WASHINGTON — God is graciously giving the Southern Baptist Convention a second chance to get it right on racism issues, Russell Moore offered while noting the growth in non-white Southern Baptists.
The fastest growing demographic groups in the SBC are blacks and Latinos, noted Moore, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, in a Monday interview with The Christian Post.
The SBC was founded out of its support for slavery in a split with Northern Baptists prior to the Civil War.
"My Southern Baptist ancestors," he said, "were on the wrong side of that issue. Which was not just on the wrong side of a social and political issue, it was on the wrong side of Jesus Christ himself. So God graciously has given the Southern Baptist Convention a second chance to model what the gospel is and what the mission of Christ is."
Southern Baptists were brought to repentance on the race issue, Moore explained, through prophetic voices, both inside and outside the SBC, pointing out the inconsistencies between the gospel they preached and their racist policies.
"Why are you sending missionaries to Africa when you won't receive African-Americans into a congregation in Alabama? Why do you argue for the biblical doctrine of creation when Jim Crow does not reflect that all human beings come from one man, Adam? Why do you maintain segregation when you believe that Jesus died for every person?" those prophetic voices asked.
"Those sorts of questions really hit at the uneasy conscience of Southern Baptists in a way that ultimately brought many congregations and persons to repentance," Moore said.
Racial tension in the United States has come to the fore in recent public debates after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. After a Grand Jury decided not to bring charges against the police officers responsible for the death of Garner, the ERLC announced it would host a March summit on racial reconciliation and the gospel.
The idea for the summit came after that jury decision. Moore spent the whole night, unable to sleep, thinking and praying about the problems of race recently revealed in those incidents and the protests surrounding them. When he went into his office the next day and met with his leadership team, he discovered that other members of his team experienced a similar sleepless night.
The ERLC had already planned a series of summits. Each summit takes about a year to plan and the one in March was originally going to focus on bioethics (and would have included race issues). A member of the leadership team suggested changing the calendar and holding a summit on racial reconciliation in March.
"I don't know if we can pull this off, but I think we need to address this sooner than we had planned," Moore recalled his coworker saying, and the rest of the ERLC leadership agreed.
The Church can help with the racial division in the United States, Moore said, by, first of all, modeling racial reconciliation within congregations. The Church needs to "model to the surrounding culture what the kingdom of God looks like and we've done a very poor job of that in contemporary American culture."
The good news, Moore believes, is that Christians have begun to recognize that and he sees change occurring. Just a few years ago, Moore would need to convince his fellow Christians that it was important for congregations to be multiethnic, but that is less true today.
"We're a long way from where we need to be, but at least that's starting to happen," he said.