In 2002, after the firing of head coaches Tony Dungy and Dennis Green, the NFL diversity committee crafted the Rooney rule. The rule requires NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for all head coaching and senior personnel positions. Has the rule worked? Today, there are only one Hispanic and two African American head coaches.
There’s a growing chorus of pundits who understand the problems with the Rooney Rule. The major obstacle to minority head coaching hires is a lack of offensive, defensive, and special teams coordinators–positions leading to head coaching opportunities. The NFL, while having good intentions, tried to fix diversity problems from the top down instead of from the bottom up. They are only now, 16 years later, coming to the realization that lack of diversity problems cannot be successfully addressed with a top down approach.
What does this have to do with the SBC? There are contributors to this site who are advocating for more diversity in SBC leadership. I respect their opinions, and I affirm their desire for the SBC to be more ethnically diverse. In recent years, we have elected our first African American President, and minorities for 1st and 2nd Vice Presidents. I’m not advocating a stop to pushing for minorities in leadership positions, and I am not suggesting that minorities who are currently qualified for those senior level leadership positions should wait in line. Qualified minority candidates have been told to wait there turn in line too often in our country and our denomination. “Wait your turn in line” is often a smoke screen for prejudice and racism. We should, however, be working from the bottom up, making sure there are more qualified minorities in the leadership pipeline. If we don’t work from the bottom up, we stand to fall into the same predicament as the NFL.
How do we work from the bottom up? First, we need to encourage our churches to evangelize minorities. I was talking to a layperson on a pastor search committee (No, I was not in consideration, this person is a friend). He asked what they should be looking for. I told him they should look for a pastor who is willing to reach out to the Latino community surrounding their church. My exact words were, “you should hire a pastor who would hire a Latino minister to evangelize that community around your church.” His answer floored me: “Why would we want to do that?” That mentality must stop. Leaders are grown in gospel centered churches. If we are not growing an ethnically diverse pool of leaders in our SBC churches, then the next generation will continue to struggle with diversity in leadership.
Next, we need more minority led churches in our local associations. That’s going to require our pastors to intentionally develop relationships with minority pastors. The best way to bring other churches into our associations is through friendships between their leaders. When a church joins the association, then its pastor has opportunities for leadership in the association. What good are association leadership positions? I admit, they may seem boring and useless, but I have gained valuable leadership experience from the positions I have held in our association, leadership experience that has trained me for larger opportunities and responsibilities. I would call the association leadership positions, the quarterbacks coaches of the SBC.
Who would be the offensive and defensive coordinators? I’d say the next step in a bottom up approach would be to seek more diversity in state convention leadership. How diverse are our state convention staffs? How many minority candidates have been put forward for state convention President and Vice-President positions?
We don’t have to abandon our efforts to promote minority candidates for senior leadership positions, but I’m afraid if we don’t couple those efforts with a push for diversity at the lower levels of our SBC structure, we’ll continue to be frustrated when we hear reports of no minority interviews for senior leadership positions.
Will the NFL make a course correction? There are signs. The Kansas city chiefs have an African American offensive coordinator who should get some widespread consideration for head coaching vacancies next offseason. What will the head coaching ranks look like in 18 years? What will the leadership of the SBC, her state conventions, her associations, and her congregations look like in 18 years? May we learn from the struggles of the NFL.