…I picked up this statement from Dr. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. Cornerstone is a large, predominantly African American congregation that is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Dr. McKissic has served as a trustee at my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, not far from his church. This was in a blog discussion about Ann Coulter’s recent insensitive and uninformed remarks about Dr. Brantly, the missionary who was recently returned home after contracting the Ebola virus in Liberia. They will lead me to a different discussion here.
“As a National Baptists lady said to me recently, ‘Southern Baptists are doing a lot better, but they still are not there yet’; that pretty much tells the story of how those of us who are Black SBC’ers are viewed by those outside of the SBC, who are Black. We are viewed as belonging to a group who is “not there yet” . So there is some level of rejection, ridicule, and disdain for those of us who are Black SBC’ers, in the same way Black political conservatives are rejected and ridiculed.” –Dr. Dwight McKissic
You know, I surprised myself by getting his analogy. Without getting into personalities, African American political conservatives are used by political conservatives to make a point, because they deviate from the expected norm. But among those who are known in this category, when they express an independent perspective that doesn’t tow the party line, their view is discounted and devalued.
Likewise, it seems to be becoming increasingly important for Southern Baptists, and other conservative evangelical denominations, to demonstrate a level of inclusiveness that allows them to reach into the African American community with evangelism and missions, and open the door to African American churches to join the denomination. That is happening. But in spite of the election of Dr. Fred Luter, an African American pastor from New Orleans, to the SBC presidency, and an increasing presence of African Americans on committees and boards, the prevailing attitude toward African American involvement still seems to be that they must change and adapt to the status quo if there’s an expectation of being included in the leadership core. Dr. McKissic has experienced that himself, in expressing his view on speaking in tongues and private prayer language.
I think the question that Southern Baptists, or any other denomination wanting to increase the involvement of African Americans, need to ask is “What do we need to do in order to ‘get there’? And then, after asking, they need to listen, and to take what they hear to heart, and do it. I think the realization that it would require equal sacrifice and equal effort is what is “not there yet.”
National Baptists, a historically African American denomination, and the SBC, have a lot in common. They have a fraternal relationship, have had some shared ministries, including support for a college and seminary in Nashville, and share more dually-affiliated churches than any other denominations. What would happen if the two denominations, and their institutions, merged? And beyond that, worked toward merging churches? Who would be expected to give up a level of leadership in order to make it happen? Could a predominantly Caucasian church in, say, Selma, Alabama accept the leadership of an African American pastor, or accept merging their congregation with a larger African American church? Because those are the places where the change will have to take place.
I’ve worshipped in SBC affiliated churches that were racially diverse, and led by a pastor who was a racial minority. Just a few weeks ago, we visited a church in Maryland, in the DC suburbs, pastored by an African American, and as racially diverse as any congregation I’ve ever been in. There were equal numbers of African Americans, Caucasians, and a Korean-speaking worship service, along with a half dozen other racial backgrounds represented in the congregation. Of course, just visiting a worship service doesn’t tell you much, and this is the DC suburbs, in a community where racial diversity has been a way of life for a long time. But the worship worked well, the congregation was quite friendly, and they seem to have a well established ministry. The associate pastor was also African American, and the worship leader was Chinese. Someone is doing it, so it can be done.
“Separate but equal” isn’t a Christian principle that I can find. This is the kind of thing that attracts more excuses why it can’t be done than reasons why it can.