This weekend has been designated Racial Reconciliation Sunday by the Southern Baptist Convention. Here are five facts you should know about the SBC and its efforts to unify all races within the Kingdom of God.
1. In 1814, Baptist churches in the U.S. joined together to create the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination. By 1845 the churches were divided over the issue of slavery. As church historian Miles Mullin explains, white Baptists in southern states desired to make slavery a non-issue, while abolitionist forces in the North and among northern Baptists desired the convention to take a moral stand against it. The following year, motivated by a dispute over slave-holders being denied appointment to serve as missionaries by the convention, a group of representatives from Southern churches created a new denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. Despite having been founded on racial division, the SBC has become increasingly racially diverse. Today, there are thousands of Southern Baptist congregations that identify as predominantly African-American, comprising about seven percent of all SBC churches.
2. In 1993, the National African American Fellowship (NAAF) was organized. NAAF is a national fellowship of 4,000+ predominately African American churches affiliated with the SBC. The organization’s mission is to fulfill the Great Commission and live out the “Great Commandment by Building up the Body of Christ – for the Glory of God.” Altogether, the NAAF has a membership of more than 400,000 members, and ranges in size from house churches to some of the largest churches in America and ministering to people in rural, urban, suburban, and multi-ethnic communities across the country.
3. At the 2009 SBC annual meeting, Paul Kim, the Asian American relations consultant of the SBC Executive Committee (EC), presented a motion to create an Executive Committee study group to examine “how ethnic churches and ethnic church leaders can be more actively involved in serving the needs of the SBC through cooperative partnership on the national level.”
After two years of study, the committee released their report, A Review of Ethnic Church and Ethnic Church Leader Participation in SBC Life. The committee recommended that:
– entities annually submit a descriptive report of participation of ethnic churches and church leaders in the life and ministry of each entity.
– the SBC President’s Notebook given to each newly elected president to encourage him to “give special attention to appointing individuals who represent the diversity within the convention, and particularly ethnic diversity” among his appointees to various committees.
– the SBC president report the total number of appointees that represent the ethnic diversity when names for committees are released to Baptist Press.
– the SBC President’s Notebook encourage the president to encourage the selection of annual meeting program personalities that represent the ethnic diversity within the convention.
– the Committee on Order of Business consider the ethnic identity of program personalities for annual meetings.
– the Committee on Nominations form be amended to provide a place where a nominee may indicate his or her ethnic identity.
– the Committee on Nominations include in its annual report the number of individuals among its nominees that represent the ethnic diversity within SBC life.
– entities give due consideration to the recruitment and employment of qualified individuals who reflect well the ethnic diversity within SBC life.
– the Executive Committee, through its various publications and news outlets, continue to provide news coverage of interest to individuals of all ethnic interests and to highlight what God is accomplishing through Baptists of “every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”
– the Executive Committee receive a report from EC staff each year during its February meeting concerning the participation of ethnic churches and ethnic church leaders in SBC life.
4. In the 2000s, two African American pastors were elected to the highest positions within the SBC. At its annual convention in 2012, the SBC elected as president Fred Luter Jr., the first African American to hold the position. As ERLC president Russell Moore said at the time, “A descendant of slaves elected to lead a denomination forged to protect the evil interests of slaveholders is a sign of the power of a gospel that crucifies injustice and reconciles brothers and sisters. The election of Fred Luter doesn’t mean the question of racial justice is settled for Southern Baptists, but it is one small step toward our confessing that Jesus Christ and Jim Crow cannot exist in the same denomination, or in the same heart. One has got to go.” In 2020, Rolland Slade was elected as the first African American chairman of the SBC’s Executive Committee (EC). As EC board chairman, Slade leads the committee which acts on behalf of the Convention between sessions, and performs such tasks as reviewing SBC financial statements, recommending the Convention annual operating budget, receiving and distributing the monies Southern Baptists give in support of denominational ministries, acting as the recipient and trust agency for all Convention properties, and providing public relations and news services.
5. The Convention has affirmed two historic resolutions on racial reconciliation. In 1995, on the denomination’s 150th anniversary, the Convention voted to adopt a resolution on racial reconciliation that apologized for its racist roots, for condoning and perpetuating individual and systemic racism, and committed to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry. In 2015, twenty years after the original racial reconciliation resolution, the SBC adopted another resolution vowing to “rededicate ourselves to the holy responsibility and privilege of loving and discipling people of all races and ethnicities in our communities.” The resolution urges churches to demonstrate their heart for racial reconciliation by seeking to increase racial and ethnic diversity in church staff roles, leadership positions, and church membership, and also calls on Southern Baptist entities and Convention committees to make leadership appointments that reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of the body of Christ and of the Southern Baptist Convention.