This year I attended the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, AZ. As a new church planter, I thought it would be a good introduction to the life of the SBC, meet new friends, and expand Grace Alive’s network for planting multiethnic church plants across the globe. I was told it was an “off” year since there wasn’t a major election for SBC President. Well, that couldn’t have been more wrong. While the convention may have had been down in attendance, the tension steadily rose at one particular point. Fireworks were going off during the resolution session. For that reason, many have been writing on the Convention and what took place. While much has been said, tweeted, and written very little has been told from the perspective of a young minority that was actually there. Here is my perspective.
The national meeting of the Southern Baptist convention had several highlights. I was highly encouraged by the progress the SBC has experienced in terms of minorities in leadership. My pastor and mentor, HB Charles Jr. was unanimously elected as the president of The Pastors Conference. Dr. Walter Strickland of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary was elected as 1st VP of the convention along with Jose Abella of Providence Road Church in Miami to serve as 2nd VP. While the diversity certainly could have been much higher in general, I was encouraged to see many races represented and several fellowships focused on enriching unity and advancement of minorities. As I attended the Southeastern luncheon Dr. Danny Akin highlighted the work they have achieved through their Kingdom Diversity initiative which has led to an increase of diversity at the seminary.
I was also refreshed by the updates and presentations by several SBC entities such as the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), Lifeway, The International Mission Board (IMB), and the North American Mission Board (NAMB). ERLC has advanced religious liberty, fought for racial harmony, and heralded the advancement of Pro-Life policies. Personally, I have been impressed with the brave leadership of Russell Moore since his election of the ERLC. Lifeway has done much to equip the local church through curriculum in addition to producing a quality Bible translation known as the CSB. IMB is now financially stable and producing more missionaries to unreached people groups. NAMB is assessing and producing more church planters across the nation. The SBC seminaries also made major reports celebrating record attendances and milestones. If you take these presentations and updates in to account along with the success of various state conventions and local associations, you can see there is a tremendous amount of work the SBC is doing to advance the Gospel in America and abroad. Before the business of the convention, The Pastor’s Conference also highlighted great messages from pastors of churches from around the nation serving various contexts. They valiantly preached through the book of Philippians. The lineup was diverse and dynamic. There is much to Praise God for!
With all of these major celebrations, there was still something looming in the darkness. In the Book of Reports, it was stated that a resolution condemning the Alt-right movement and white supremacy was declined. This means the committee saw the resolution unfit to present to the convention for consideration. This resolution was penned by a prominent African American leader in the SBC named Dwight McKissic. Some leaders thought that this resolution would not be an issue or brought to the floor to be motioned back in for consideration. However, McKissic rightly saw it as an issue to be brought before the SBC messengers (members of SBC churches who can vote).
After breezing through the approved resolutions, McKissic came to the floor with a very passionate plea to the committee. The committee stated it was declined due to its language. However, McKissic’s motion allowed the messengers to vote with a 2/3 majority to immediately consider his resolution. The vote did not make a 2/3 majority. However, it was very close. Judging from the responses of those on stage and the reactions in the crowd, it was then the committee and SBC President saw that this issue had to be resolved. The mood of the convention literally fell flat. I could be wrong, but I believe it was the strong resolve of the messengers who pressured a new resolution to the committee so it could be submitted and voted on. The Messengers then unanimously voted to allow the committee to present their newly drafted resolution and then the next day Messengers voted overwhelmingly to pass the new resolution.
Why was the resolution important?
Some may ask, “So what’s the big deal?” The resolution is important for minorities because we see, hear, and experience racism, nationalism, and unjust privilege in the American church. The Alt-right is also “quasi” religious like the KKK. They hide under the cloak of Christianity but their views are far from God (Matthew 24:5). As a result, the Alt-right has a potential audience in SBC churches. Secondly, minorities have long been hurt by the silence of our so-called allies. To fortify real change in the convention we need to cast down racism and any notions of supremacy as often as we lift up Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Inerrancy. We believe vocalized and written dissent often leads to galvanized actions. Resolutions often set the priorities, agenda and tone of the conventions. Lastly, the idea that there was nothing to discuss or resolve is a sign of privilege absent of a community of accountability. The danger the Alt-right presents in the Body of Christ is a danger minorities cannot escape or table for next year.
Yes, we finally got it right. But we could have got it more right. Dwight McKissic should have been involved in some capacity for the new resolution. With just the resolution committee revising, it appeared another minority voice was being silenced and sanitized. This may have not been the case in motivation, but the larger narrative of racial relations in America demonstrates this is often the case. It also perpetuates the ideas that minorities have to be saved by the majority for moral victories to take place. That is unacceptable. For all of his contributions it would only be right for the Southern Baptist Convention to honor Dwight McKissic for years of work, courage, and vision.
We need to get ahead of the curve on race discussion in the SBC. I propose we nominate and elect more minorities for the Executive Committee, Resolution Committees, and as trustees of our entities. Our resolutions also have to match our funding. More allocations for the minority fellowships such as the National African American Fellowship should be discussed. There also needs to be more funding for minority missionaries and church planters looking to serve Christ in the context of the SBC. The fund-raising models that currently exist typically alienate and discourage minorities to engage in international missions and church planting.
Last but not least, we need to put flesh on our resolutions. There are about 50k SBC churches and less than 300 are multiethnic. Convention resolutions must be translated into congregational lifestyles. About 20% of SBC churches are not pre-dominantly white. That needs to be reflected in the agenda, culture, and priorities of the convention.
With all of this, the question should be proposed: Should minorities leave the SBC? Should we stop trying to be a part of their club? For some, the answer may be yes. I respect that opinion and I am not militant enough to think there is one answer for all of us. For many, the trauma, hurt, and disappointment are hard to overcome. I get that and those voices should be heard so we can strive for more harmony amongst our brothers and sisters in Christ. However, I am committed to stay. I’d rather be a loving, close, prophetic voice to my brothers and sisters rather than a distant critic. For me, Love bears many transgressions and burdens. It is the weight of grace that allows me to bear the burdens and blind spots of others. I also realize I fall drastically short and battle bitterness and pride in my own heart. I need to recognize I am a sinner saved by grace. That empowers me to hold others accountable without holding a grudge. I want to speak viciously towards the sin of racism but I also need to love everyone courageously. There is much to be grateful for in the SBC and a few setbacks cannot produce cynicism for me. If we are going to see progress in this convention, minorities need the aggressive perseverance and unwavering hope of our Civil Rights predecessors that consistently fought the good fight.
With that being said, minorities committed in the SBC can’t take a year off. When the SBC votes on issues concerning us we need to be there and present if the Lord allows. We must stay until the end to support the leadership of all; especially our brothers and sisters that are appointed minorities.
Last but not least, I must remember why I am here. I joined with this mission because I am unashamed of the powerful Gospel that can save Jews and Greeks (Romans 1:16). I am here because we are commanded to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-6). I am here because ultimately the real enemy is Satan and racism has been his primary weapon for destroying the unity amongst churches in America (Ephesians 6:12-23).
For God’s Glory,
The Gospel Coalition on the Alt-right
ERLC on Alt-right
JD Greear on SBC 2017
HB Charles Jr. on SBC 2017