Why Are Southern Baptists Moving So Slowly Toward Greater Ethnic Diversity in Leadership?

Last summer at the SBC Annual Meeting in Baltimore, I brought a motion asking for an official assessment of the progress that Southern Baptists have made in increasing ethnic diversity in leadership over the past 20 years since our 1995 resolution apologizing for supporting slavery, racism, and segregation. Much had been accomplished throughout the convention in this area, but there was still much more work to be done. Where are we? How are we bringing in ethnic minority leaders? How is the SBC actively diversifying in leadership at the entity trustee level? With 20% of SBC churches now ethnic minority-majority and with over 50% of our new church plants each year now ethnic churches, are we moving people into leadership in an appropriate way? That was my question. This year at the SBC’s Annual Meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the Executive Committee will deliver an answer.

A bit of background is in order. In 2009, Dr. Paul Kim, of Antioch Baptist in Cambridge, MA, asked for a study to be done that would bring recommendations to SBC entities regarding how they could increase participation and leadership among ethnic minorities. After two years of work and study, the Executive Committee put forward a 10 point plan to encourage change in this area at the SBC Annual Meeting in June, 2011 entitled, “A Review of Ethnic Church and Ethnic Church Leader Participation in SBC Life.” Dr. Kim and other ethnic leaders asked for this study because they were concerned that Southern Baptists were not making the progress that we could and should be making. Here is an article on the report with the attendant recommendations from the EC.

In a summary of the report in late summer of 2011, Joni B. Hanagin wrote, “For the first time in history, the convention will ask its entities to provide ‘a descriptive report of participation of ethnic churches and church leaders in the life and ministry of the respective SBC entity’; the SBC president to ‘give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the Convention’ to committees under his purview; and a subcommittee of the EC to provide a report each February with an update on how each of the recommendations has been addressed.”

At the time, Darrell Orman, pastor of First Baptist Church, Stuart, Florida, and a member of the Executive Committee Communications Workgroup who worked on the report said “The real power of this report is actually that it is now inculcated into the machinery of the Southern Baptist Convention, a [new] level of accountability.”

Hanagin wrote, “The recommendation does not establish a practice of affirmative action, Orman said. Instead, it gives something tangible to those who say, ‘We have been patient.’ Now people can say there is “machinery in effect,” along with accountability and a “metric” for measurement, Orman said.”

Unfortunately, even though the SBC overwhelmingly approved of the EC report asking for this accountability in 2011, specific information on the progress that entities were making in becoming more ethnically diverse has been difficult to come by. General reports have been given, however. Here is a summary year by year:

2012 – a general summary of entity reports on racial diversity from Baptist Press.

2013 – I could not find anything.

2014 – I could not find anything. I dug through the Book of Reports for both 2013 and 2014 and read the ministry reports of the entities and did not see any response to the recommendations made in 2011 by the Executive Committee regarding increasing ethnic diversity in Southern Baptist leadership. If those reports exist or if there is any mention of them anywhere, I could not find them. If a reader can find them, please let me know in the comments and I will gladly update the links.

While Southern Baptists have drafted resolutions and motions calling for greater ethnic diversity in our churches and SBC entity leadership, it seems that we continue to be at the same place year after year with middling improvement, if any. Much progress has been made in planting churches and in drawing ethnic churches into the SBC. But, we are not seeing the participation in leadership that seems as though would follow if organic participation was flowing to the top, as the desire has been stated.

For example, the 2015 Committee on Nominations delivered their slate of trustees for the 12 SBC entities last month. 80 new trustees were nominated. Of those 80 new trustees, 70 are white. 5 are black, 3 are Hispanic, 1 is Korean, and 1 is Filipino. That means that 87.5% of new trustees will be white and 12.5% will be ethnic minority. I don’t have the numbers for all of the trustees in all of the entities, but I have been led to believe that they are not higher than that.

In the Executive Committee, for example, 82 of the 83 trustees overall are white. Of the 10 new trustee nominees for this year (2015), all 10 were white. Guidestone had 4 new trustees nominated. All 4 were white. The IMB had 12 new trustees nominated. All 12 were white. Lifeway had 8 new trustees nominated. All 8 were white. The ERLC, after having held a fantastic conference on racial reconciliation in March, had 6 new trustees nominated, and 5 of them were white and 1 was Filipino. NAMB did a bit better. Out of 11 new trustees, 9 were white, 1 was Hispanic, and 1 was black.

The Seminaries did much better than the national entities. From our 6 seminaries, they had 29 trustee spots open and had 22 appointments that were white with 7 ethnic minorities nominated. (a 76/24% split). SWBTS had the most diverse slate of new trustees with 3 white, 1 Hispanic, 1 Korean, and 1 Black nominated. None of this information was readily available, by the way. I had to find it the hard way.

Of course, it must be noted that the entities do not choose their own trustees. The trustees are chosen through a process that is pretty complicated, but basically, the trustees come from the states. Nominators in each state are chosen by the committee on committees which is appointed by the president who is elected by the convention. The nominators are the ones who pick who the trustees will be and the trustees are ultimately confirmed by the convention. It is a fairly decentralized process and nominators from one state do not know who nominators from other states are choosing. As people nominate who they know, the relationships are perpetuated, but none of this is intentional. It just is what it is.

