By / Sep 1

Monday marked the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Held on Aug. 28, 1963, the march stands as a watershed moment in the Civil Rights Movement, influencing civil rights legislation and contributing to the end of racial segregation.

Here is what you should know about the Christian significance of the march, its impact on civil rights laws, and the ongoing quest for racial reconciliation.

Historical context: A moral imperative to overturn Jim Crow

The March on Washington occurred during a tumultuous period characterized by racial discrimination and social unrest. Although slavery had been abolished, systemic racism persisted, particularly in the form of Jim Crow laws. Named after an offensive and degrading stereotype of African Americans, Jim Crow laws were a collection of state and local statutes that enforced racial segregation in the Southern United States.

One of the primary tenets of Jim Crow laws was the doctrine of “separate but equal,” upheld by the Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896. This doctrine allowed for racial segregation so long as facilities were “equal,” though in reality, they were often inferior for African Americans. 

Jim Crow laws also mandated the segregation of public schools, public transportation, restrooms, restaurants, and even drinking fountains. They entrenched racial boundaries by establishing voting restrictions and prohibiting interracial marriages. These laws often enforced job discrimination, ensuring that lucrative and desirable jobs were reserved for white individuals.

Jim Crow laws were enacted primarily from the late 19th century to the early 20th century and remained in effect at the time of the march. This struggle for civil rights was therefore not merely a political or social endeavor but a moral imperative deeply rooted in the Christian doctrine that all human beings are created in the image of God.

The march: A manifestation of Christian activism

Organized by civil rights and labor leaders like A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the March on Washington brought together an estimated 250,000 individuals of all races. Many of the promoters and speakers at the events were Christian leaders, as were a great number of those who participated in the march.

Although the organizers disagreed about the purpose of the event, the group came together on a set of goals

  • passage of meaningful civil rights legislation; 
  • immediate elimination of school segregation; 
  • a program of public works, including job training, for the unemployed; 
  • a federal law prohibiting discrimination in public or private hiring; 
  • a $2-an-hour minimum wage nationwide; 
  • withholding federal funds from programs that tolerate discrimination; 
  • enforcement of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution by reducing congressional representation from states that disenfranchise citizens; 
  • a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act to currently excluded employment areas; 
  • and authority for the attorney general to institute injunctive suits when constitutional rights are violated.

Event organizer Bayard Rustin recruited 4,000 off-duty police officers and firemen to serve as event marshals and coached them in the crowd control techniques he’d learned in India studying nonviolent political participation. The official law enforcement also included 5,000 police, National Guardsmen, and Army reservists. No marchers were arrested, though, and no incidents concerning marchers were reported.

At the close of the event, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, delivered his iconic speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. King improvised the most recognizable, memorable part of the speech for which he is most famous, according to his speechwriter and attorney Clarence B. Jones. Although King had spoken about a dream two months earlier in Detroit, the “dream” was not in the text prepared by Jones. King initially followed the text Jones had written, but gospel singer Mahalia Jackson yelled, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King nodded to her, placed the text of his speech aside, and veered off-script, delivering extemporaneously what is referred to as the “I Have a Dream” speech, one of the most famous orations in American history.

A cultural shift and the end of segregation

The March on Washington was instrumental in the passage of key civil rights legislation. 

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, echoed the biblical principles of justice and equality.
  •  Similarly, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sought to eliminate racial discrimination in voting, aligning with the Christian conviction of fair treatment for all people made in God’s image.

Beyond legislation, the march initiated a significant cultural shift. The event brought the issue of racial inequality into the American consciousness, challenging people to confront their prejudices and to strive toward the Christian ideals of love, mercy, and unity. While laws could mandate desegregation, it was this change in collective consciousness that truly began to dismantle systemic racism.

As we reflect on the march, it’s essential to recommit to the Christian call for racial and ethnic reconciliation. The Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This verse highlights the biblical mandate for unity, transcending all racial and ethnic divisions, especially in the Church.

The March on Washington serves as a profound reminder of the Christian principles of justice, equality, and love for one’s neighbor—all grounded in the reality that we are all created in God’s image. The event was not just a milestone in American history; it was a manifestation of Christian activism that led to transformative civil rights legislation and cultural changes. However, the journey toward racial reconciliation is far from over, as evidenced by the devastating and sinful acts of racial hatred and violence we see too frequently. As followers of Christ, we are called to continue this vital work, striving to build a society where all are equal, all are loved, and all have the opportunity to hear the good news of Christ Jesus.

By / Jun 30

Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings you should know about. The decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court often directly affect Southern Baptist pastors and churches and the people they serve. That’s why every year the ERLC actively engages in the judicial process on issues that hold immense importance for our churches and the gospel.

