THE SBC AND RACIAL UNITY:

DO FLOYD, MOORE AND LAND REPRESENT A SEA CHANGE?

BY WILLIAM DWIGHT MCKISSIC, SR.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The apostle John described a picture in heaven of every racial, ethnic, and language group praising God together in unity. If heaven is a picture of racial unity and tranquility, shouldn’t—at least among God’s kingdom citizens on earth—there should be a demonstration of racial unity and peace? The Psalmist said, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

The Southern Baptist Convention, founded in 1845 in Augusta, GA, is renowned for being the largest protestant denomination and the most impactful and influential evangelistic, missionary, disciple-making ministry and kingdom-driven enterprise in the history of world Christianity. The SBC is also renowned for practicing and even preaching racism throughout the majority of her history. Thankfully, the SBC is making serious progress toward reversing the negative aspect of her legacy.

In a 1951 press release, ”Looking Back: Southern Baptist seminaries desegregated before desegregation,” the SBC proudly announced that the SBC seminaries were opening their doors to “carefully selected Negroes”—not even realizing that that phraseology—“carefully selected Negroes”—reeks with racism. In 1995 the SBC gave a formal apology to America and African Americans for her racist practices and positions. A demonstration of genuine fruit of repentance related to race in the SBC certainly moved in the right direction with the election of Pastor Fred Luter as President in 2012, but a continued all-White executive cabinet level entity heads since 1995, still leaves the question in suspense—has the SBC genuinely turned the corner racially?

There are Southern Baptists who have expressed insensitive and myopic remarks with racial overtones, against the back drop of the Ferguson and Staten Island (Eric Garner) fiascos. Pastor J.D. Hall stated in response to the Ferguson protestors:

 “The evangelical message needs to be, ‘We understand you have grievances. We understand you feel you’ve been wronged. Let’s discuss that, but first go home, tuck your kids in, and go to bed early so you can get up in the morning and be a productive citizen. Then, let’s talk.’”

Pastor Randy White stated in response to Professor Matthew Hall of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary statement in support of racial reconciliation being a gospel demand.

“Is racial reconciliation a ‘Gospel demand?’ Certainly not.”

However, recently The Lifeway Research Survey findings confirm that “Racial Reconciliation is mandated by the Gospel,” according to 90% of Protestant pastors surveyed.

Pastor and Professor Kevin Stilley labeled the response to Russell Moore’s expressing anguish and pain over the Eric Garner decision, “An Incendiary Statement”:

“Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Commission tweeted the following comment shortly after a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict a New York police officer in the death of Eric Garner.

And then the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention issued a press release in which Moore wrote:

“I’m stunned speechless by this news. We hear a lot about the rule of law—and rightly so. But a government that can choke a man to death on video for selling cigarettes is not a government living up to a biblical definition of justice or any recognizable definition of justice. We may not agree in this country on every particular case and situation, but it’s high time we start listening to our African American brothers and sisters in this country when they tell us they are experiencing a problem.”

I thought these communications to be ill advised and tweeted this response,

…There are four reasons why I believe the comments of Russell Moore and the ERLC were inappropriate and incendiary.

  1. The comments of Moore were emotionally charged reactions, not well reasoned responses.  The ERLC consistently states that it is its desire to show churches how they should respond in the midst of difficult cultural crises. Well, do we really want our churches and pastors out there emoting in the public sphere in a manner inconsistent with James 1:19-20?”

Kevin Stilley violated the unwritten policy of SBC employees to not publicly criticize SBC entities and entity heads. I was publically reprimanded by SWBTS for violating this unwritten policy; but not Professor Stilley? Go Figure! And to label Russell Moore’s response to the Staten Island verdict (Eric Garner) as an “Incendiary,” emotional,” “ill advised,” and not well reasoned” are subjective and judgmental. Furthermore, it completely ignores the fact that Russell Moore would not be sitting in his seat if his history was given to incendiary, ill advised, not-well-reasoned and emotional commentary. If Kevin Stilley had agreed with Russell Moore’s statement, he would not have described Russell Moore’s response with those words. I’ve discovered in SBC life when one cannot refute your arguments with facts they tend to dismiss it as emotional.

The J.D. Hall, Randy White and Kevin Stilley responses—based on history—are responses that one would expect from the SBC.

Then comes the current SBC President Ronnie Floyd, Richard Land (the former President of the SBC ERLC), Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer, all making public statements that, quite frankly, are non-typical of SBC personalities with regard to racial issues.

