Black Lives and the Southern Baptist Convention

I see a brighter future for the SBC, but not as much if our African-American brothers leave us.

A 7-foot tall statue (with a 17-foot tall cross) of evangelist Billy Graham graces the front entrance to the headquarters of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville.

By Todd Scacewater Published on July 30, 2017

Recently, African-American Southern Baptist Convention pastor Lawrence Ware explained in the New York Times, “Why I’m Leaving the Southern Baptist Convention.” Ware said he had experienced years of racism in the SBC. The last straw was this year’s SBC annual meeting, when a resolution against the “alt-right” was not immediately passed.

But his interpretation of the events at the annual meeting, as well as his pessimism about the SBC, is overly skeptical and unwarranted. Instead, there’s progress and a brighter future for the SBC — though not as much if our African-American brothers leave us. 

Is Loving Black People More Than the Church OK?

Ware’s opinion piece should be read backward. The key to his interpretation of events lies at the end, where he states, “I love the church, but I love black people more. Black lives matter to me.” This is a troublesome statement. Jesus Christ wrote nothing. The legacy he left on this earth was the church, which is the universal body of believers who profess and follow Jesus Christ. The church wrestled with racism early on (see Galatians 2:11–14), but overcame it. One of the lasting legacies of the church is that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28). Ware’s version of Christianity seems to reintroduce the racial biases that the early church fought so hard to demolish.

Ware’s version of Christianity seems to reintroduce the racial biases that the early church fought so hard to demolish.

I can only assume it is because Ware loves “black people” more than “the church” that he sees such a downward racist spiral in the SBC. Ware complains that the SBC has not supported the Black Lives Matter movement. But consider what the movement’s representative website promotes. They want to disrupt the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure.” They are “queer and transgender affirming.” And while they claim to desire “loving engagement,” the movement has sparked violent protests and riots that destroyed private property.

Not all BLM advocates hold all these beliefs, but many do. A conservative Christian denomination cannot support wholesale a movement whose values so flagrantly contradict biblical values. Rather than asking, as Ware does, what the SBC is doing for black people, we should ask what the SBC is doing for the kingdom of God.

The Alt-Right Resolution Debacle: Racism or Misunderstanding?

But what about the failure to immediately pass a resolution against the alt-right? First, Ware admits he was not there. He must rely solely on journalists’ interpretations of the event. Second, the resolution was not rejected. Rather, the committee did not approve it for a vote. Third, once the resolution was ignored a second time, many leaders fought to get the resolution to a vote.

Fourth — and this is probably the key point — the resolution contained jargon that many SBC pastors may not have understood. SBC pastors tend not to have a robust political theory. I’m not surprised that the committee passed on the chance to present a resolution that condemns the “alt-right.” It’s a recent  political movement that many SBC pastors just weren’t familiar with. Indeed, just after this debacle, the Gospel Coalition posted an informational post about the alt-right. They must also have felt that many pastors were ignorant about the movement’s history and goals.

Finally, once the resolution’s language was revised, it was quickly passed. The likely culprit here was not racism, but the failure to tailor one’s language to a given audience. The original resolution was likely unintelligible to many SBC pastors.

We Need Black Voices in the SBC

Are there other reasons to suspect a downward racist spiral in the SBC? Some point to five white professors at an SBC seminary who recently posed as rappers in a photo posted online. The photo was quickly removed and school officials apologized, admitting it was insensitive. But in a denomination with over 15 million members, will we judge them all by the poor judgment of five?

If our black brothers retreat, we will lose the minority voices that we so desperately need to hear. 

Along similar lines, Ware interprets the SBC’s 1995 apology for its racist origins as an attempt to “convey the appearance of racial inclusivity in an attempt to attract black churches to shore up declining convention membership.” It’s hard to know how to please Ware at this point. Would he have been happier if the SBC had never apologized for its support of slavery? His imputation of motives is troublesome.

I’m no SBC apologist. I have served in Methodist, Christian, and Presbyterian churches. No doubt there is still some racism in the SBC. But that’s surely true of every denomination. To which denomination can our black brothers retreat?

I’m cut from a different cloth than our black brothers in the Southern Baptist Convention. But many of us want to know how we can do better. If our black brothers retreat, we will lose the minority voices that we need to hear, that we need to help us find our way.

