BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BNM) – Six representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention discussed the state of racial reconciliation in Southern Baptist churches June 11 at the SBC Annual Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama.
The six panel members were J.D. Greear, SBC president and pastor of The Summit Church, Raliegh-Durham, North Carolina; Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church, Atlanta, Georgia; George Yancey, professor of sociology at University of North Texas, Denton; Michelle Branch, assistant dean of students to women at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina; James Merritt, lead pastor of Cross Pointe Church, Duluth, Georgia; and Marshall Blalock, pastor of First Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina. The group addressed the problem of racism in Southern Baptist churches and potential solutions so the SBC can move forward in unity. Greear mostly facilitated the discussion by asking questions directed toward individuals in the panel.
A key topic in the discussion was diversifying leadership within the SBC. Dhati said, “The first thing [to do] is not to diversify the state, but to diversify the dinner table.” He emphasized diversification in the most intimate areas of peoples’ lives because, as leaders appoint those whom they trust, learning to trust diverse individuals will result in a more diverse leadership. This also led to a comment in favor of churches focusing more on welcoming diverse people than hosting multicultural events.
Another key topic was how to steer pastors into acknowledging racial tragedies in the nation. Branch said pastors must be reminded that what they remain silent toward can communicate as much as what they speak toward. The panel emphasized bearing the burdens of others as an act of service to those affected by racially-charged tragedies. Yancey said even if a pastor does not have the facts of the event to report, he and his congregation still have the option to lament with those whom it affected.
“We’ve made a lot of progress, but we have a long way to go,” said Merritt about the problem of racism in the SBC. He said although the problem of racism in the churches is not as prevalent as it was years ago, there are “pockets of people in the convention who don’t understand where we need to be in terms of race.”
Lewis said the problem comes from “white fragility,” or remaining silent so as to not seem racist – or ignoring the problem entirely. He said he would prefer encountering a church that directly opposes people of color, rather than indirectly: “I’d rather we run into the tension, deal with it face-to-face and have honest dialogue,” he said.
To conclude the discussion, the panel discussed how Southern Baptist churches can avoid another “African-American exodus” from the convention. Lewis said people have been giving up on Southern Baptist churches to address racial issues, resulting in an exodus of African-Americans, and thus a drop in diversity. Merritt encouraged white Southern Baptists to learn from their African-American brothers and sisters how they can be better and remove racial barriers within the church, to ultimately love them the way God loves them.