Southern Baptists and Racial Reconciliation

Richard Land Portrait

Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination (with 15.73 million members) held its annual meeting in Baltimore. During that meeting the messengers, elected from local churches all across the nation, passed a resolution "On the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act."

Resolutions passed by an annual Convention are not binding on the conscience of any individual Southern Baptist, but they are very instructive as to where Southern Baptists are collectively on issues facing the nation.

The Southern Baptist Convention, born out of the slavery controversary 169 years ago, passed a resolution with virtual unanimity in support of the 1964 Civil Rights Act on the fiftieth anniversary of its passage into law.

The resolution affirmed the historical importance of this landmark legislation "in the dismantling of legal racial segregation." The resolution affirmed that God's Holy Word declares "that all persons are created in the image of God. . .and are thus worthy of equal respect and dignity." Consequently, all forms of racism are a rebellion against God and His purposes.

The SBC resolution also lamented and repudiated America's "long history of racial segregation as well as the complicity of Southern Baptists who resisted or opposed" racial integration while praising those brave souls, black and white, who sought "to advance the cause of racial justice."

The SBC resolution also expressed gratitude to "God for the increased racial and ethic diversity within Southern Baptist life over the past half century" and called on "all Gospel-affirming people to strive for a faithful witness to the watching world that in Christ " "there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither slave nor free' (Galatians 3: 28)."

This ringing endorsement of racial reconciliation was underscored by the fact that Dr. Fred Luter, the Convention's first African-American President, was finishing his two-year term of office and, on handing over the gavel to his successor, was given a sustained standing ovation by the Convention's messengers.

And it should be noted, this resolution was more than just flowery rhetoric or wishful thinking. The SBC was a virtually all-white denomination as late as the mid-sixties and as late as 1990 the ratio of member churches that were not predominantly white was 1 out of 20 churches. In 1995, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the SBC's founding, Southern Baptists apologized for having supported slavery and segregation, and asked for the forgiveness of their African-American brothers and sisters. By 2010, 1 out of 5 of the 46,120 churches were not predominantly white and non-Anglo membership was around 20%.

As a long time (61 years) Southern Baptist, I praise God for His grace in allowing this degree of racial reconciliation to have taken place in the SBC. I pray Southern Baptists will draw inspiration and encouragement from these past victories to move forward to achieve a membership that ever more accurately mirrors the racial and ethnic diversity of American culture.

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