 

Todd Scacewater (PhD) is a pastor and a research fellow for the Center for Christian Social Ethics. He lives in Missouri with his wife and two children. He earned a B.A. in Political Science, a Th.M. in New Testament, and a PhD in Biblical Interpretation from Westminster Theological Seminary. He roasts and sells his own coffee and owns Exegetical Tools and Fontes Press.

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  • Joe

    Did he leave The Church, or just that flavor?

  • Kevin Carr

    When your Christianity (being a Christ follower) is subordinate to your skin color, then race has become your god. We all, no matter what color or ethnicity have the same sin problem, it knows no color.

  • Charles Burge

    Regarding the so-called “alt-right”, do Christians really need to make official statements to disavow every crackpot movement that springs up? Can’t we just say what we’re for, and let intelligent observers figure out the rest?

    • Kevin Carr

      You are so correct.

    • Jason Baker

      I am curious, was BLM disavowed for their unbiblical stances?

  • Concerned Christian

    As i read the article and the responses, is it possible that conservatives really no so very little about black people? As someone that grew up in the 70’s this is a very difficult time for me. It seems that we always have to give the benefit of the doubt while receiving very little of it. This line says it all: “If our black brothers retreat, we will lose the minority voices that we so desperately need to hear.”

    Conservatives always accuse liberals of being condescending to blacks. So my question is what do you want to hear from us? From my perspective, just like you’re accusation of liberals, you really don’t want to hear us

    So again, what do you want to hear from us? Apparently, there’s no need for us to tell you what we want to hear from you?

    • Charles Burge

      What I want to hear from any Christian is that you want to follow Jesus as best you possibly can, and that you’re interested in helping like-minded Christians do the same. I frankly couldn’t care less what color your skin is.

      • Concerned Christian

        Yes, this is a common statement that I hear. So forget the person’s color, nationality, origin, background etc. Obviously none of that impacts a persons perspective. The reality is that you do care about the color of my skin. If I told you that I am a Christian black man who voted for Obama vs a Christian black man that voted for Trump, experience has taught me that in one scenario I’m an ignorant black man and in the other I’m a different type of black man.

        All i’m really saying is that you may not care but there’s a reason why churches are segregated on Sundays. There’s a reason why if you see an integrated church, it’s led by a white pastor. I don’t believe that most whites are racist but I do believe that is very easy for whites to dismiss the concerns of non-whites as I believe this article and your statement does.

        • Charles Burge

          I apologize if I came across as dismissive; that wasn’t my intent. My intent was to illustrate that I don’t consider racial differences to be very important. For me, Paul settled the issue pretty clearly when he wrote “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I have little doubt that if he were writing today, he would have included “neither black nor white”.

          My own experience is that black people seem to see things through a prism of race a lot more than white people do. For example: your statement If I told you that I am a Christian black man who voted for Obama vs a Christian black man that voted for Trump, experience has taught me that in one scenario I’m an ignorant black man and in the other I’m a different type of black man.. You seem to make this about race, but for me it has absolutely nothing to do with race. Any Christian who told me he voted for Obama, no matter what his race, would raise serious questions in my mind about what his priorities are.

          I agree that it’s unfortunate that churches are so self-segregated. But could there be reasons other than a simple unwillingness to mingle with people of a different race, such as differences in worship style?

          You mention “the concerns of non-whites”. Perhaps I’m simply ignorant. Could you elaborate a bit on what some of those concerns are? From my perspective, the common concerns of all Christians are more important than superficial differences.

          • Concerned Christian

            Sorry i didn’t see your response earlier. Concerns of non-whites would be unarmed black men being killed. No matter what the reason, my son is 19 and on academic scholarship for chemistry and is a Christian. But when stopped by the police, there is genuine fear. Not because the cop is a racist but because the cop views us as blacks living in an intercity community (we don’t) that he should be afraid of. This fear, we fear, makes him trigger happy. Keep in mind that the one black organization that protest police shootings is labeled as a hate group by fox news and this web site.

            Take the Indian person killed in Kansas for being a Muslim. Think about the fear that comes with being Hispanic when confronting the police or anyone who looks at you with suspicion as to whether or not you’re in the country legally.

            So my point is that the concerns of white Christians and white non-Christians are different. However, the concerns of a black non-Christians are not as different as the concerns of black Christians!

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