Southern Baptist pastor Terry Turner has a newspaper clipping from the early 1900s telling of a family member taken from jail by a mob of southern whites and lynched, never tried or convicted of a crime.
Turner’s memory of growing up as an African American under Jim Crow segregation laws in Guthrie, Okla., partly fuels his support of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Ronnie Floyd’s racial reconciliation initiative launched today (Dec. 15), calling for Southern Baptists to repent of racism and unite in love. Twenty other Southern Baptist pastors signed the appeal, including leaders from the white, black, Asian, Native American and Latino communities.
The appeal, titled “The wounds run deep: racism and injustice must end and let grace and love begin,” is on Floyd’s online SBC President’s Page and addressed to Southern Baptist pastors, churches, leaders and laypeople. Floyd wrote the post “under conviction of the Holy Spirit that I must do something as a Christian, a pastor and as the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention,” he said, and was prompted to hold a conference call with four black and two white pastors Dec. 10.
“The time is now for us to rise up together and cry out against the racism that still exists in our nation and our churches, and the subsequent injustices,” Floyd wrote. “We are grieved that racism and injustice still abound in our nation in 2014. All human beings are created by God and in His image. The dignity of each individual needs to be recognized and appreciated by each of us and by all of the 50,000 churches and congregations that comprise the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Floyd referenced 1 Corinthians 12:26 in calling for Southern Baptists to understand and work to alleviate the pain of racism and injustice within the body of Christ.
“With heavy hearts, we recognize the deep pain and hurt that has come to many of our African American brothers and sisters. The recent events in America have reawakened many of their greatest fears. Their wounds from the past run deep,” Floyd wrote. “Without relationships and conversations, we will never understand one another. Because you hurt, we hurt with you today. We are a part of the same body of Christ, His church, which is to be a picture of the multi-faceted wisdom of God.
“We are not black Christians. We are not white Christians. We are not Latino Christians. We are not Asian Christians. We are not Native American Christians,” Floyd wrote. “We are Christians! We are followers of Jesus Christ.”
Floyd encouraged Southern Baptists to combat racism as the convention has fought other sins.
“Southern Baptists have always been a prophetic voice crying out against matters such as the evil of abortion, the persecution of Christians around the world, the tragedy of human trafficking, or the sexual sins from adultery to homosexuality,” Floyd wrote. “All racism and injustice [are] sin. All ethnicities are capable of committing the sin of racism. Pastors, churches, leaders, and laypeople of the Southern Baptist Convention, the time is now for us to repent personally and collectively of all racism and injustice. Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing.”
Turner, pastor of Mesquite Friendship Baptist Church in Mesquite, Texas, and a former president of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, participated in the conference call and signed Floyd’s declaration. Without racial reconciliation, the U.S. will not experience the revival for which Southern Baptists have long prayed, Turner said.
“We’ve come to a point where, if we’re going to have revival in our country, then our convention will have to address the issue of racism that has been prevalent in our country since the 1600s and has kept us as a people divided,” Turner told Baptist Press. “Until we can come together as a unified people of God … [and] deal with that issue, true revival can’t come, because it won’t provide the oneness that God requires of His people.”
Racism has been America’s shame for generations, said Turner, who recalls having to enter the back doors of restaurants and not being allowed to ask for a seat, simply because of his race. The sin of racism has hindered the U.S. as a whole, he said.
“I believe that [racism] has been the nemesis and the shame of America, because when it came to difficult positions of where we stood, we didn’t have a clear understanding of biblically what racism was doing to us, even in the days of slavery,” Turner said. “The Civil War was started over the issue of where the Bible stood on slavery, and even today, many people are still dealing with unregenerate hearts that have trickled down from the Jim Crow laws as well as from the days of slavery.
“Until our convention comes together, and really learns to reach across racial lines, and love our brothers of different ethnicities, revival won’t come, because oneness won’t be there in the body of Christ,” Turner said.
Johnny Hunt, a Native American and senior pastor of Woodstock Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., also signed the initiative.
“I think it is of utmost importance that we be led by President Ronnie Floyd and other Southern Baptist ministers to pursue the initiative of racial reconciliation,” Hunt said, referencing 1 Peter 4:8 as a call to love one another, because love covers sin.
“I pray that this will be the commencement of bringing us together in spiritual solidarity that would glorify God and be a witness to all those that are looking in to see how the body of Christ really responds to a crisis situation,” said Hunt, a former SBC president. “I pray that there would be a genuine outpouring of God’s love demonstrated through the reconciliation of any broken relationships.” Southern Baptists of all ethnicities should “embrace one another in a way that would rebound to the greater glory of God in genuine love and partnership together in the Gospel.”
K. Marshall Williams, senior pastor of Nazarene Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and president of the SBC National African American Fellowship, participated in the conference call with Floyd and also signed the appeal.
“I’m praying that God will pour out His Spirit, like a mighty purifying fire, of deep conviction, confession, spiritual brokenness with genuine fruits of repentance, from the sins of racism and injustice, that have been a systemic satanic stronghold in our Nation,” Williams told Baptist Press, “so that we will see loving unity in the body of Christ, which will usher in an unprecedented revival, spiritual awakening and healing in our land.
“I appreciatively applaud and I am praying for Dr. Ronnie Floyd as we seek the Lord for wisdom, when it comes to allowing His love, mercy and justice to rule in polity and practicum as Kingdom citizens.”
