SBC task force calls for increased emphasis on racial reconciliation

by Dwayne Hastings, posted Tuesday, February 16, 1999 (20 years ago)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Racism remains a serious problem within the Southern Baptist Convention and across the United States, in the view of SBC Racial Reconciliation Task Force members.

"We have far too many people dealing with the race issue from the minority community; it is the majority community we have to convince," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and chair of the task force. He called for the white community "to confront racism."

"There is more residual racism in the white community than whites know," Land said, adding, "There is more good will in the white community than the black community

knows."

Yet Land said during a Jan. 27 meeting of the Racial Reconciliation Task Force he was surprised and disappointed with the lack of progress in race relations.

Considering the judicial and legislative remedies offered to improve civil rights in the years between 1954 and 1967, Land said it is tragic that in 1999 more progress had not been made in America. "This is an issue we need to push Southern Baptists and Americans on, because it is right, because it is moral. It is a part of the ministry of reconciliation God calls us to and because our future as a nation depends on it," he said.

The Racial Reconciliation Task Force is a panel established in 1996 by the SBC Great Commission Council, formerly the Inter-Agency Council, in response to the adoption of a resolution on racial reconciliation by messengers to the 1995 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Atlanta. The task force is composed of SBC agency executives or their representatives.

From the 1940s to 1995 the Southern Baptist Convention accepted more than a score of resolutions condemning racism, but never apologized for it, Land explained. "Prior to 1995, we had never said we were sorry because we had not been able to put ourselves in a position to understand what it was like to have Christian brothers and sisters shut us out."

It is a problem that victimizes everybody, Land said, noting whites may be more victimized than minorities because "it sours their spirit and their relationship with the Lord."

"If the United States is going to survive, we have to have ethnic and racial reconciliation," Land said, noting it is not going to happen without sincere intentionality by Christians.

"It is terribly important we send the message that this is not issue of liberal and conservative; this is an issue of right and wrong," Land said. "This is [a] problem of the heart, of the spirit; it is not going to be solved without the intentionality of believers."

Some members of the task force noted the denomination had been lax in introducing minority Southern Baptists into local and state processes, thus leaving them less prepared to be effective trustees. And while many SBC trustee boards have made progress at bringing women members on board, these boards are lacking significant racial and ethnic representation, the task force noted.

"The power is at the trustee level; agencies cannot select their trustees. One of first goals of task force was to compile a pool of those eligible as trustees so the [SBC] Committee on Nominations can consider these individuals in their selection process," Land said.

"One of the most important things this task force can do is to begin to identity people who would be willing and able to serve as trustees," he continued, noting it will make it easier for agency heads "to implement bold actions to effect racial reconciliation."

There was agreement among task force members that white-dominated SBC agencies needed to be more proactive in reaching out to racial and ethnic minority communities, with a suggestion that participation in the convention's annual black church week at SBC conference centers would "speak volumes," Land said.

In the country at large, Land said, healthy relationships between the races is lacking. "We have to find ways to short-circuit that and develop relationships in order to break self-segregating cycles. We tend to re-segregate ourselves as soon as we have the opportunity."

A series of documentaries and a panel discussion focusing on race relations in the nation is being produced by the North American Mission Board and will air in May on

FamilyNet.

The programs are designed to assist viewers in developing a reconciliatory ministry, as well as talking with real people who have suffered and dealt with pain from racist behavior, said Robert Wilson, manager of African American church planting with the North American Mission Board.

In other discussion, the task force heard that ethnic and language church growth in the SBC continues unabated. The first official African American church entered the Southern Baptist Church in 1951, Wilson said. Since that date, nearly 3,000 predominantly African American churches have joined the SBC, Wilson said, noting in 1989 NAMB church planters began to intentionally plant churches in African American communities.

"We have planted well over 1,300 churches in the African American community, Wilson said, adding, "One of the highest percentages of churches started in the Southern Baptist Convention are African American churches."

Land told the group a tour of civil rights sites is scheduled for the day after the Southern Baptist Convention for interested messengers and their families. In addition to Land and Wilson, others at the task force meeting were Keith Harper, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; Jerry Pounds and Steve Lemke, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; Andrea Mullins, Woman's Missionary Union; and Bill Merrell, SBC Executive Committee.

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