But the court also issues rulings in cases that, while they aren’t directly related to the issues we work on, intersect with or are related to topics of concern for Southern Baptists. Here are five recent Supreme Court rulings from the most recent term. 

Students for Fair Admission v. Harvard and Students for Fair Admission v. UNC 

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling on two cases brought by Students for Fair Admissions, Inc (SFFA). The cases—SFFA v. UNC and SFFA v. President and Fellows of Harvardaddressed the consideration of race in college admissions. The court was asked to consider whether institutions of higher education can use race as a factor in admissions, and whether Harvard College was violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by penalizing Asian American applicants, engaging in racial balancing, overemphasizing race, and rejecting workable race-neutral alternatives.

The court ruled that colleges and universities can no longer take race into consideration as an express factor in admissions, a landmark decision that overturns long-standing precedent. In the 1978 case, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the court considered a quota system in place at the University of California and established the constitutionality of affirmative action programs 

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said that for too long universities have “concluded, wrongly, that the touchstone of an individual’s identity is not challenges bested, skills built, or lessons learned but the color of their skin. Our constitutional history does not tolerate that choice.”

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, the only Black woman on the court, wrote that the majority had “detached itself from this country’s actual past and present experiences.” But Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black man on the court, said, “While I am painfully aware of the social and economic ravages which have befallen my race and all who suffer discrimination, I hold out enduring hope that this country will live up to its principles so clearly enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States: that all men are created equal, are equal citizens, and must be treated equally before the law.”

United States v. Texas

In United States v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked Article III standing to challenge immigration-enforcement guidelines issued by the Secretary of Homeland Security. These guidelines were issued in a memorandum by the Department of Homeland Security to the Acting Director of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructing ICE officials to prioritize the removal of noncitizens who pose a threat to national security, public safety, or border security.

The purpose of these guidelines was to provide a framework for ICE to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement and to promote consistency and transparency in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Biden administration also argued that these guidelines were necessary to prioritize limited resources and focus on individuals who pose a greater risk to the country. However, Texas and Louisiana challenged the legality of these guidelines, arguing that they restrained ICE agents from fully enforcing immigration laws. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Texas and Louisiana lacked standing to challenge these rules, reinforcing the federal government’s unique role in setting immigration policy.

Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh 

On May 18, the Supreme Court issued opinions in two related cases, Gonzalez v. Google and Twitter v. Taamneh. In the Taamneh case, the court unanimously ruled that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants (Twitter, Google, and Facebook) aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the relevant attack. 

In both cases the plaintiffs made arguments related to the application of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act. Additionally, in the Gonzalez v. Google case, the plaintiffs argued that Google, through its subsidiary YouTube, aided, abetted, and conspired with ISIS by allowing the terrorist group to use its platform to spread propaganda and recruit members. The plaintiffs claimed that Google’s algorithms and revenue-sharing practices contributed to the spread of ISIS content on YouTube, and that Google should be held liable for the deaths of their family members in an ISIS attack in Jordan in 2016. In the Twitter v. Taamneh case, the plaintiffs alleged that Twitter, Google, and Facebook aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out an attack in Istanbul in 2017. The plaintiffs claimed that the defendants provided material support to ISIS by allowing the group to use their platforms to spread propaganda and recruit members.

The court unanimously ruled in the Taamneh case that the plaintiffs’ allegations were insufficient to establish that the defendants aided and abetted ISIS in carrying out the attack. Based on that ruling, the court declined to address the issues raised about the application of Section 230 protection from liability for aiding terrorists in the Gonzalez v. Google case and remanded it back to the lower courts.

Haaland v. Brackeen 

In the case of Haaland v. Brackeen, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 to reject challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a federal statute that aims to protect the future of Tribal Nations (i.e., the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations) and promote the best interests of Native American children. The case was brought by a birth mother, foster and adoptive parents, and the state of Texas, who claimed that the ICWA exceeds federal authority, infringes state sovereignty, and discriminates on the basis of race. 

The ICWA is a federal law that was passed in 1978 to protect the well-being and best interests of Native American children and families. The law aims to uphold family integrity and stability and to keep Native children connected to their community and culture. ICWA establishes minimum federal standards for the removal of Native children from their families and placement of such children in homes that reflect the unique values of Native culture.  

The Supreme Court rejected these challenges and upheld the ICWA, a victory for the Biden administration and several Native American tribes that defended the law. The majority opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett said the court “declines to disturb the Fifth Circuit’s conclusion that ICWA is consistent with” Congress’s authority under the Constitution in Article I. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were the only justices to dissent. 