SBC President Ronnie Floyd made 68 nominations to the SBC Committee on Committees. Of those, 20% were ethnic minority, matching the percentage of the SBC that is ethnic minority. I was told that this is the highest percentage of ethnic minority members ever appointed by a president to the Committee on Committees, so I give Ronnie Floyd credit for that. Our past has been so poor, however, that I wish that he would have appointed 30-40% to begin to offset the lack of participation from years past.

Why does this matter? Why does it matter if the SBC is opening the door for greater involvement from ethnic minorities? Who cares about percentages and numbers and whether or not ethnic minorities are represented? Well, it matters. Let me give a few reasons:

  1. The SBC is growing with ethnic minority involvement. That is the one area of significant growth. Over 50% of new church plants are ethnic minority. This is very good! But, we have to find ways to get those new leaders involved in leading our entities so that they they can be a part of directing the future of the SBC.

  2. While Fred Luter’s election as SBC president in 2012 was wonderful, and while the ERLC had a great conference on racial reconciliation in March, 2015, we still are not seeing major progress in our entities throughout our leadership structures to match the growing diversity of our churches. I have been told by ethnic minority leaders that they are still waiting for these issues to be taken seriously with actual results and not just words.

  3. America is diversifying racially at a rapid rate. By approximately 2040, the U.S. will be majority-minority, meaning that whites will be in the minority. The only way that Southern Baptists are going to reach our growing nation is if we reach all of the people in our nation and plant churches and raise up leaders from the ethnos. We are making great progress planting churches. Now, the door needs to open wide for those leaders to lead all of us. All of us need to work together.

  4. The Church is made up of every tribe, nation, people, and tongue. Those groups are all represented in the United States and in our cities and countryside. Our churches are making efforts to reach all of the nations and great progress is being made. In my own city of Montgomery, we have an ESL ministry that reaches 350 students from 52 nations and has volunteers from 27 churches. My own church sponsors a Korean and a Hispanic church and altogether, we have people from 17 nations from our 3 congregations. This is in Alabama and it is a common story all over America and throughout the SBC. Our leadership needs to reflect this growing diversity.

  5. Ethnic Diversity in SBC leadership is a witness to the reconciling power of the gospel. America is rejecting the message of the Bible in many different ways. But, while our cities are in turmoil and while racial strife has broken out across America over the past year, the church is perfectly positioned to tell a better story. In Christ, we testify that there is neither Jew, Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, male, or female – but we are all one in Christ (Gal. 3:26-29; Col. 3:11). The world cannot manufacture the kind of unity that exists and is growing in our churches day by day. Our leadership should reflect this as a witness to who Christ is and to what the gospel does in reconciling people to God and to one nother in Christ.

  6. According to reports from the Census.gov (2014), the U.S. population will reach 417 million by 2060. But, what will it look like? “By 2030, one in five Americans is projected to be 65 and over; by 2044, more than half of all Americans are projected to belong to a minority group (any group other than non-Hispanic White alone); and by 2060, nearly one in five of the nation’s total population is projected to be foreign born.” That one-in-five foreign born comes in at over 80 million people. America cannot figure out how to assimilate the immigrants who are coming here. Ethnic strife and conflict keeps emerging and seems to be on the horizon. But, the church, through unity in Christ, does have the answer. As the larger culture rejects the church’s ethics on many issues, let us speak clearly on this issue and finally find the unity that we were supposed to have all along.

  7. I do not think that the lack of involvement from ethnic leadership is because of overt racism. I believe that it is because Southern Bapitsts in positions of power generally nominate people that they know. They nominate friends and those for whom favors are repaid. They nominate seminary buddies and people who have been supportive of other goals and careers. There are lots of reasons that people are nominated and they are almost all relational and the circle remains rather small. So, when we intentionally nominate people from other ethnic groups, we begin to allow the same relational connections to take place in other spheres so that more people are allowed to participate and the circle enlarges. Those pools of candidates need to be dipped into deeply.

Southern Baptists have an opportunity to proclaim the reconciling gospel clearly through increasing ethnic diversity. That means that some white people are going to have to step aside and give up their seats to leaders from different ethnic groups. I think that Southern Baptists want to see this. When godly, qualified leaders from diverse ethnic groups are brought forward for leadership, Southern Baptists have celebrated this in profound ways, from the election of Fred Luter as president in 2012 to Dennis Kim, a Korean-American, receiving 41% of the vote for president in 2014. I think that Southern Baptists want us to work together and they want ALL of those who are qualified to have access to leadership in our entities. This truth should be reflected in committee and trustee appointments, in seminary enrollment, and in hires at all levels of our entities and in appointments to the mission field. Southern Baptists WANT this. Everyone that I talk to WANTS this. There is literally NO opposition to seeing this happen anywhere.

So, the question is, why are we moving so slowly?

Why is greater participation in leadership among ethnic minorities happening so slowly?

Why did we pass 10 recommendations in 2011 overwhelmingly and they were quickly forgotten or have not been consistently acted upon?

What can we do to actually change this and open the doors more widely so that our actions really begin to fit our true desires?

The report on the progress made will be delieverd by the Executive Committee in the Daily Bulletin at the SBC on Tuesday morning, June 16th. I have not seen this report yet because the EC has not met and adopted it. I hope that it has some strong recommendations for how we can move forward. At any rate, it will be the 20th anniversary of our apology for our racist past. We have made progress over the past 20 years, but there is so much more that we can do. I plan to bring another motion on Tuesday based on the 2011 and 2015 EC reports to try and continue to move the ball forward. We have to solve this. We WANT to solve this. Let’s do it.



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