The Baptist Press reports these comments from President Ronnie Floyd:

“’The time is now for us to rise up together and cry out against the racism that still exists in our nation and our churches, and the subsequent injustices,” Floyd wrote. “We are grieved that racism and injustice still abound in our nation in 2014. All human beings are created by God and in His image. The dignity of each individual needs to be recognized and appreciated by each of us and by all of the 50,000 churches and congregations that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention.’”

“Floyd referenced 1 Corinthians 12:26 in calling for Southern Baptists to understand and work to alleviate the pain of racism and injustice within the body of Christ.”

“’With heavy hearts, we recognize the deep pain and hurt that has come to many of our African American brothers and sisters. The recent events in America have reawakened many of their greatest fears. Their wounds from the past run deep,” Floyd wrote. “Without relationships and conversations, we will never understand one another. Because you hurt, we hurt with you today. We are a part of the same body of Christ, His church, which is to be a picture of the multi-faceted wisdom of God.’”

The first SBC president that I ever heard prophetically and redemptively address a public controversial issue with racial overtones was Dr. Fred Luter when he addressed the Trayvon Martin saga. As I listened to Dr. Luter’s commentary concerning Trayvon Martin, it brought tears to my eyes. That was the first time I ever heard a SBC president address the pain of our reality with a view toward healing. Dr. Ronnie Floyd now becomes the second SBC president that I’ve heard address a controversial issue related to race identifying with our suffering and seeking solutions through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am deeply encouraged by Dr. Floyd’s commentary, rooted in the biblical language of 1 Corinthians 12:26.

Richard Land stated:

“America’s problem with race goes back to our beginnings. From our first encounters as Europeans with Native-Americans in Virginia and New England, race has been the serpent in the garden. For all of her greatness, America’s treatment of non-whites has been an ongoing tale of prejudice, abuse, and malign neglect.

Unfortunately, the Nobel Laureate William Faulkner was right when he observed, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” There are always the ghosts of the racist past among us, coloring how we perceive the present. Our present is always informed and tinted by our past experiences. Consequently, while most white Americans were dismissive of theories that the police framed O. J. Simpson, many African-Americans, based on their past experiences, found such accusations far too believable.

Once again, in the wake of Ferguson and Staten Island, people default to their past experiences. Like most Anglos, I must confess I have never had a negative experience with a police officer, white, brown, or black. I know few African-Americans, however, who have not had truly bad experiences with the police or know someone well who has.

The only way to truly bridge this divide, heal this rift, and move forward is for Christians, twice-born men and women, to come forward and take the lead in the immediate formation of ethnically diverse coalitions where people can tell each other their stories and begin to exorcise the ghosts of the past together.

Ultimately, we must seek to get out of our comfort zones and strive with intentionality to form truly multi-ethnic, multi-class churches where people of differing ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds worship together and minister to one another as equal members of the local body of Christ. Then we will hear and know each other’s stories, and we will put faces we know on racial and economic injustice. Such churches will truly transform our culture.”

I am really proud of Richard Land; this is the Richard Land we all thought we knew. Truth be told, Richard Land laid the foundation for the SBC ’95 repentance statement and all the positive changes we are beginning to see racially in the SBC. His statement above is perhaps the most powerful and persuasive statement yet made by a SBC personality on this subject.

Russell Moore stated:

“The mood in Ferguson, Missouri, is tense, after a grand jury decided against indicting a police officer for the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown. The tension ought to remind us, as the church, that we are living in a time in which racial division is hardly behind us. That reality ought to motivate us as citizens to work for justice, but also as the church to seek to embody the kingdom of Christ.”

The combined statements of Floyd, Land, Moore and Stetzer represent a sea change for Southern Baptists. Their statements are more powerful to me than the ’95 repentance statements or the election of Fred Luter. The ’95 statements and the election of Fred Luter were no-brainers, and simply the right and expedient thing to do. There was absolutely nothing to risk in either decision…only something to gain.

However, the statements made by Floyd, Moore, Land and Stetzer are indicative of courage, character, consistency with the ’95 statement, and respect and sensitivity to people of color within the SBC. I know for certain that there are many in the SBC sorely displeased with the published positions of the aforementioned SBC personalities with regard to acknowledging the pain and legitimacy of the concerns that African Americans have related to Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and elsewhere.

These brothers represent a sea change in SBC life. They are willing to stand in solidarity with the suffering of African Americans over these issues. I respect their right not to declare guilt or innocence of any of the parties involved in the incidents that have given rise to the controversies. But I deeply appreciate their break with SBC tradition to identify with the pain and suffering and to acknowledge the racial injustices and inequities of the past and present.

May God bless the SBC! May she continue toward this path of racial healing! May she march on toward the inclusion and empowerment of people of color serving at the entity head level! When that occurs, the sea change will be complete.

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