Moore v. Harper 

The case of Moore v. Harper involved the controversial independent state legislature theory (ISL). This theory arose from the redistricting of North Carolina’s districts by the North Carolina legislature following the 2020 census, which the state courts found to be too artificial and partisan, and an extreme case of gerrymandering in favor of the Republican Party. ISL asserts that only the state legislature itself has the power to set the rules for making state laws that apply to federal elections, from drawing congressional district lines to determining the who-what-when-where of casting a ballot. 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina granted a rehearing in the underlying case, which prompted the justices to request additional briefing on whether they still had the power to rule in Moore. On June 27, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the “independent state legislature theory” in a 6-3 decision, affirming the lower court’s ruling that the congressional map violated the state constitution and dismissing the plaintiffs’ lawsuits. The case was decided in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh filing a concurring opinion, and Justice Thomas dissenting. The case was one of the most high-profile cases the Supreme Court has taken up in recent years, with former federal judge Michael Luttig calling it the “single most important case on American democracy—and for American democracy—in the nation’s history.”

By / Mar 1

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 1, 2023The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is highlighting key organizational efforts this week to encourage racial unity across SBC churches. 

In a new video conversation between ERLC President Brent Leatherwood and former Missouri Baptist Convention President Jon Nelson, the two leaders discuss challenges Nelson has faced as a minority pastor and their commitment to pursue racial unity in the SBC. 

This video conversation followed on the heels of a recent ERLC webinar where former SBC presidents, Ed Litton and Fred Luter, joined Leatherwood to discuss how the SBC can improve its pursuit of racial reconciliation. They also discussed The Unify Project, a pastor-led initiative designed to equip and inspire pastors and churches to become leaders in racial reconciliation and bring hope and healing to their communities through the transformative power of the gospel. 

“This conversation with my friend, Jon Nelson, provides a timely and important opportunity for us to reflect and consider ways we can bolster our work pursuing a biblical mandate of reconciliation. Time and time again, our churches have said this is a priority for our convention. This resource reflects that heart and my hope is it will assist our pastors and wider Baptist family as we move forward with this vital, God-honoring work.”

As a part of the ERLC’s commitment to pursue racial unity, the organization will be partnering with The Unify Project at this year’s SBC annual meeting to host an event on Monday evening, June 12. More information will follow.

To view more assets from the ERLC on racial unity visit ERLC.com/racialunity

By / Mar 1

It is no secret that contemporary American society continues to be embroiled in conversations about race and interracial tensions. America has a blemished history as it pertains to historical racial injustices and that history’s reverberations continue to resound today. 

However, as I look at the complicated issues here in the United States as they relate to prejudice and the tendency to segregate, I find myself seeing these current issues through the lens of our experience having lived abroad in the Middle East. And the tensions we encountered there led me to a deeper sense of why it is so important for the church to lead the way in exhibiting a reconciliation between people who share in the same blood of Christ despite bearing different tones of skin.

On the mission field 

One of the problems we faced in our ministry in the Middle East was how best to help believers from a Muslim background enter into fellowship with those from a Christian background. As I sought outside counsel, I was told by a well-respected missionary strategist, “You should just start two different kinds of churches—one for Muslim background believers and one for Christian background believers. It will slow things down too much if these new believers have to work through all the historical and cultural baggage that comes from bringing former persecutors into the community they persecuted.”

To be honest, I was stunned by the answer. I asked him later in the day if I had heard him correctly when he said we should not encourage believers from a Muslim background to fellowship with those believers who grew up culturally as Christians. He confirmed that I had heard him correctly: start two different kinds of churches because there is too much baggage to hope for unity.

This was a man who had overseen some reportedly incredible movements of people to Christ in another context. He had been brought into our training as an expert missiologist. But his advice to avoid dealing with conflict within the fellowship of believers was grossly dissatisfying—both theologically and practically. 

The more I reflected on it, the more frustrated I got. The pragmatism reflected in this advice was being allowed to trump the beauty of the enemy-reconciling effect of the gospel. I mean, think about it: What would have been the result for the early church if in Acts 9 Ananias had refused to receive Saul because of the sociological tension that it would cause to fellowship with a former persecutor?

Back at home

These sentiments, however, aren’t exclusive to the mission field. I also had a disappointing experience in a classroom in the U.S. once when a Christian professor dismissed the discussion about multiethnic churches altogether. His comment was that this is just a fad that is responding to contemporary sensitivities and that churches would do better to stay culturally homogeneous. 

Is it true that bringing together different communities might require each community to begin to appreciate expressions and forms of worship that are not native to their subculture? Certainly. But is the potential for discomfort sufficient reason to not pursue fellowship with brothers and sisters who share a common faith and theology? Hardly. 

What is lost if segregation of churches remains a practice of convenience? We lose multiple opportunities to learn from one another as we seek to live out a shared faith in different circumstances. And we lose multiple opportunities to display to a watching world how compelling the fellowship of the gospel is.

