Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Diversity in the Southern Baptist Convention

I just watched online as the Southern Baptist Convention - the denomination with which my church affiliates - voted by a cheering acclamation a black man to be our denominational president for the first time.  Frankly, I was moved to tears, seeing the unanimity and joy of those assembled, and then watching a clearly humbled Fred Luter come to the podium and simply say, "To God be the glory for the things He has done."

Southern Baptists didn't have a good or righteous start when in 1845 they separated themselves from the Baptists to the North over the issue of slavery.  Clearly their reasons for establishing a new Baptist group was not based on anything espoused in Scripture, but was solely motivated by cultural economics and secular politics.  That is unfortunate, since Christians are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of God before they owe allegiance to any state or flag of man's making.

As those generations died off, and the American Civil Rights movement (led most prominently by a black Baptist pastor from Atlanta) began to right racial wrongs held over from the previous era of blindness, Baptists in the South slowly began to change from the past sins of their fathers.  In the late '90's at a Southern Baptist Convention (at which I was in attendance), the group put forth a resolution expressing repentance from the sin of racial prejudice.

Today, that change took a very large step toward turning words into action.  As I looked via the camera at the crowd on their feet and applauding with "Hallelujahs" and "Amens" I was looking at a very white crowd.  But, that's mostly who makes up Southern Baptist Churches.

This will not mean now that every Baptist church will suddenly become racially diverse.  Churches tend to reflect the communities in which they are located, and not all communities (ours for example) is very integrated.  Yet our church is racially diverse at a higher percentage than our town.  My guess (and hope) is that is because we value everyone regardless of their color and refuse to allow race to be any kind of issue here.

I also know that churches tend to be comprised of people who are "alike".  First-time guests to a church are more prone to return when they look about and see others who look like them, whether it be age, race, tattoos or whatever other cultural identification.  So, there will always be Southern Baptist churches that will be predominantly white, black, Asian, Hispanic, etc.  Always...not because others are not welcome, but because people want to worship where they are comfortable.  Like it or not, that's a fact of life.

At the same time I'm not ignorant of the fact that within our own Baptist association of 65 churches in our region there are some - maybe many - all white churches that either through practice or unwritten rule would not accept believers of other colors into their congregations.   Perhaps today's election will spark a change.

Such churches should now consider whether they want to remain within the SBC fold.  Sure, the president of our denomination has no power or authority over any church.  We all know that.  Baptists are autonomous.  But why belong to a denomination whose president would not be welcome as a member in your church?  How great a hypocrisy!

My hope is that those churches within our denomination who are today shaking their heads and will continue tosecretly or quietly ostracize other races from their membership would do the honest thing and pull out of the Convention so that the remainder of us can be unhindered by their testimony and move forward to reach all people to discover life in Christ.

We used to sing it when I was a child.  "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight".  It is good to see it begin to be lived out in word and in deed.

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