Other pastors on the conference call, all of whom signed Floyd’s appeal, were immediate past SBC president Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans; immediate past NAAF president A.B. Vines, pastor of New Seasons Church in Spring Valley, Calif.; Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.; and Ted Traylor, senior pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.
Among Hispanic signatories is David Galvan, senior pastor of Primeria Iglesia Baptista Nueva Vida New Life in Dallas, who told Baptist Press he shares Floyd’s heartbeat and concern for racial reconciliation and justice.
“Our business is souls, regardless of race or social status,” said Galvan, a former SBC second vice president. “We care about people and especially those of the household of faith. God addressed injustice and the lack of mercy when He spoke to the Israel of old and therefore we too must address alleged injustices.”
The church should spread the gospel among all peoples, regardless of race or social status, Galvan said.
“Racial reconciliation is not a political posture. For us, it is the way the body of Christ operates. It is the mind of Christ,” Galvan said, referencing his congregation. “Though we minister primarily to a Spanish-speaking constituency, we also have an outreach to everyone in our community that understands English, and we have had an English-speaking worship service for over 30 years. Our English service is attracting people of varying backgrounds.”
Traylor, in Romania on a mission trip, told Baptist Press in an email that talking with other pastors on the conference call was helpful.
“I hear much about having a conversation regarding racial issues but I do not see many happening. [Floyd’s initiative] put me in a conversation that was healthy, helpful and educational,” Traylor said. “I hope Southern Baptists will seek to have these kinds of conversations that lead to action.”
Southern Baptists should follow Jesus’ example in preaching to set the captives free, Traylor said.
“When injustice is in the air, we as church leaders need to call sin what it is and we need to encourage those who are speaking for those that cannot speak for themselves,” Traylor said. “Jesus preached to set free the oppressed and we must do the same.”
Paul Kim, pastor emeritus of Antioch Baptist Church in Cambridge, Mass., signed the letter and recruited other pastors from Asian communities within the SBC to do the same.
Although the United States is composed of united governments, the country has missed the mark in racial unity, said Kim, who came to the U.S. from Korea in 1967 and served two military tours in the U.S. Army.
“Somehow we are not united racially,” Kim told Baptist Press. “I don’t get that America, we claim we are united states, but now we are not united, because of racial issues. We are totally separated. I have not seen the unity that Jesus speaks about” among believers.
Southern Baptists need to actively pursue racial reconciliation and encourage others to do the same, Kim said. As the church is one body, when one person hurts, the others hurt as well, said Kim, who chairs the Executive Committee’s Asian American Advisory Council.
Other Asian pastors who signed the appeal are Filipino Roger Manao, senior pastor of Philadelphia Bible Church International in Philadelphia, Pa.; Simon Tsoi, pastor emeritus, First Chinese Baptist Church in Phoenix; and Vietnamese Christian Phan, senior pastor of Agape Baptist Church in Renton, Wash.
Remaining signatories are Vance Pitman, senior pastor, Hope Church, Las Vegas; Jack Graham, senior pastor, Prestonwood Baptist Church, Plano, Texas; J.D. Greear, senior pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Manuel Martinez Sr., senior pastor, Primera Iglesia Bautista, Irving, Texas; Timmy R. Chavis, senior pastor, Bear Swamp Baptist Church, Pembroke, N.C.; Bucas Sterling III, senior pastor, Kettering Baptist Church, Upper Marlboro, Md.; Dennis W. Mitchell, senior pastor, Greenforest Community Baptist Church, Decatur, Ga.; and Frank Williams, senior pastor, Wake-Eden Community Baptist Church and Bronx Baptist Church, both in Bronx, N.Y.
Floyd encouraged churches to respond in a way appropriate to their congregants and communities.
“We determined the number one issue is a heart issue; therefore, we focused on this through this article,” Floyd told Baptist Press. “If a pastor and a church operates with the heart we have communicated that we need to have, then each church should decide their needed steps of action, appropriate to their context in their community.”
Many Southern Baptists already have intentionally worked to achieve racial reconciliation within the SBC and the nation.
In 1995 the SBC adopted a resolution apologizing for its racist past, asking African Americans for forgiveness. The resolution “lament[ed] and repudiate[d] historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest.” It went on to say, “We apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously.”
Some 16 years later, the convention adopted a 10-part recommendation from an Ethnic Study Committee that sought to help ethnic churches and leaders better partner with fellow Southern Baptists in missions and ministry. In addition, SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page has appointed councils to advise him and other SBC leaders on how to integrate members of racial and ethnic minority groups into Southern Baptist life more fully at all levels. Page’s advisory councils include the Hispanic Advisory Council, the African American Advisory Council, the Asian American Advisory Council and the Multiethnic Advisory Council.
The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) announced Dec. 12 it has changed the subject of its March leadership summit to race relations in light of recent events. The ERLC’s March 26-27 meeting in Nashville will be on “The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation” instead of the previously announced theme of developing a pro-life ethic. Among the speakers joining ERLC President Russell Moore will be longtime civil rights leader John Perkins and Fred Luter, the SBC’s first African-American president.
Hunt, who acknowledged his unique perspective as a Native American, has worked to integrate his pastorate, he told Baptist Press, and has included African American associate pastors, deacons, teachers and other leaders.
“I sense that God has led Woodstock to be a church that is color blind, but at the same time sensitive for the need for reconciliation on every point,” Hunt said. “The very love of God and the love for the brothers and sisters within the family of God and even God’s deep love within our heart for those who don’t belong to Him yet – we should be moved to action.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)