Beautiful unity as an embodied apologetic

A few years after the disappointing advice from the missiologist, however, I got a taste of what could happen if we didn’t allow socially-defined distinctions to determine the composition of our fellowship. 

I had been given the privilege of getting to teach a church planting course in an underground Bible school. The 20-or-so students who composed the class came from various Christian upbringings, and some had come to faith in Jesus out of Muslim families. Some of those of a Muslim background were even connected to high-ranking government and military officials who would have been responsible for overseeing various waves of targeted persecution of Christians throughout their country.

Standing in front of the classroom and observing small groups of those diverse students huddled together and strategizing about how they might link arms and plant churches together was one of the most stunning displays of the unifying power of the gospel I have ever seen. Those who were formerly aligned with persecutors were collaborating with those whose families had encountered persecution. And the only thing that brought them together was a common gospel-given identity and goal. 

The pain and history they shared was not erased or forgotten. But the gospel was sufficient to call both parties to walk through the painful history toward repentance and forgiveness and to continue working together toward a shared vision of the future on the basis of a present understanding of the gospel they held in common.

As those communities began to work toward planting churches, their friendship, fellowship, and partnership displayed the healing power of the gospel. It was not unlikely that there would be conflict and tension along the way. Still, that they were drawn together by a common task and vision testifies to the reconciling power of a shared gospel identity. This unity is encouraging to those sharing in the fellowship, and it is compelling to those observing from the outside.

Applied theology

So how does all of this discussion relate to contemporary American churches and their approach to addressing ethnic tensions? From the outset, I hope it gives us a confidence in three things:

  1. We are all sin-stained and in need of reconciliation to God and then to one another as God’s people.
  2. The community of believers draws confidence in the work of reconciliation to one another that comes from a shared reconciliation to God.
  3. The secular world is attempting to manufacture human unity without a compelling reason to believe it is possible.

Yet as they observe the Church manifesting and enjoying a unity amidst diversity, they have to stop and marvel. It will take intentional work, but the result will be an embodied apologetic that supports the gospel claim to make one new humanity in Christ. The work and effort that it will take is worth it—both due to its theological foundation and its missiological impact. 

Adapted excerpt with permission from Hope for American Evangelicals by Matthew Bennett. Copyright 2023, B&H Publishing.

By / Feb 27

Racism is an inescapable fact embedded in America’s historical narrative. Long considered the “original sin” of the United States and the American colonies, racism and racial prejudice have plagued the hearts and minds of citizens and churchgoers for centuries, and inflicted lasting wounds on whole people groups. It was and is a sin of epidemic proportions, inscribed even in the earliest iterations of our Constitution.

But while racism may be America’s original sin, it’s not a sin that originated in America. The record of racism is a thread that runs the length and width of human history. From time immemorial, the seed of racism has pervaded human nature and the human experience. Far as the curse is found, so far can racism be found. 

As deep and wide as the scourge of racism runs, it can feel ambitious even to ask the question, “What is racial unity?”. We’ve seen too many lives lost, read of too much injustice, and heard too many racial epithets to imagine, even for a moment, a world in which racial unity is a remote possibility. But, as Christians read in our sacred text, racial unity is not only possible, it has been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the king of a now and future kingdom. 

The Bible’s vision of racial unity, past, present, and future

Many of us may balk at the assertion that racial unity was accomplished once and for all in Christ. Our experience of life in this broken world tells us otherwise. How can we suggest that racial unity is a reality that’s not only feasible but achieved? Racial unity, the Bible asserts, was accomplished in the past, is a certain reality in the present, and will continue forward everlastingly. 

Past: “But now in Christ Jesus,” the apostle Paul writes to his Gentile readers, “you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace” (Eph. 2:13–15, ESV, emphasis added).

Present: “For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ,” Paul again says. “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, CSB, emphasis added).

Future (and present): “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: Salvation belongs to our God, Who is seated on the throne, And to the Lamb!” (Rev.7:9–10, CSB).

In Christ, racial unity has been achieved—it is a past, present, and future fact. By the power of his death and resurrection, his ascension and heavenly session, and his sending of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus Christ has created for himself “one new man,” “a chosen race . . . a people for his own possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). It is done. And while we can agree with the biblical witness that unity is accomplished in Christ, as we look around today, we should recognize that something is woefully amiss, both inside (sometimes) and outside the Church. The racial unity that has been purchased and applied to us in Christ, has yet to be fully, or even nearly, realized. 

So, if racial harmony is real and operative for those who are in Christ, why are we often so bad at it? What can we do to bring it to bear in our lives, our homes, our churches, and our communities? We can begin by defining what it isn’t and what it is.

What is racial unity?

There are many misunderstandings about what racial unity is and what it entails. We might think, for example, that unity means uniformity, or sameness. But that would be incorrect; the “one new man” Christ has created for himself is composed of a “vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language,” as we’ve already highlighted. 

