Why We Can’t Wait: The SBC and Continual Need to Pursue Racial/Ethnic Diversity In Leadership

As the MLK50 Conference sponsored by the ERLC and TGC came to an end last night, I was both encouraged and discouraged. I was incredibly encouraged with what was said, the amazing people I met, the hard truths expressed, and the desire of 4000 people to bring racial healing to the church under the blood of Jesus and the Cross of Christ. But, upon reflection I was also a bit discouraged that it has taken so long to get here, and I left concerned that we would easily fall back into our centuries old pattern of “going slow” when it came to all of us coming together in sacrificial love and unity in Christ. We must all excel in intentionally pursuing people from all races and backgrounds with gospel reconciliation, in joining together and submitting to godly leadership of different races, and to caring about the needs and concerns of people who are racially and ethnically different from white majority culture in SBC churches. We must do this with a vision of Revelation 5 and every nation, tribe, people, and tongue gathered before the Throne of God worshiping the Lamb.

Southern Baptists cannot “go slow” in our pursuit of racial/ethnic diversity in leadership.

We cannot wait.

It has already been too long. Going slow in order to not offend white people who feel threatened when we talk about racial reconciliation or true unity and mutual submission one to another in our churches so they will then supposedly hear the gospel without it being muddied with “social” concerns both cheapens the gospel and ignores the fact that Jesus purchased the ethnos with his blood. This is what Emerson and Smith pointed out in Divided by Faith. Going slow and not wanting to offend white people holding power caused baptists migrating South to affirm slavery 200 years ago. Going slow on confronting racial division and white supremacy ultimately led to the carnage and devastation of the Civil War. It gave us Jim Crow and its Biblical defenses. Going slow led us to reject King when he was non-violently addressing evil and calling us to repentance (see Letter From Birmingham Jail on the problem with the white moderate “going slow”). King has been dead for 50 years. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was over 60 years ago. The Civil War ended over 150 years ago. We can’t wait.

Going slow, while appearing to be wise, gave cover for great evil to be committed without being adequately opposed in our own country. There are many examples, but a local one for me that is largely forgotten occurred In 1836 when the government forced marched 10,000 Creek Indians through the streets of Montgomery from concentration camps where they were held in East Alabama and sent them on their way to Indian Territory. During the the same time period, coffels of slaves in chains were marched, reportedly 1000 in an average day, from the Carolinas and Virginia to sell in the slave markets in downtown Montgomery. Going slow caused us to ultimately affirm all of that because we didn’t want to rock the boat and lose our ability to “evangelize” the slaveholder and white farmer by offending him on slavery. That was 150-200 years ago. It was 1800 years after Christ. Going slow has an awful track record. This, and the reality of the Cross of Christ and the nations purchased by His blood is why we can’t wait.

Going slow has now given us resegregated schools, extreme poverty, continually segregated churches, immigrant/Refugee rejection, and growing alienation between races and ethnic groups manifesting in social and political division that threatens to tear our nation apart. We need to dispel the progressive myth that racial division will automatically get better and heal over time. As Dr. Christina Edmonson said at the MLK50Conference, “Time does not heal sin. Repentance from sin and turning to the grace of God heals sin.” We can’t wait.

White Southern Baptists in 2018 are in dire need of hearing from, being in relationship with, and being led by godly black and brown voices who also share with us the inheritance of the gospel and the fellowship of the Spirit. We can’t wait. We need to recognize, submit to, call, raise up, draft, and appoint godly, qualified, and anointed leadership from every race and ethnicity. And we need to be intentional about it because we understand that where you stand affects what you see and we need leaders who can see from all perspectives. Right now. We cannot wait.

We’ve waited too long, telling people to pay their dues and bide their time. Meanwhile, decades have slipped by. And still some say, “go slow.” Worse yet, when we do call forward a godly and qualified person of color to lead us, some claim that we are pushing quotas or are Marxist because we recognize that in addition to strong leadership and qualifications, we are in desperate need of minority leadership. Ironically, those objections never arise when one white person after another is nominated for leadership decade after decade, as though “whiteness” was a default position. Going slow has not eradicated this objection.

