I have been a fairly consistent and often annoying advocate for racial diversity and reconciliation in the SBC since the day I met Dwight McKissic.
It was at the SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando in 2010, and Dwight walked up while I was talking to someone else. I’d heard him speak many years before and he had read some of my posts at sbcIMPACT, where I blogged at the time. Dwight offered a resolution or motion (he can probably remember the details, at my advanced age, I cannot) which failed and I sought him out. He pointed something out to me that day, something I simply hadn’t noticed. He said that during the entire convention he’d been watching and there had not been a single person on stage who wasn’t white.
I knew that the men in charge that year weren’t racists, that they hadn’t made a decision to keep Blacks, Hispanics, or Asians out. They just went with who they knew and who they knew was other white guys. I realized that if we were going to achieve racial diversity, we would have to advocate for it.
So, I made a promise that day to my new friend. I told him that I would lend whatever voice I had to the cause of racial reconciliation and diversity in the SBC. I have tried to keep that promise for the last eight years.
- I wrote on the topic and challenged SBC President Bryant Wright to seek diversity in his appointments. I received a letter from President Wright promising me that this would be a priority for him. It was.
- When the church in Mississippi fired its pastor for inviting black children to VBS, we went after that hard – and took heavy fire in return from those who refused to accept the clear evidence of racism.
- We took strong stands on issues such as the Confederate Flag and the Alt-right resolution. You don’t believe there are still racists in the SBC? You should see some of the stuff I deleted out of our comment filters. Wow. Many of these came from people claiming to be deacons and Sunday School teachers in SBC churches.
- When we got a chance at the plate during the 2017 Pastors’ Conference, we did something that no Southern Baptist Conference had ever done, not counting those specifically designed around ethnic groups or racial themes. Half of our twelve speakers were minorities. We didn’t trumpet that – we just let these six men proclaim God’s word powerfully and accurately.
I say all of this to make my convictions plain. I’ve taken a stand that has made a lot of people mad at me. I have been accused of race-baiting and I’ve learned a new NSFW vocabulary from the love notes of the hateful racists. I have offended many with what I’ve said and for the most part, I am not sorry. The SBC drags its feet too often. One man last week, in response to the noble action of Georgia Baptists in disfellowshiping a racist church, said, “Well, I’d like to hear the church’s side of it.” Far too typical! Some will always side with those who resist racial progress. We are going to continue to confront such things to advance the cause of racial diversity, racial unity, and racial reconciliation in the Southern Baptist Convention.
We cannot stop because God commands us, because racial reconciliation is a gospel imperative.
The Bible and Racial Reconciliation
God is at work to gather a people from every tribe and language on earth to bind us together as one people to worship him eternally (Revelation 7:9). Though the nations of earth were torn apart at the Tower of Babel, the Spirit of God baptized and indwelled ONE BODY (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), healing that human rift. The Spirit is given to unite us around a higher principle than those earthly things that divide us. Money. Nationality. And Race! We have a Spirit-empowered unity in Christ that can overcome all that divides us in this world.
And Jesus died, according to Paul, to tear down those human walls that we construct, one purpose of the gospel. The Jews and Greeks had hostile racial divisions, but Paul, in Ephesians 2:14, said that Jesus was “our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility.” Jesus came to save sinners, yes, but he also came to gather those disparate individuals into one body, blasting away their their cultural pride and human prejudices and building “one new man” called the church. Jew and Greek. Rich and Poor. Black and White (and every shade in between).
So, I promote racial harmony because the Bible commands it and Jesus died to accomplish it. If Jesus died to break down the walls of hostility why would I not work to do the same? How could I do less when I know that is the ultimate purpose of the work of Christ – to unite the redeemed into One Body.
Of course, I also do it because when I think of the pain that White America has inflicted on Black America over the centuries, it makes me nauseated. No, I didn’t do it and so I can’t confess the sin myself but all that is holy I can devote myself to trying to correct it. I want to be a part of the solution.
- While I love and support law enforcement I will not turn a blind eye to the abuse of the civil rights of minorities and I won’t pretend that these things don’t happen. “All lives matter” can never be an excuse for brutalizing innocent minorities.
- I will not listen to the “best man for the job” jargon anymore. Are we saying the “best man” has always been white? There’s never been a qualified minority? Maybe we need to shine some light on this until when finding the best man for the job we consider people of all races.