Or, we might assume that unity requires minority groups to assimilate to or be wholly subsumed into the majority culture, surrendering their own God-given distinctives for the sake of unity. This, too, would be an error—Gentiles didn’t have to assimilate into Jewish customs and culture to experience unity with Jewish Christians. The unity that Christ has accomplished for us doesn’t require uniformity or assimilation; it is a constitutional reality that we can either embrace by the Spirit or ignore in our flesh.

Instead, racial unity is the reality by which members of every nation, tribe, people, and language, having been redeemed by Christ, adopted by the Father, and sealed by the Spirit, are bound together in Christ as “one new man” and welcomed into the family of God together as brothers and sisters.

It is the recognition that we are one body made up of many parts and that our differences are good. We are not strangers or foreigners, but citizens and members of God’s household. And we are a temple made up of many stones. Racial unity is built on humility and gratitude and bears witness to the wisdom and glory of God. It is a gift. 

On earth as it is in heaven

In the heavens, at this very moment, a unified group of diverse men, women, and children are standing before the throne of God shouting praises to “God . . . and to the Lamb.” There is no bias there, no injustice, and no division. Instead, in union with Christ and one another, their hearts are flooded with gratitude and, you have to imagine, as they look around at the crowd of worshipers, filled with an overwhelming sense of awe. In Christ, God has put to death everything that divides us and has bound us together as a family. In heaven, this unity has been fully realized. 

On earth, we’ve got some work to do.

So, how can we make this heavenly scene more indicative of the communities we belong to now? In the SBC, one step we’re taking is through the Unify Project, an initiative led by pastors Fred Luter and Ed Litton that “provides simple, practical, and effective resources that can be adopted by churches across the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond.” If you’re unsure where to begin, the Unify Project is a great place to start.

Our churches are yearning for unity, but often struggling to bring it to fruition among their congregations. Our communities are scarred and in turmoil. Our society, in some ways, is as divided as it’s ever been. What are we to do? Where are we to look for help? It is the Church—the people of God, the bride of Christ, the residence of the Spirit—to whom racial unity has been conferred, and by whom racial unity can be displayed and, through the Spirit, offered to a watching world.

So, may we humble ourselves and pray to the one true God, through the only begotten Son, by the power of his Spirit that the unity of God’s heavenly kingdom would be on display in our churches and be on offer for those who are so weary of our divided society and so weighed-down by its effects. May it be, on earth as it is in heaven. 

By / Feb 10

In this episode, Brent and Lindsay talk about racial unity in the SBC. They also disucss a recap of the State of the Union address, the devastating earthquake in Turkey, and J.D. Greear’s article responding to comments Andy Stanley made about homosexuality. 

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By / Feb 10

At the annual convention in 2015, the SBC adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that, in part, urged “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.”

Increasing racial diversity is not the end goal, of course, and will not automatically lead to reconciliation. Yet it can be a useful metric to determine whether reconciliation is being attempted within our churches and throughout the denomination. Ideally, individual SBC churches that are living out the gospel would be attractive to people of all races and ethnicities. If a lopsided racial imbalance is occuring, it might signal that there is a divide along other lines, such as cultural or political, that should not ​​separate the people of God. 

How is the SBC faring in its goal to be more racially diverse?

To find the answer we can look to the Great Commission Relations and Mobilization (​​GCRM) Ethnic Research Network, which tracks the state of ethnicity and race in the SBC. The network is a research initiative and a shared data collaboration of Southern Baptist Research Fellowship (SBRF) and SBC entities, such as the ERLC. Through statistical and analytical research, GCRM Ethnic Research Network “tells the story of SBC diversity as well as our collaborative and cooperative effort of sharing the Gospel in every city, town, neighborhood, and community in fulfilling the Great Commission.”

Diversity by the numbers

Currently, the SBC Annual Church Profile documents that there are 50,696 congregations and 14,089,947 people in the SBC. The network tracks the state of ethnicity and race within those congregations.

As of 2020, there are 39,408 congregations that are predominantly White Anglo, 3,895 that are African American, 3,361 that are predominantly Hispanic, 1,501 predominantly other ethnicities, and 422 that are predominantly Native American. Since 2010, there has been a 33.2% increase among congregations of other ethnicities, a 20.7% increase among Asian American congregations, 10.2% increase among African American congregations. During that time there was a 3.3% decrease among White Anglo congregations and a 3.0% decrease among Native American congregations. 

