What If Jubilee In The SBC Were Real?

Last week, I wrote a post about SBC entities and why the trustee boards were so slow to invite ethnic minorities so serve with them as trustees (88% of trustees nominated for 2015 were white). The post was released on SBCVoices and there was a lively discussion as to the merit of my ideas and as to whether or not I was calling for racial/ethnic quotas. I am not calling for quotas as an answer to the past historic division. I think that they would be very difficult to execute and they would cause a great deal of confusion and further separation. I do recognize that we already have quotas, of a sort, in that there is a rule in place that trustee entities must be 1/3 clergy, 1/3 layman, and the other 1/3 could be any combination of the two. So, we do have quotas for lay/clergy groups. The thinking behind that has interested me as a possible way to solve the ethnic disparities that exist, but my sincere hope is that it not come to that – that we can solve this voluntarily. The way to correct this situation is through recognition of the value of individual leaders in the SBC no matter their ethnic background while also recognizing that there are ways that people from different backgrounds can benefit the whole. Our unity is in Christ, but in that, our diversity can be expressed to God’s praise.
But, even with calling for increased diversity and a welcoming of people from different ethinc backgrounds, some said that I actually was calling for a quota system. I understand the confusion, but that is not what I mean. Some said that I was saying that a lack of appointment of ethnic minorities meant that I was leveling accusations of racism. I explicitly did not do that and said so over and over again. What I DO think has happened, however, is that because of past racism, slavery, segregation, and all that went with it in America, relationships have formed along racial and ethnic lines. White people perpetuate other white people on trustee boards, not because they are racist, but because they nominate those that they know and are in close relationship with. They are not in relationship with mostly white people because they are racist, necessarily. They are mostly in relationship with white people because that is the way that relationships have happened in America – among white, black, Hispanic, Asian, etc., going back hundreds of years. The reason for this separation has mostly been because of forms of racism that have existed in the past. I am not saying that that is the ONLY reason that people group together with people of their own ethnicity. Absolutely not. But, that historic separation was, in large part, rooted in historic divisions fostered by sin. So, when I say that people in the Body of Christ need to come together and call leaders to serve and work together, I am saying it because the only real reason that we are separated in the church now is because of divisions that began long ago when race-based slavery and segregation were the norms. In the church, it should not be so, but because relationships often developed along historical lines and it was according to relationships that people were chose for trustee positions, white people would keep perpetuating mostly white trustee boards – not because of active racism but because of relationships. As I said in the thread, the system was perfectly designed to get the results that we were getting.
A few days ago, I was having a text conversation with a friend of mine, Jason Sampler, and he said that what I was really getting at was the concept of a Year of Jubilee. Instead of talking about quotas or anything like that, he mentioned Jubilee as a precedent for a year when things “reset.” When he said that, it was like an explosion went off in my head and I could see something amazing as a possibility.
The Year of Jubilee in Scripture is found in Leviticus 25. The idea is that every 7 years, people and land and property would be returned back to their families and original owners. Debt would be wiped out, sins forgiven, people brought back from slavery, the poor redeemed, and everything set right. If you had to sell of family lands during the previous 50 years, they would be given back to the original family. If family members had sold themselves into slavery, they would be returned. Everything would be returned back to how it was. It was an amazing concept instituted by God that the Hebrew people never really carried out. When the 50 years came, they did not want to give up what they had gained over the previous years. So, like the Sabbath Day and the Sabbath Year, this practice of Jubilee was not well followed.
But, the idea of a “reset” is an intriguing one and applying it to an institution like the SBC is worth thinking about. If God is saying here that there is to be a “reset” of the way that wealth and power accumulate and disappear from people every 50 years, then we need to ask “why?” he would say that. Perhaps the greatest value is not continuity in a previously set direction, but perhaps God see justice as people and families having a chance to start fresh over and over again. Perhaps God cares about our institutions and systems and who has access to them and who runs what and who has what and who has lost things and how things can be restored?
So, applying this to the SBC trustee system from our conversation last week, what if we considered that the reason for the vast majority of white leadership was because of past injustice that created relationships along racial/ethnic lines that could not be overcome without real intentionality. And, even then, it would be difficult because of a lack of trust and because of people being entrenched in power positions. What if we realized that our institutional rules were not infallible and that perhaps, the system that we had was perfectly designed to give us the results that were getting? How would we go about addressing this situation that no one really wanted today, but that was rooted in past separation?
Instead of the legalism and destruction of ethnic quotas with that being forced on people to rectify a problem, what if we somehow embraced the grace of jubilee? What if we recognized that we were separated not because of current racism but because of a trajectory of separation that was put into place hundreds of years ago? What if we sought to wipe things clean and start over in how our institutions were staffed and governed in a way that included leaders and representatives from throughout the SBC that we have now and not the one that we had decades ago?
What if Jubilee guided us and we started over relationally?
Is this crazy?
Is this workable with the systems that we have and the wineskins that currently hold us together?
Is this messy?
Is it doable?
No. Not without busting up a lot of things and maybe that is not the best approach.
But, what if we put aside the concept of a structural Jubilee and we instead carried one in our hearts? What if, liberated by the Spirit of God, were constantly working and serving to restore and redeem and give back what had been sold off and taken from people over the previous 50 years? Or, 100 years? Or 150? Or 250? You get what I mean. What if we were not bound by the relationships formed in the past but we instead opened our eyes to what God wanted to do today by His Spirit in our lives and relationships and institutions? What if we did what Jesus was talking about in Luke 4:18-19 and proclaimed the “Year of the Lord’s Favor” and refused to let the divisions of the past manifest today in ways that kept us apart?
This would be a disaster and would turn everything upside down. I get it. I really do. But, I wonder what would happen if we really did make decisions based on character and anointing and giftings and callings and ministry effectiveness instead of being based so heavily on who knows who? I wonder how the gospel would flow out of us into a hurting broken world if we lived and proclaimed Jubilee
in our lives and ran around restoring and redeeming things to people and inviting people who were once on the margins to sit at the table together with us?
I wonder what would happen if Jubilee were real?
Nah, nevermind. It would never work.

One Response to What If Jubilee In The SBC Were Real?

  1. It might just be that the worst form of racism is not racial prejudice, but racial indifference and apathy. And I think that’s what we’re seeing.
    I don’t know any finer guys than Dwight McKissic or Fred Luter, or even Edgar Gantt and Maurice Mercer, two black deacons at our church. But I’m not seeing any real evidence that decision-makers are consciously trying to be inclusive of all races when considering people for places of influence and effectiveness in the SBC and its entities. Not that I’m in a position to know that, but it just seems …..

Leave a reply