- I am going to continue to beg White Baptists to stop demanding that Black Baptists fit in with us if they want to join us. We have thrown open the doors and said, “You are welcome if you think like us, vote like us, acts like us, and do things like us.” True reconciliation means we seek to understand each other and accept one another, even with our differences.
How long will this process of reconcilation take? It won’t be over soon. But perseverance is a biblical virtue. If we keep showing love for 50 or 100 years, I’m guessing things will change.
But, On the Other Hand…
But the rhetoric in the racial reconciliation discussion has been overheating and the teakettle seems like it’s about to explode.
Can We Turn Down the Volume?
After the wonderful MLK50 conference last week, social media became a gigantic dumpster fire. Complacent people sometimes need a shock, but some of the things I have read make me cringe. Sure men without godly character have spewed the nonsense you’d expect. But people of wisdom and calm are tossing verbal bombs!
- Many Black Christians are frustrated at the resistance they sense among evangelical Christians to racial progress.
- Politics has become explosive. While many White evangelicals are enthusiastic Trump supporters, many (most?) minority Christians see that as a betrayal. This may explain a lot of the anger.
- White Christians long for a world they loved and see slipping away. Many of the changes demanded by the racial reconciliation movement are threatening and cause fear.
- Many White Christians are increasingly frustrated at being called racist or obstructionist when they do not believe they are. Articles such as those that Thabiti Anyabwile wrote recently strike a negative chord among a lot of White Christians.
We Christians love to imitate the Jesus of Matthew 23 and the one who overturned the moneychangers tables. We want to be just like MMA Jesus. But the Jesus was laid down his life without a word, the one who commanded that we “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemies” is not so popular. But that is the Jesus we are to imitate.
We are brothers and sisters in a dysfunctional family – the church. We badly need “Another Counselor” to fill us and do some therapy, but we are still a family and we need to treat one another with familial love.
Racial conversation is always going to be difficult and painful, but can we not dial back the rhetoric a notch or two? We are going to have to say some tough things to one another, but speaking the truth in love will help.
Can We Ask for Some Grace?
We need some grace, my African American brethren. I’ve tried hard to understand your experience but I will never get it fully. It isn’t who I am. I have tried to see issues from your side and get why you feel the way you do, but sometimes I can’t see why you think as you do. I question what you say and even disagree. But sometimes we are scared to voice those disagreements because we don’t want it to sound like we are against reconciliation. We need to be able to discuss these as part of the family of God – I guess we are back to the rhetoric thing now. Too often, when we have questions or even disagreements, we end up feeling as if we are being painted in negative light. I know this isn’t just me, from conversations with others. racial obstructionists. If we don’t always understand your urgency or your passion, it isn’t always because we haven’t tried. We wear different sunglasses and the world doesn’t always look the same.
We have trouble understanding where you are coming from sometimes, even when we try. This is not going to be easy. But it is God’s command and we cannot give up. We need your grace and I hope we will be generous with ours. Black and white in America has been graceless and that needs to change. Only the Spirit of God working in us can change it.
Facts Are Our Friends
Too often, our tone and our rhetoric swallow up the truth. I have witnessed discussions in which both sides spoke as if their version of the facts was uncontested. Yet those facts differed completely. We don’t get to pick what facts we want. Just because someone said something that supports my view, it doesn’t make it right. We should search the Scriptures to form our ideas not seek Scriptural support to proof-text our preconceived ideas. Of course, everyone says that. It is harder to do.
As Christians who serve the God of truth, truth matters to us and we need to serve it faithfully. We cannot lose accuracy in the heat of argument. We must do real research – both biblical and factual – to support our views.
Even Glaciers Move
Glaciers appear stationary, but they move slowly. The SBC can seem like a glacier – one that is both cold and unmoving. But we are moving.
When I pastored a church in Virginia in the 80s, I was shocked at the racism I encountered there. I was told recently that the church now has black members. Progress! Ethnic churches are the fastest growing segment of the SBC.
I know it must be frustrating to African American pastors to see our glacial progress, but it is progress. This racial reconciliation glacier is digging a channel and the changes, though slow in coming, are deep and they are permanent. As frustrating as it is, please don’t give up.
This glacier is moving slowly, but it is moving.