  • The states with the most African American congregations are Texas (1,168), California (455), and Georgia (239). 
  • The states with the most Asian American congregations are California (445), Texas (313), North Carolina (125), and Georgia (119). 
  • The states with the most Hispanic congregations are Texas (1,353), California (376), and Florida (317). 
  • The states with the most Native American congregations are Oklahoma (185), North Carolina (78), and Arizona (26). 
  • The states with the most other ethnic congregations are Florida (465), Texas (250), California (105), and North Carolina (98). 
  • The states with the most White Anglo congregations are Texas (4,685), North Carolina (3,739), Alabama (3,090), and Georgia (3,019). 

Within those congregations, 12,642,060 individuals are White Anglo, 880,108 are African American, 223,351 are Hispanic, 173,773 are Asian American, 136,750 are other ethnicities, and 33,590 are Native American. Since 2010, there has been a 23.8% increase among other ethnicities, a 12.1% ​​increase among Asian Americans, and an 8.6% increase among Hispanics. During that time there was a 16.1% decrease among Native Americans, a 14.1% decrease among White Anglos, and a 2.1% decrease among African Americans. 

Encouraging signs of growth

Almost 1-in-4 (22.3%) Southern Baptist congregations are non-Anglo or ethnic minority congregations. In contrast, in 1990 only 8.4% of SBC congregations were non-Anglo or ethnic minority congregations. African American congregations saw the largest growth of 289.3% from 1990- 2018, while the Anglo group saw the smallest growth of 11.4%. From 1995-2000, the African American group grew by 482 congregations, and, from 2000-2005, this group grew by an additional 833 congregations.

As for church membership, from 1990-2019 ethnic minority groups increased by over one million (1,021,658). From 2000-2010, the most growth experienced among SBC membership

was among African American, Asian American, and Hispanics, with Asian American membership growing by 270.7%.

With 22.3% of our Southern Baptist congregations being non-Anglo and many worshiping in multiple languages across America, the Southern Baptist Convention may be the most multiethnic and multilingual denomination in the United States. While the SBC still has a long way to go in its pursuit of racial reconciliation, we are moving in the right direction toward ​​the first step of having a diverse convention of believers unified around a common goal to fulfill the Great Commission.

By / Feb 9

In May of 2021, the eyes of the nation were on our city for a few days. Tulsa, Oklahoma, the city where I was born and in which I am currently a pastor, was remembering our most painful moment. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre ranks among the deadliest incidents of racial violence in U.S. History—with estimates of up to 300 deaths in the African American community, more than 800 hospitalizations, and countless Black-owned businesses and homes burned to the ground in a matter of hours.*

It is no secret that tackling issues related to racism, both past and present, comes with the risk of conflict. As our church has engaged these issues biblically in the last several years, however, we have experienced notable spiritual growth by intentionally choosing people over politics and dialogue over division. This was particularly true during the commemoration of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, during which our church and our city took great strides toward biblical, gospel-centered racial reconciliation. 

Small steps toward racial unity

As one might imagine, the effects of that terrible night in 1921 and the aftermath are still felt in our city. To this day, the north and south parts of Tulsa have very little interaction. Our church is just about as far south as one can go and still be in Tulsa’s city limits, and we are far away from the historic Greenwood District where the events occurred in 1921. It was an honor, therefore, when the community service arm of centennial commission created a bridge to our church, invited us to join, and welcomed us into their work.

Through our church’s involvement in the commission, many saw racism and racial reconciliation in a new light. We became more convinced than ever that we, as the Church, are better equipped to take the lead in discussions related to love, forgiveness, and unity, precisely because such attributes are at the very heart of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. 

Our starting place in every single meeting and activity was never racial division. Our starting place was always that “we are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). 

When our identity as sons and daughters of the King of kings, and as brothers and sisters in Christ, supersedes any other identity, we can all take a posture of listening. After a period of over two years of listening and dialogue in our role with the commission, several of us developed new friendships that endure to this day. 

One of the most memorable moments of that season came with Ms. Mary, known as the “church mother” in one of Tulsa’s oldest and most faithful African American churches. Mary stopped one of our meetings and expressed her concern that some members in churches like ours whose families have been in Tulsa for generations might have had relatives who were involved in the events of that terrible night in 1921. Then, she said, “Just give me their names and addresses and I’ll go straight to their front door and give them a hug and make sure they know we are not interested in fighting over the past. We love you, and we care much more about the future for everyone in our community.”

Where does that level of grace and kindness come from if not through the transformational power of the gospel through the love of Christ?

Uniting to remember and pray 

In the end, about 70 churches around the city took time on the Sunday prior to the centennial anniversary to remember and to pray. I can think of no other time that Tulsa’s churches have come together with such shared commitment and plans.

Each church began the commemoration time by reading aloud Isaiah 43:18-19:

Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.

Next, we sang Amazing Grace—a hymn we all agreed is heard regularly in churches with members of all different ethnicities, races, and languages all over the world. It was particularly moving to know that so many of our brothers and sisters around the city were singing the same words at around the same time—giving thanks to God in unity for our shared salvation through his amazing grace. 

