Why Racial Division in the SBC Is a Gospel Issue (#sbc2011)

Hands Reconciliation Supposedly, the SBC meeting in Phoenix will issue a new declaration on racial discrimination within the Convention that will be multifaceted. This is really important and I am glad that my denomination is continuing to see this as a gospel issue.  Dave Miller at SBC Voices explains how he has pushed for this and is excited to see what the SBC is doing here.  I responded to Dave with the following comment that I wanted to lift out post here. I think that racial division in the body of Christ is a gospel issue, not just a social issue (but, of course, the two are related).

The last strong vestige of racism in the SBC is found in the realm of “personal preference” and “worship styles.” That has become code-language for, “I don’t want to be with “those” people.” We will be with them if they become just like us, but that then becomes a kind of circumcision-separation in the body of Christ. If they take on our culture, our customs, our vocabulary, our way of doing church, and our music, then we will fellowship with them. That is just like the Judaizers saying that the Gentiles had to be circumcised, obey dietary laws, etc. to be accepted with the people of God. Of course, we don’t make our preferences soteriological like the Judaizers did, but we do make them ecclesiological and even missiological, and if you understand the implications of the gospel in Ephesians 2:11-22, Christ is our peace and tears down the dividing wall – there is neither Jew, Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, male, or female. We are all one in Christ. So, that Oneness must be our priority, not our preferences, styles, methods, and approaches. All of those divisions are products of the Fall and are erased in Christ.

The only way through this is Agape – Sacrificial Love. If I truly and sacrificially love my black brothers and sisters in Christ, I will recognize that the divisions that we have are all from the institutional and cultural sins of racism, slavery, and segregation – sins that my Baptist ancestors promoted and codified. So, love for God and others requires that I not wait for them to come to me and become like me – rather, it requires that I go to them and identify with them, bringing the Incarnation of Christ into the still-existing broken relationships.

Could the healing of America be found in white, Baptist (and other), Southern Christians going to black, Baptist (and other) Southern Christians and laying down their lives sacrificially to communicate something other than our personal preferences? What if we truly laid down our lives for them in every way – for the health of their churches and communities and their future? What if their concerns became our concerns? What if we did not leave the cities because there were problems, but instead joined together with our black brothers and sisters and pastors and churches to identify with them and to carry their burdens? Might we then see the healing that we so desire. Isaiah 58 seems to say so.

Yes, Dave. This is crucial, but true healing requires much more of us than we can imagine. This is the work that we are doing in Montgomery, AL and it requires every bit of our lives. But, the witness of the Kingdom is at stake and Christ demands it of us.

I sincerely hope that we will see the tearing down of racial divisions in the body of Christ in America in the coming years to the point that we no longer consider a church to be a "white" church or a "black" church, but simply a church made up of followers of Jesus.  May it be.

3 Responses to Why Racial Division in the SBC Is a Gospel Issue (#sbc2011)

  1. I think it important to address “personal preference and worship style” although I am not convinced that is the last vestige….
    If I do as you describe–what I will find is that “I am white” and that is more important to me than I thought it was–and that identity–I will protect. I will discover “white” is not really so much attached to my pigmentation on the day that a bunch of white folks whom I love decide I am no longer white; when the Christian institution I work for suddenly deems me their enemy (or uncooperative friend).k
    It raises the missiological question of when and how someone can maintain their cultural heritage and be true to the Gospel. “Whiteness”, in our culture, formed completely out of racism.
    Historically we could very easily conclude Muslims ought be willing to stop being Muslim to follow Jesus; and never ask whether white persons ought be willing to stop being white.

  2. I agree fully with what you are saying here. We cannot protect our “Southern Baptist Culture and Heritage” and include ethnic minorities as well.
    We have to all become more like Christ and less like we have always been.
    Good comment/post.

  3. Good words, Philip. My “whiteness” is not a biblical distinction – it is one born of a racialized perspective, which is an identity rooted in the fall. I am not saying that we should disavow all cultural distinctions. Absolutely not! There is great value and beauty in our different cultural expressions. I am just saying that we should not root our identity in them to the point that we are not able to appreciate or worship with others. We serve the same Lord. Christ should take precedence.