Rolland Slade, the 62-year-old senior pastor of Meridian Baptist Church in El Cajon, California, called his historic election as the first black chair of the Southern Baptist Convention’s executive committee on Tuesday, God’s plan.
"I don't think there was ever a plan for me to be in this position," Slade told Baptist Press. "I think it's what God has done. … I believe God loves diversity; He created us and we are all diverse. I think for us to not embrace it is saying that, 'We've got a better idea than You [God].'"
Slade’s election to lead the executive committee comes just eight years after the 175 year old former pro-slavery denomination elected Fred Luter Jr. as the denomination’s first black president. His nomination for the post was unopposed and he was unanimously elected by ballot vote, BP said.
"Rolland is certainly deserving of this historical honor not just because of the color of his skin but because of his knowledge, skills, and leadership as a member of the Executive Committee through the years," Luter told BP of Slade’s election. "I am proud of Rolland and proud of the men and women of this committee for making this such a historic moment in the Southern Baptist Convention. To God be the glory for the things He has done!"
Mike Stone, the outgoing chair who called for the ballot vote to mark the historic moment, said Slade’s election at a time when the U.S. is grappling with major civil unrest over racial inequality and instances of police brutality is God’s providence.
"I think we all realize by what is going on in this country as well as in our convention, this timing is in many ways the providence of our Lord," Stone, who leads the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia, said.
The SBC’s President J.D. Greear called Slade's election an "exciting day for our convention."
"Rolland Slade's election demonstrates we are moving in the right direction," Greear, said. "During my two years as SBC president, I have worked alongside Rolland and seen his leadership and character to lead this body at this time.”
Greear recently endorsed the black lives matter movement as a Gospel issue to members of the world's largest Baptist denomination in the wake of ongoing protests over multiple officer-involved killings, including the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands Minneapolis police officers.
“We realize that especially in a moment like this one, we need our brothers and sisters of color. We need the wisdom of leadership that God has written in their community. We know that many in our country, particularly our brothers and sisters of color, right now are hurting,” Greear said while noting how the SBC had evolved from its racist past to become “one of the most ethnically diverse religious groups in the United States.”
“A lot of people don’t know that, but nearly 20% of all Southern Baptist churches are majority non-white and the North America Mission Board tells us that more than 60% of new churches planted recently have been planted and led by people of color,” Greear said.
Marshal Ausberry, SBC first vice president who is also president of the National African American Fellowship of the SBC and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Fairfax Station, Virginia, told BP that Slade's election shows how far the denomination has come.
"His election shows the positive transformation that is occurring in the Convention," Ausberry said. "When you think of the founding of the SBC in 1845, largely over the issue concerning the ownership of enslaved persons by missionaries, to the election of Rolland Slade in the 175th year, this is a seminal moment for the Convention and all Southern Baptists."