Finally, each church voiced these prayers:

  • We prayed against the attitudes of racism that still exist in our world and in our culture today.
  • We prayed against the sin of racism that still lives in some of our churches today.
  • We prayed and repent of attitudes of racism, prejudice, or bias that God finds in our hearts.
  • We prayed that we would see all people as made in the image of God and worthy of respect and a voice.
  • We prayed for the healing which only the Spirit of God can bring.
  • We prayed that despite this horrific tragedy, God would use each of us to help move us all forward along the path of racial reconciliation and harmony for the next generation to see, experience, and pass along.

As a pastor, I look back on that season with joy and a deep sense of gratitude. No, not everyone agreed on every single thing. Most, however, were willing to put aside defensiveness in favor of listening, learning, neighborliness, and community in Christ’s name. After all, as we reminded ourselves then and continue to remind ourselves today—intentional blindness to our sin, including racism, is antithetical to truth. As the Apostle John reminds: If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8). 

Thanks be to God in Jesus Christ, however, that forgiveness is possible. As the very next verse proclaims: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

*For more on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: Greenwood Rising Video.

By / Feb 8

I serve in Mobile, Alabama, a city that is scarred by its racial history. My city is where the last slave ship landed, and the last black man was lynched. Yet, I have a great hope that our past does not determine our future and that God is capable of raising up a diverse church in the heart of Dixie.

As I have studied Scripture and served these past seven years, I am convinced that a racially reconciling church pleases God and is a powerful proclamation of the gospel. I have seen God bring together people from different backgrounds and languages, and merge them into one family in Christ. I have even seen an 85-year-old white woman worship to Christian hip hop. Through it all, I have learned about the beauty of the image of God as it is reflected in those from various cultures.

Among the important lessons I’ve learned, here are four that make me deeply committed to a racially reconciling church.

A racially reconciling church displays the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Abraham 

As you walk through the unfolding of God’s plan revealed in the Bible, it is clear he intentionally weaves every tribe, tongue, and nation into the tapestry of his covenant people.

God handcrafted the first human being in his image, revealing that all humanity has a common ancestry. Then, God sought out a man named Abram, calling him to a covenant through which a Savior would bless all the peoples of the Earth. Through God’s work of creation and his covenant with Abraham, it is obvious that God’s redemptive work is a multiethnic movement.

God’s promises and power are ultimately displayed as Jesus fulfills God’s covenant to Abraham. Through his atoning death, he reconciled humanity with God—a humanity that was once his enemy, now made his friends. He turned an ethnically diverse, brutal, fearful, and oppressive humanity into a family. After his resurrection, he instructed his disciples to draw people from every corner of the world to follow him and join God’s people, solidifying a family as broad as the face of the Earth. God’s redemptive plan continues today through his Church. 

A racially reconciling church is essential for reaching the next generation

Over a half a century ago, Martin Luther King Jr. expressed his angst over the fact that church gatherings on Sunday were the most segregated hour of the week in America. There is a disconnect for people in our culture when they see diversity in every other sphere of their lives, yet many churches remain monoethnic.

By the year 2030, the majority of the working class will be nonwhite, and by the year 2060, 57% of the population will be nonwhite. In other words, the next generation will be multiethnic. If churches do not adjust their methodology for the changing mission field, they might miss reaching the next generation.  

Thankfully, over the past two decades, the percentage of diverse evangelical churches has grown to 20%, but there is still a long way to go. Among the next generation, there are many who are skeptical about the Church and are watching closely to see how she deals with matters of race and politics. My prayer is that many churches will adjust their methodologies to reach their changing communities with the timeless message of the gospel.

A racially reconciling church displays the power of the gospel 

In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17). He prayed over his disciples, who had very different perspectives, and he prayed for future generations of disciples who would surely have differing perspectives. 

Issues of race and politics, in particular, are more polarizing than unifying for people today. Often, this is because people live in “echo chambers” and do not have relationships that are diverse in political, social, and cultural points of view. Because the early Church was a multiethnic and multi-class movement, the New Testament is marked by conflict between Jews, non-Jews, the poor, and the elite (e.g., Acts 2; Rom. 11; Gal. 2). Likewise, churches today that seek diversity will also find conflict when cultures and preferences collide, but because this is normative for the New Testament church, it should also be normative for the modern-day church.  

At the same time, the Church should be a center for reconciliation both with God and people. The power of the gospel is on display whenever the Church functions as God’s reconciling agency. 

Helping people reconcile with one another usually happens through developing deep empathy and understanding. Jesus’ ministry was marked by a deep empathy for the pain that others experienced (Matt. 8, 14; Luke 7; John 5, 8, 11). Paul tells the Romans, “Weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another” (12:15-16). This passage does not say to judge whether they should be weeping, which is often how people respond today. The Church has a great opportunity to be people that seek to empathize and understand like Jesus, standing in stark contrast to a culture that has often lost its ability to empathize.

