of the fact that fallen human nature has twisted racial differences into justification for hate. We must face this reality as we choose an IMB president since his job is to guide Southern Baptists to witness and lead this variegated world to Christ.
When the organization hired Platt, his appeal to younger generations formed part of his qualifications for the role. Trustees drew a line somewhere in the sand and said, “Everyone on this side of the line is a possible candidate” and as far as they were concerned, Platt stood in the right place. Then they added, “We need someone who speaks the language of the generation we want so desperately to reach; not as objects of ministry, but as partners and participants.”
In other words, despite the fact that God loves both old and young, trustees said, “We can’t afford to be age-blind. We must acknowledge the reality that we need young SBC members to partner with us.” No one could validly accuse IMB trustees of ageism because they declined to consider a sexagenarian; rather, they craved the connection abilities someone from a different generation was most likely to display. “Be young enough to relate to millennials” was part of his qualification because it connected to an aspect of the job description.
Therein lies the justification: it was a part of the job description.
An IMB president must travel to churches and bring more partners to the table. He must speak to an entire nation of Southern Baptists and SBC allies. He communicates, by his words and identity; crosses lines; draws in allies new and old; fills pulpits; engages as yet untapped resources for completing the mandates of Christ. And regardless of our desire to remove race from the equation, the role of a flagship entity leader in the SBC does not exist in a racial vacuum.
“But what harm would it do to appoint a white president who loves people of all color? Not by choosing only white guys, but by allowing the cream to rise, so to speak, without regard for race; if a white guy is the best one, what’s the harm?”
None at all; but as he attempted to break molds and cross lines, he’d always have to carry both convention and personal baggage with him. He would shoulder the task of proving the IMB, SBC, and he all care for Christians of color.
Consider what would happen, though, if we were to find an African American brother to fill that office. How might his burden shift? How freely would he be able to encourage new partnerships with traditional African American churches and organizations, knowing he does not have to prove his own commitment to racial harmony and inclusion of all people?
What would happen as a president of color traveled to Africa and South America, places slowly claiming the geographical center of the evangelical world? They see the news from CNN. People around the world – black, brown, otherwise – have said to me, “You people still hate blacks in the US, right? Your cops shoot them on video. I’ve seen it.” What could an African-American or Latino president communicate to those national conventions and local entities , simply by his presence, that a white president could not? What would it say about the SBC and the missionaries who represent it? How might it alter the dynamic between a traditionally white organization and our brown-skinned internationals who lead agencies and organizations of their own?
And how might the work of the office of the president improve as a result?
Sports has this idea called WAR: Wins Above Replacement. The stat gurus examine a player’s value by asking, “How many more wins does this guy bring us over the average player?” This allows NBA teams to examine a to trade for Jimmy Butler, for example, based not on gaudy averages, but how much actual value he will add through win shares.
What would be the WAR value of an African-American president in Richmond? I’m not asking whether he would more or less of God’s man (ugh) than a white guy. Instead I’m wondering how many more partnerships would he bring. How might financial giving change once a greater cross section of American Christianity realized their place in missions? Would he draw in a broader variety of applicants with untapped skills and potential? Wouldn’t he continue the appeal to the relatively racially-unbiased millennials we crave?
We certainly wouldn’t see a drop in applications from white people simply because the president is a different color, but even if we did: so what? If you’re going to avoid the IMB because of a Latin, African American, or Asian president, then you’re not the kind of applicant I would want anyway.*
*(OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh; I apologize. Even so – this is just my opinion, you see, but refusing to apply for a job in the IMB because we hired a qualified black or brown guy is kind of a bad thing. As well, let the record reflect the fact that these are my views, and I do not speak for the IMB. Please don’t call the switchboard demanding answers. Please. )
So here we have it: No one wants to be or appear to be racist. Everyone wants all people to come to Christ. All of us want the best guy filling the office. Nobody wants a racially-based hiring philosophy.
Even so, the path of wisdom at this point calls us to consider writing the job description in such a way as to account for racial strife in this
nation world and the unique position the IMB president can play in helping lead the convention towards healthier days. What we need from a president changes at times; why not acknowledge that?
Hiring a minority to fill the office in Richmond is not about skin-as-litmus-test. It’s not about reverse racism, or overlooking all possible disqualifications in our stampede towards the proper level of melanin. It’s not really about attempting to apologize for the SBC’s racist origins or slow rate of progress towards racial reconciliation. Instead, it’s about finding a qualified applicant who can take the organization into the next century’s partnerships. As Cooperative Program proponents admit, we can do more together. Let’s take the radical step of doing whatever is necessary to make believers from various cultures comfortable with the IMB for the purpose of accomplishing the task.