Originally published April 1, 2016
Racism. The word practically emits the hum of electrical voltage. No decent person wants to be accused of being a racist, and no one wants to be mistreated on the basis of race. If there’s a more powerful word in the American vernacular right now, I’m not sure what it is.
Racism isn’t something I normally think about or have to deal with on a daily basis even though it would seem to be swirling all around me here in the Deep South. I’m white. The majority of my friends are white. Either I don’t know anyone who’s racist or those who are racist are wise enough, polite enough, or ashamed enough to keep it to themselves. But despite the fact that I don’t have much one on one experience with it, race is an issue that gets a lot of attention, and the main place I’m encountering racial issues of late is in my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention.
Whether you see it as “too little, too late,” or “it’s about time,” the upper echelons of the SBC have been talking a good game (and, in many instances, making progress) about diversity for the last couple of decades. It started in 1995 with the Resolution On Racial Reconciliation, in which the SBC confessed, apologized for, and sought forgiveness for past involvement with and support of slavery, racism, segregation, and other civil rights issues. Next came the task force that studied changing the name of the SBC to “Great Commission Baptists” due to the negative perceptions and racial implications of the word “Southern.” This was followed by the election of Fred Luter, the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Fast forward to 2016. So far this year, three well-known pastors have declared their candidacy for president of the SBC, and each has indicated that diversity is an issue he will give attention to.
J.D. Greear: “I want to see minority leaders take places of real prominence in the SBC, such that diversity might become a hallmark of our denomination.”
Steve Gaines: At Bellevue, we don’t just talk about racial reconciliation – we actually experience it and live in it as a reality. It works in our church because we focus on Jesus-centered racial reconciliation.
David Crosby (who will be nominated by Fred Luter): I hope to make [diversity] a matter of consideration from the very first as we seek to structure in the present for a future gospel strategy that is ever wider in its reach.
OK, great. More people of diverse racial backgrounds appointed to executive offices in the SBC. More books and resources about diversity. More seminars, conferences, panel discussions, and breakout sessions about race. Super. All of those things are wonderful and well intentioned, and will hopefully have some sort of positive impact at the administrative level.
But I really don’t think it’s going to make much of a dent in the actual problem.
I have a friend whose seminary graduate husband has been searching for a senior pastor position in an SBC church for about a year now. He’s a great guy who loves God’s people and rightly handles God’s word. And he’s been turned down by church after church. Why? I’m sure the churches who have rejected him would list a variety of factors, but one of the reasons is that he’s black and his wife is white.
Several years ago, my husband was on staff at an SBC church that was located across the street from a lower income housing project inhabited mostly by black, single parent families. The vast majority of our members were retired and I was a stay at home mom. We had a lot of people with a lot of free time on their hands. I suggested we start an after school tutoring program for the kids who lived in the housing project to minister to and reach out to our neighbors. The idea was quickly dismissed by a vocal few because “we don’t want those people in our church.”
That’s where real racism lives in the SBC, not at the national, upper management level, but in the hearts of some of our individual church members.
- Church members who excuse their sin by saying, “Well, that’s just the way I was raised,” or “I’m too old to change.”
- Deacons, elders, and search committees who – instead of dealing with sin in the camp – make provision for the flesh of their churches by quietly pushing aside the resumes of minority pastors because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of racist congregants making a stink or risk losing the money they contribute.
- Churches who sell their buildings and move to a whiter part of town when the surrounding neighborhood “goes black.”
- Christians whose offerings go around the world to share the gospel with people of all colors but who won’t go across the sanctuary to share a pew with people of another race.
Racism is an issue of the heart. It’s sin.
And sin can’t be solved by appointments based on skin color or some sort of “trickle down” diversity. It can only be solved by individuals repenting before a holy God, receiving His forgiveness, and growing in Christlikeness.
God’s way in the body of Christ is not “top down,” with administrators creating programs, holding meetings and conferences, and strategically moving people into various positions like pawns on a chess board. God’s way is “bottom up,” with local pastors preaching the truth of God’s word to their people and calling them to repent. It begins with Christ working in people’s hearts, one by one, convicting them of their arrogance and self-righteousness, their pride and their prejudice, their failure to see others through God’s eyes, and their failure to love one another the way God has commanded.
The solution to racism and diversity in the SBC?
It’s right there in black and white.