The Southern Baptist Convention came close...too close...at their annual meeting this week to aligning themselves with white supremacy. A resolution brought forth by a pastor asked that the SBC publically condemn the political alt-right movement and all forms of white supremacy in official statements and press releases. This seemed to be a pretty straight-forward idea, one that any Jesus-loving group of people would adhere to.
When the resolution was initially entered into conversation among the resolutions committee, it was declined. From all I've gathered, there are varying accounts as to why. Some say there was confusion over the language. Some say it wasn't read thoroughly and therefore not properly given the urgent attention it deserved. Whatever the case, the SBC did correct the matter by adopting the resolution Wednesday evening. The Southern Baptist Convention now officially declares any and all forms of white supremacy to be evil. Good for them.
But it feels as though the damage has already been done. The religious group that is already identified as having deep ties to slavery during its infancy and, more recently, becoming divided over Russell Moore, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for his critical remarks of President Trump, the SBC has had its fair share of negative PR.
Many roll their eyes at the Southern Baptists. Their views are seen as being too often politically motivated and rigid towards anyone outside of a conservative mindset. This saddens me because I spent decades in SBC churches learning about the good work that goes in both globally and here in the U.S. to serve others. But for this week, as is too often the case, the SBC will be marked as the group that wasn't really clear if they were opposed to white supremacy or not.
It's not fair to paint with a broad stroke the stain of racism on only Southern Baptist churches. Clearly, each religious groups has their own prejudices to deal with. But in my experience with some in SBC churches, racism is still there, hiding among the pews, slithering about, poking its forked tongue into the ears of congregants, piercing their minds with seeds of hate.
I can explicitly remember a moment of poorly veiled racism I witnessed as a teenager in an SBC church. I was out doing visitation (a fancy word for knocking on doors of people who haven't been to church in a few Sundays) with a few deacons. I had been to different places with my dad before visiting others, but never before on my own with two deacons from the church. One of them a younger man in his late 20s, the other in his 50s.
As we traveled from house to house checking on (mostly) elderly people who were limited in their ability to get out to church, we came upon a trailer park. This particular community of run down mobile homes was populated by mostly African-Americans. The younger deacon was driving and pulled up in front of a trailer. As he put the car in park, the older deacon spoke up:
"I don't think we need to go in here."
"Why not?" the younger deacon chimed in.
"Well...I just don't think it's a good idea." The older deacon continued.
"Well, I think we just need to talk to the rest of the deacons first before we go visiting these folks."
At the time, it didn't really phase me, though I saw the somewhat awestruck look on the younger deacon's face. We had the opportunity to reach out to a community of black people, and we didn't do it because a deacon wasn't sure that the other deacons would approve.
Now, it doesn't read like a white supremacist rant. It doesn't come across like rhetoric spewed by an alt-right mouthpiece. But as I reflect back on that moment, I saw it. I saw even just a small part of what racism can do. It can sever the hand of the church. It can effectively saw off the feet of God, and keep his people from serving those who may not know him.
Lecrae hits the nail on the head in his song "Dirty Water" when he says "Most segregated time of day is Sunday service/ now what you think that say about the God you worship?" Why is that true? Why are the times we spend the least amount of time rubbing shoulders with people of another color on Sunday mornings? It's because we want our churches to be neat, clean, orderly, and comfortable. Sharing our spaces with those that aren't like us might disrupt all of that.
We, unfortunately, exist in a nation that feels more divided among racial lines than it has in decades. We can blame that on Trump (he's an easy target, and not a totally incorrect one), we can blame the government, and we can blame the media. There are varying factors that are real among all of those groups. But at the core of it, racism is a vile lie that is birthed in the very pits of hell. It is a despicable reality that is fueled by Satan himself.
It takes its form in many ways, but it's more subtle than it was back in the early to mid-1900s. Now we call our racism "travel bans" because that's easier to say than "we don't want any Muslims in our country". We call our racism "immigration reform" because we don't truly believe our Hispanic brothers and sisters are of equal worth to us. We call our racism "All Lives Matter" because that sounds more harmonious and certainly easier than actually listening to the plight of today's black men and women and, scarier still, attempting to realize our own white privilege.
If you're someone who still denies the existence of racism, I would point you to a place as seemingly trivial as social media, and look at the way brothers and sisters in Christ are treated when they adopt a child into their family that is a different color or nationality:
Or responses godly leaders in the SBC get when they call on the church to love immigrants and minorities:
These posts are sickening, but they're just the tip of the racist iceberg.
But God will not stand for it. He won't. He will not sit idly by while those He created in His image are demeaned, harassed, belittled, targeted, abused, and neglected. He will not ignore those who seek to impart prejudice on others. But the church has to take part in making sure the foolishness of these does not take hold in the church.
We can go back and forth on policy all day in regards to immigration and national security. What we cannot do is deny God's love for every man, woman, and child regardless of skin color, nationality, or ability. "Whoever says he is in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness." (1 John 2:9) Will we stand up for the black families that come to our church? Will we show kindness to the Muslims in our community? Will we stop letting 24-hour fear mongering cable news networks poison us with xenophobia?
It is long past time for racism to be pushed back down into the pits of hell where it belongs. It has no place among those who love God. It cannot exist among those who devote themselves to the teachings of Jesus. It cannot enter our church doors like a wicked salesman tempting us with false pride in the color of our skin. Who are we to go along acting as if the blood of Christ was shed to cover only the sins of white people? That's what racism does. It not only limits us from loving others, it tries its hardest to limit the grace of God.
Shame on us for ever taking part in withholding the free gift of God's love for only those with the same shade of skin or same nationality as us. Shame on us for feeling like we need permission from the deacons before inviting a black family to church. Shame on us for whitewashing racism and pretending like it doesn't exist anymore. Shame on us for never, ever listening to anyone that is slightly different from us.