The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), is calling on congregations nationwide to host a Racial Reconciliation service this coming Sunday to spotlight racial issues within the church.
The initiative, led by Russell Moore, president of the ERLC, is part of the organization's effort to break down the barriers of race among Christians and raise awareness that racial injustice is not just a social issue.
"Racist thought and behavior denies the reality that each of us are created in the image of God," Moore stated on ERLC's Racial Reconciliation page on its website. "It empties scripture of its power in our lives when we accept some of its teachings and reject other biblical instruction because it conflicts with our idea of what is right and what is wrong."
The ERLC is also urging church leaders to make use of their online resources and use them in coordination with Racial Reconciliation Sunday including a sermon outline created by Phillip Bethancourt, executive vice president of the ERLC. The outline is a suggested sermon topic that focuses on rejecting segregation and embracing diversity among people called to membership in Christ.
While the issue of racial segregation has made progress in the U.S., Moore notes that society has "not yet arrived" in eliminating the issue entirely. That is why the ERLC has taken initiative to acknowledge Martin Luther King Jr.'s civil rights message in hopes that churches will recommit to becoming doers of the word by pursuing reconciliation in all of their relationships.
"Segregation, like slavery, was shown to be what all human consciences already knew it to be, not just a political injustice or a social inequity, although certainly that, but also a sin against God and neighbor and a repudiation of the gospel," said Moore.
Kevin L. Smith, an assistant professor of Christian Preaching at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and supporter of the organization's initiative, also noted the importance of King's message within the church.
"Throughout the black freedom struggle in American history, the biblical teachings on creation and human dignity were foundational to the arguments being put forth, both by scholars and by everyday people," said Smith. "Even those who were illiterate knew from the rhetoric of the movement that God had created all people from one man."
Moore's call to reconciliation comes almost two decades after the Southern Baptist Convention announced a resolution on racial reconciliation when they recognized that racism had divided Southern Baptists and separated them from African-American Christians within the same denomination.
At the time, church leaders also acknowledged their prejudice wrongdoings by admitting that many Southern Baptists had supported slavery when it was legal and had intentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership.
"Conservative Christians, and especially Southern Baptists, must be careful to remember the ways in which our cultural anthropology perverted our soteriology and ecclesiology," said Moore.
He added, "It is to our shame that we ignored our own doctrines to advance something as clearly demonic as racial pride. And it is a shame that sometimes it took theological liberals to remind us of what we claimed to believe in an inerrant Bible, what we claimed to be doing in a Great Commission."