This week marked an historic week for Southern Baptists. Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, was elected as President of the SBC. Anyone familiar with our denomination’s beginnings will understand why this was such a momentous occasion, seeing that our genesis was a result of slave owners who wanted to be appointed as missionaries. Not to mention that many, though not all, Southern Baptist churches have been on the wrong side of the civil rights debate throughout the years. Therefore, the tears of joy that were shed during that landmark moment were completely understandable–communicating relief, relief that we may be seeing change from our history that is more familiar with tears of grief than joy when it comes to racial issues.
I am happy that our national leaders are taking steps to right the wrongs.
But I realize that we have a long way to go on the church level.
As Baptists, our polity, or church government, is centered upon congregationalism, meaning that we view each local body as autonomous, and the congregation has the ultimate authority in church matters, not national leaders. Has my point become evident yet? Regardless of what takes place at the national convention, it is all for naught if it doesn’t carry over to the local congregation.
One glance inside the typical Southern Baptist worship service, particularly in the South, and you’ll see that our churches are far from diverse. It’s mostly a sea of white faces, one most unlike the scene that is painted for us in Revelation 7:9-10:
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Therefore, pastor, will you strive for racial reconciliation when you return home? It’s easy to do when you’re surrounded by thousands of other pastors raising their ballots in support of the first African American SBC president. But what about when you return to a church that bristles at the mention of a multi-ethnic congregation? What will you do?
For the pastor who is unsure as to where to begin with this task, let me offer one suggestion, a starting point for the minister seeking to find his way: partner with a local congregation of a different race. Of course, you’ll want to be on the same theological page as them, or at least the same book, but join them once you have found that congregation you can work with. Have a joint worship service. Decide on a way to reach the community together. Partner for VBS. Do anything you want. Just do something together.
I understand this is not groundbreaking material, but I believe it would be a healthy step for the many churches who want to “make disciples of all nations”, just not worship with them.
I’m hopeful that changes are coming in the demographic makeup of our congregations, but it will still take time and hard work to achieve it. So let’s labor as pastors and church members to picture the multi-nation, -tongue, and -people that the Lamb deserves. It may take some ministers losing their jobs and dealing with slander, but the task is worthy because the Lamb is worthy.