I enjoy attending the Annual Session of the Southern Baptist Convention each year. Our annual Vacation Bible School and the second week of June SBC session have often conflicted on our church calendar. I have usually opted to attend the SBC, when that occurs, and left an Associate in charge. This year we scheduled the VBS for the last week of June, to make sure it didn’t conflict with the SBC and/or the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education meeting in Baltimore.
However, as of today, I’m seriously contemplating whether or not to attend the SBC Birmingham, 2019. Why? To be perfectly honest, I have conflicting emotions about the SBC’s commitment to giving Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans an opportunity to interview for, and be hired as one of the Presidents of the nine Southern Baptist entities.
My ambivalent feelings are not in any wise related to fellow Arkansan, Dr. Ronnie Floyd, being elected as President of the SBC Executive Board. I actually think Ronnie was a good choice, and I have every reason to believe that he will give the Kingdom and the SBC his absolute best. If God gives our Convention the favor under Ronnie’s leadership, that God gave to the Cross Church, Fayetteville, AR, where Dr. Floyd serves as pastor, we have a bright future ahead of us. My prayers and heart is for Kingdom advancement in the SBC over the next few years.
The election of Ronnie Floyd did bring to memory the controversy surrounding the letter forwarded to the EC nominating committee regarding whether or not a minority candidate was interviewed for the presidency of the EC. The EC Board of Trustees adamantly refused to answer the question, which indicated to me they had not interviewed a minority candidate. I know with certainty a highly qualified Black applicant, experienced pastor, seminary professor, and an experienced State Executive Director, was not interviewed or seriously considered by the EC Search Committee. It is baffling to me, how do you deny such a qualified person an interview? I could accept the fact that the Committee may consider Dr. Floyd the better fit, or the more capable of the two…but to not even interview the minority candidate? BAFFLING!!!
I know for certain, a highly qualified Black candidate has submitted his name for the vacancy as President of Lifeway. At least two qualified Blacks submitted their resumes for the vacancy of the President of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Every applicant has an earned doctorate, two with Ph.D.’s, and extensive experience in SBC life. Yet, none of them currently are the leading candidates for the vacancies at any of these SBC entities. BAFFLING!!!
You will never convince me that out of five vacant entity head positions, it was God’s will in every instance for an Anglo to be selected. You will never convince me in a denomination that is comprised of a 20% minority population, and assigned to disciple the nations, that at every gathering of the Great Commission Council of the SBC, it should resemble the convening of The White Citizens Council.
If the SBC continues down this road of electing five White entity heads, in the most recent vacancies, the message being sent to minorities is: You can ride on the bus, but don’t ever expect to drive it.
Failing to interview, seriously consider and to hire minority candidates have left me with a feeling in the pit of my stomach that I may be a part of a denomination driven by systemic racism and a White Supremacy construct that simply cannot and will not empower and submit to minority leadership. Wrestling with this thought is very disconcerting for me.
Finally, I may not attend for a very practical reason. I’ve decided to reenroll as a student at SWBTS to complete my Masters. I plan to take one class every semester, including the May Term, January Term, Summer semester, Fall and Spring, until I finish. Therefore, I may be in class this summer and simply need to be disciplined and focused. I had hoped to enroll in a class that would give me credit for attending the SBC Annual Convention, as some classes do.
I am really enjoying a Church History II class taught by Dr. Robert Caldwell. This semester we are required to read, “The Democratization of American Christianity” by Nathan O. Hatch. In Chapter six, “The Right to Think for Oneself,” Page 171, Hatch writes:
The anguish of injustice and poverty makes unacceptable the implication that God is ordaining, and taking pleasure in, whatever happens. African-Americans, for instance, found little place for pre-destination in their understanding of Christianity. In Wilkinson County, Mississippi, a slave gravedigger, with a younger helper, asked a white stranger a question:
‘Massa, may I ask you something?’
‘Ask what you please.’
‘Can you ‘splain how it happened in the fust place, that the white folks got the start of the black folks, so as to make dem slaves and do all de work?’
The younger helper, fearing the white man’s wrath, broke in: ‘Uncle Pete, it’s no use talking. It’s fo’ordained. The Bible tells you that. The Lord fo’ordained the Nigger to work, and the white man to boss.’
Dat’s so. Dat’s so. But if dat’s so, then God’s no fair man!’
Hatch then concludes:
The forms of Christianity that prospered among African-Americans were not accepting of the status quo. They supported a moral revulsion of slavery and promised eventual deliverance, putting God on the side of change and freedom.
God is on the side of change and freedom. It is time for the SBC to change. If the SBC does not change in this cycle of entity hiring, when will she change? Will she ever change? I am not sure of the answers to these questions.
Like the older slave in the above story, I just have this question: Why is it that a minority can’t ever lead an SBC entity? Is it foreordained? God forbid! But what I do know, I cannot get excited about attending a convention where I have to ask these questions, because repeatedly I see the white power structure leave my people only with questions, but no answers.
I want to be clear that I am not considering leaving the Southern Baptist Convention. My dilemma is about whether or not to participate in the annual session. To attend, or not attend, that is the question. At the moment, I remain uncertain.