J.D. Greear acknowledged the “horrible history of racism” in the Western church and said that the only explanation for such a grievous error is that “they have forgotten the Gospel” during a sermon delivered at a historic African American church.
On June 9, Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, N.C., preached to nearly 1,000 people gathered at Sixth Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Greear, who is presiding over the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in the city this week, told the congregation, “I do not need to tell this church, the church of the West has had a horrible history of racism,” Baptist Press reported.
"You see, the Gospel teaches us that there's only one kind of person: human," Greear said. "We all got one common problem: sin. We only have one hope: the blood of Jesus. And that means all people — red and yellow, black and white — all alike are precious in His sight because all are afflicted with the same problem; all require the same solution."
The only explanation for racism, the pastor emphasized, “is that they have forgotten the Gospel."
"It is only by renewing ourselves in the Gospel," he said, "can we purify ourselves of the racial bias and blindness to injustice that continues to afflict us."
Earlier in the message, Greear pointed out that the Apostle Peter's "racist tendencies” are addressed in Galatians 2.
"[Peter] wouldn't eat with Gentiles in certain situations because a lot of Jews thought Gentiles were of a different spiritual class," Greear said. "So, they practiced segregated eating."
But in response, Paul publically rebuked Peter and told him he had "forgotten the Gospel .... Peter, God brought you in when you were an outcast! How dare you exclude somebody else,” the pastor said.
“In Christ, we’re capable of the same gifting and we’re deserving of the same dignity,” he concluded. “Jesus was not resurrected as a white man or a black man or a Jew or a Gentile. He was resurrected as the lord of a new humanity.”
Nearly 140 years old, Sixth Avenue Baptist Church is one of Birmingham's largest black congregations has a rich history of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
The church website notes that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke many times from the Sixth Avenue pulpit to mass rallies being held at the church. Additionally, the funeral for three of four black girls who were killed in a 1963 racially-motivated bombing at Sixteenth Street Baptist Church was held in the church sanctuary.
Sixth Avenue Baptist is dually aligned with the Southern Baptist Convention, a mostly white denomination founded by pro-slavery Baptists, and the National Baptist Convention, USA, a predominantly African-American denomination.
Ahead of the SBC’s annual meeting, Greear said he prays to “see God moving” in the area of ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation, among others.
“The church is supposed to declare the diversity of the kingdom and reflect the diversity of the community,” he wrote on his website. “We have made significant strides in embracing the leadership gifts of brothers and sisters of color that God has placed in our midst. I am praying that this is just the beginning.”
“But if the meeting is the vehicle, the fuel is still the gospel,” he added. “Everything we do and everything we say must be saturated in the life-transforming power of what God has done for us. The gospel is a well of endless depth. We need not look elsewhere for power or life. We need only look deeper and deeper into this beautiful mystery.”
In recent years, the Southern Baptist Convention has sought to acknowledge and seek forgiveness for their past moral failings on race issues.
Last year, the SBC’s flagship seminary released a report detailing their history of racism and support for slavery.
“We must repent of our own sins, we cannot repent for the dead. We must, however, offer full lament for a legacy we inherit, and a story that is now ours,” wrote The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., in the report titled “Report on Slavery and Racism in the History of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.”
In 2014, the denomination passed a resolution that lamented and repudiated America's "long history of racial segregation as well as the complicity of Southern Baptists who resisted or opposed" racial integration.