Western culture often focuses on the individual, but the Church can display the power of God to bring people groups that have been divided to a place of forgiveness and unity through the pathways of empathy and understanding. The world is deeply in need of the supernatural power displayed through diverse people glued together by the life-changing power of Jesus.

A racially reconciling church displays a preview of heaven 

Fast forward to the end of history in Revelation 7:9 where every tribe, tongue, and nation are gathered together, worshiping Jesus as one family while maintaining their distinctions of color, culture, and language. This is the end goal—God’s redemptive masterpiece presented as the mystery of Christ is “displayed in high definition when a mosaic of multicolored, multiclass, multigenerational people learns to love each other as God so loved them.” The population of heaven is comprised of a redeemed people from all classes, races, and people groups worshiping one risen King.

Building a racially reconciling church is more difficult than building a monolithic one. There are challenges with: 

  • developing a multicultural leadership team, 
  • developing a multigenre worship style, 
  • honoring cultural differences, 
  • cultural assimilation, 
  • ethnocentrism, 
  • and political allegiances. 

But all of these challenges pale in comparison to the opportunity to raise up a beautiful, diverse bride of Christ that previews what heaven will eternally portray!

By / Jan 12

Many people recognize the importance of racial unity, but don’t know how to achieve it.

The Unify Project is a gospel-centered, ethnically diverse, racial reconciliation ministry designed to mobilize Southern Baptist pastors and leaders in unifying their communities. 

Co-chaired by two former presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Ed Litton and Dr. Fred Luter, the Unify Project provides simple, practical, and effective resources to aid pastors in this work. Below, Missie Branch, a member of the Unify Project’s steering committee, talks about the project and its goals.* 

Jill Waggoner: What is the Unify Project, and how did you become involved?

Missie Branch: The Unify Project is beautiful. Dr. Litton and Dr. Luter had been doing work in this space, created this steering committee, and invited me to be a part of it. For the first several meetings, I just listened.

The goal of the Unify Project is to create resources for pastors and church leaders to be able to approach the conversation of biblically-based, gospel-centered racial reconciliation in their homes, in their communities, but particularly, in their churches. 

JW: How would you define the term, racial unity? 

MB: Unity, at its basic level, is oneness or harmony around one thing. When we talk about racial unity, it’s really the heart behind seeing all of humanity operate as one. As Christians, we know this was God’s plan for humanity—to be operating around one mission—and that mission is God’s glory and for him to be known all over the earth.

The things that divide us because of the fall—like race, for example—were not God’s plan. It was not God’s plan that looking different and having different ethnicities would be used to divide us. Actually, [these] should bring us together. So, when we’re pursuing racial unity, what we’re saying is that we would like to see God’s plan for oneness amongst his people [the Church]. 

JW: Why do you think it’s important for pastors and church leaders to prioritize racial unity? We both know how busy pastors are and how many things come across their desk. But why would you say this deserves their time and attention?

MB: Because it’s a priority of the Lord’s. He was very intentional when he made all of us different. We believe in God’s intentional plan with male and female, and even God’s intentional plan with how we grow from children and into adults.

When God decided that people were going to be born all over the world, have a bunch of different experiences, look differently, and approach life differently, I think there was intentionality in that. If God makes something intentionally, then it’s something to be celebrated and honored.

Because that was God’s intentional plan, I think as pastors, church leaders, and Christians in the pew, we need to say, “What am I doing to [advance] God’s intentional plan?” 

JW: Can you describe the types of resources that a pastor can find at the Unify website

MB: Pastors and church leaders can find videos, resources, and downloadable information. We’re working on a curriculum, as well. Things are still being built, but the goal is to be able to come to that one location and grab all those things quickly.

JW: When you think about this project and its future impact, what do you hope to see in the way that it shapes the SBC? 

MB: This is going to sound cliche, but whenever I think of what it will look like to be around the throne with the Lord, I really don’t see us separated off into groups. I see us excited to see our brothers and sisters who we spent time with and excited to see people that we’ve heard about but never got to meet. I don’t think that we’re going to be with the King of kings and Lord of lords fighting over the color of our skin and whether or not this person is more valuable or needs to be spent time with. 

It’s my dream that the SBC really models for the world, and especially for broader Christianity, this idea of coming together as brothers and sisters who reflect the love of God. 

When my kids were little, one of the main verses I made them remember was John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” They will witness us loving one another and they’ll say, “Oh man, those people belong to Jesus!” That’s what I’m hoping for the SBC—that people will look at us and say, “Man, I know they’re Christians by the way they are loving each other.”

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.