We cannot Wait.

We need to hear from and be led by mature believers who are minorities because their experience and wisdom is vital for us all … together. And, we need them to lead us. As I talk, meet, pray, and serve alongside black and brown brothers and sisters in Christ across the country, I am struck, humbled, grieved, and also encouraged by how different their perspective is on life in America and in our churches than white Christians. We cannot be a whole or healthy body of Christ in America unless we are truly joined together in mutual submission and co-labor on an equal footing, not just inviting “them” in to have a seat at “our” table, but actually rebuilding the table together so it belongs to all of us. That sometimes means we are privileged to be able to go to their table too.

In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., took his Letter From Birmingham Jail written in 1963 and turned it into a book called Why We Can’t Wait. It was a response to a call from white moderate ministers in Birmingham to go slow, give it time, and things would rectify themselves concerning segregation and racism … eventually. They opposed his direct non-violent action in Birmingham and said that things were progressing well in race relations and he didn’t need to come in from the outside to stir things up. He opposed that thinking, said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and said that black people had already waited too long. He said the white church was at a crossroads and that if it failed to call for justice, it would be rejected by the next generation. His words largely proved true.

We can’t wait.

__________________________

In 2015, the Executive Committee of Southern Baptists issued a report entitled “A Review on the Southern Baptist Convention’s Progress on Racial Reconciliation, 1995-2015.”   This report was approved, voted on, and adopted as an official report of the full Southern Baptist Convention in Columbus, Ohio. It charts the progress that has been made in increasing racial diversity, and it also states that we still have much progress to make. A series of recommendations were made. Some are being followed. There is progress. This report was from just 3 years ago, but it shows us that things don’t just change because time passes. We have to work for it. We can’t wait.

Over the past 3 years since 2015, progress has been made. There have been more appointments, resolutions have been passed addressing white supremacy, and a heightened awareness has been raised of the need for Southern Baptists of all backgrounds to work together, serve together, and submit to one another as we all submit to and follow Jesus. We have seen progress with appointments and more of an open door for participation. I am grateful for this and what has come before. But, while good, this work is only seen as progress relative to the abysmal situation that preceded it. We have a long way to go before we reach a state of “gospel normalcy” when it comes to biblical unity and Missional participation and leadership from all ethnicities in the body of Christ. We can’t wait.

We need to tell stories of what this looks like in our churches, associations, state conventions, and our entities. Things are going great in some places and progress IS being made! Wonderful! But, how do we bring that level of participation and invitation throughout the SBC on a regular, normative basis where positions for professors, deans, pastors, entity heads and staff, DOMs, missionaries, trustees, and committee members are regularly open to and filled by godly and qualified ethnic and racial minorities who are leading, ministering, starting, and developing our churches? How can we all help make that happen year after year? It is beginning. Now, let’s keep going and truly learn from one another.

We know that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40), but all of this was settled on the Cross almost 2000 years ago and the unity of the church that Jesus died to secure should be pursued now. There is so much more to be done in building relationships, loving one another sacrificially, listening to one another, repenting of hard hearts, forgiving one another, carrying each other’s burdens, caring more about the interests of others than ourselves, and healing the wounds and broken places caused by the sins of the past as well as the present.  We have so much more work to do in welcoming and loving the immigrant and refugee and seeing the Church reach and minister Christ cross-culturally to all peoples. We are called to step in to these situations and love sacrificially.

We can’t wait.

As our nation continues to fray and tear at itself racially and ethnically, the Church of Jesus Christ has the answer flowing from the sacrificial love of from the Cross. There is so much more to be done and we have much further to go. Will the church embrace God’s call? Or, will we miss this pivotal moment? How we answer this question now will determine our future.

This is why we can’t wait.

 

For a more in depth study regarding Evangelicals, sacrificial love that flows from the Cross, and Why We Can’t Wait, check out When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (NewSouth Books, 2014).



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