NASHVILLE (BP) -- When President Lyndon Johnson signed the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964, it codified into law provisions that many Southern Baptists had a reputation for opposing -- bans on racial discrimination in public accommodations and government programs.
But amid the opposition, there were pockets of Southern Baptists working for racial justice and equality. On the legislation's 50th anniversary, Baptist leaders are celebrating the fact that those pockets of activism have blossomed into a convention-wide emphasis on multiethnic cooperation to fulfill the Great Commission.
BP file photo
"The Civil Rights Act helped tear down so many walls that racial prejudice had constructed between members of the human family," Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, said. "My passion is to see every man, woman, boy and girl trust in Jesus Christ and become active members of one of our churches ... not because it is politically correct, but because every person matters to the Lord."
Today more than 10,000 of the SBC's 46,000 churches are non-Anglo, comprised of a broad diversity of racial and ethnic members. About 15 percent of presidential appointments to committees were from non-Anglo ethnic and racial groups over the past two years, and nearly 100 members of racial and ethnic minority groups have served in SBC leadership positions.
About 400 North American Mission Board missionaries identify themselves as non-Anglo. Approximately half of SBC church plants are classified as non-Anglo, and nearly 15 percent of churches registered to assist in the Send North America church planting emphasis are from various racial and ethnic subsets of American culture.
All this led Page to call the SBC "one of the most ethnically diverse denominations in America."
A divided convention
Fifty years ago that wasn't the case. The SBC met in Atlantic City, N.J., in May, ahead of President Johnson's July 2 signing of the Civil Rights Act. At the annual meeting, the SBC's Christian Life Commission -- precursor to the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission -- presented a recommendation that the convention pledge its support for civil rights legislation. When time came to vote on the recommendation, a pastor from Louisiana offered a substitute motion that didn't say anything about legislation. Read More