By / Feb 23

Through the power of the gospel, Jesus shows us the way toward true racial reconciliation and unity. Yet, it can be difficult to know what this looks like amid the complexities of our history, culture, and local contexts. 

In this video, Jon Nelson, former president of the Missouri Baptist Convention, sits down with Brent Leatherwood, ERLC president, to talk about his personal experiences in church and convention leadership and why he has hope for greater racial unity within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Visit us at to learn more about how you can help lead the way toward racial unity.

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 25

Free, downloadable bulletin insert for use by your church on Racial Reconciliation Sunday.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit

By / Jan 20

In this episode, Brent interviews Jon Nelson, a pastor in Missouri, about racial unity and the SBC. Lindsay also reviews a few pieces of ERLC content focused on life in light of the 2023 March for Life.  

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  • Internships | While it may seem early, now is the time when many college students begin planning for their Summer 2023 internships. You likely already know this if you have a college student in your life—whether it’s in your own household, or your church ministry. At the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, we believe strongly in investing in the next generation. Our internship program exists to prepare students and young professionals with a gospel-centered, kingdom-focused perspective on the issues of everyday life. Interns come alongside ERLC staff to equip church leaders to address complex ethical issues in their communities, local churches, and represent Southern Baptists to the United States government. They help write policy briefs, draft correspondence to congressional staff, assist with communication strategy, provide research on ethical debates, meet with state and federal Christian officials working in the public square, and so much more. In sum, ERLC Interns do much more than simple errands and coffee runs. If you know of a college student looking for an internship for summer 2023, or you are a college student in need of an internship, visit to apply.
  • Psalm 139 | Thousands of women are now traveling to states where abortion is still legal. Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood are targeting these states by placing mobile abortion centers near the border to take advantage of vulnerable women. The need for lifesaving ultrasound machines is greater than ever. That’s where the Psalm 139 Project comes in. As an initiative of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the Psalm 139 Project works on behalf of Southern Baptists to place ultrasound machines in pro-life clinics across the country. Will you help us save vulnerable lives in 2023 and beyond? When you partner with the Psalm 139 Project, 100% of your gift goes directly to placing ultrasound machines and training PRC staff and volunteers. All of our administrative costs are covered by the ongoing generosity of Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program. That’s what makes us unique — and that’s why partnering with us will make a real, tangible difference. Learn more and partner with us at
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.

By / Nov 23

In No Flesh Shall Glory: How the Bible Destroys the Foundations of Racism, civil rights leader Rev. C. Herbert Oliver provides sound biblical exposition of the foundational biblical truths concerning race, racism, and segregation and denounces historic Christian justifications for racism and segregation. This revised edition includes his 1964 essay, “The Church and Social Change,” addressing the Church’s role in responding to sinful cultural norms. Both the original text and the added essay have much to offer contemporary efforts to pursue racial unity within the Church. 

Oliver grew up in the segregated city of Birmingham, Alabama. He dedicated his life to implementing the gospel of Christ to confront the intense cultural conflicts within his city, state, and nation. Throughout this book, he discusses a wide variety of topics including: the unity of the human race; God’s creativity in diversity; God’s purpose in diversity; different biblical interpretations of race; a biblical anthropology of humanity; and the practical Christian response to setbacks of racial reconciliation. Oliver’s work remains a significant landmark within the civil rights movement as well as an empowering encouragement to the followers of Christ in the 21st century.

All men are created equal

Throughout his book, Oliver offers many themes that challenge common beliefs regarding race relations, especially in the context of the 1950s and 1960s South in which he was writing. The first half of the book focuses on the biblical, historical, and anthropological realities regarding race and culture. In the second half, Oliver provides practical applications for the Church on how to approach the difficult issues of racism and segregation from a biblical point of view. This updated edition provides readers within a modern context a history of race relations as well as a reminder of how that application of biblical truth is needed today. 

Oliver states that the foundation for discourse within the Church regarding race relations must be rooted in God’s design and heart for human existence. Through the numerous mentions of nations, people groups, and genealogies, the Bible remains consistent to its core that all of humanity is equal, being made in God’s image and likeness (Gen. 1:27). From Genesis to Revelation, God exemplifies that he remains the God of all peoples, nations, and backgrounds. 

Yet, this truth by no means ignores the wide diversity of God’s creation. Although it is true that man is unified as one distinct race, it is also true that God created humanity containing a multitude of differences. In this, as Oliver explains, God demonstrates his love for creative action by, “refusing to create any two things exactly identical” (18). These differences exist to form a harmony of humanity and to serve unique purposes within God’s overarching meta-narrative of creation.

Oliver raises questions of concern over the popular 1950s term, “racial solidarity.” Racial solidarity ultimately refers to “the cohesion of a group around a few physical characteristics such as skin color, hair texture, and facial features” (19). Of the numerous unique traits designed and instituted by our perfectly creative God, it is concerning that history seems to value the pigment of one’s skin as the most defining characteristic. It is shallow and cruel to value something so narrow in determining the worth of an individual; especially an individual designed in the image of God. Instead, Oliver calls upon the church to focus on what he calls “Christian solidarity” to replace the evil notion of racial solidarity. As Oliver explains, the worldly presuppositions of racial solidarity do indeed value unity. However, it values a unity that is based upon sinful and divisive notions that essentially serve to divide rather than unify the culture. 

Oliver then addresses multiple false biblical claims that were often used to justify segregationist behavior. These popular segregationist justifications use Genesis 9:24-27 and the so-called, “mark of Ham,” as well as Acts 17:26 and the reference to God as the original segregationist. He provides a thorough historical analysis of biblical anthropology in tracing all existing races from Adam and Noah, to the descendants Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and to all of the races of the world. In this section, Oliver shows that claims of biblical segregation or racial preference are not rooted in proper interpretations of the text. They are the result of individuals using misreadings to justify their own racial bias. This abuse of the text and using it as a tool should be called what it is: the work of Satan who seeks to divide and destroy what God has called good. 

Oliver calls the Church to be seen as the people who value the character and uniqueness of every individual regardless of their race or ethnicity. Oliver states, “The Christian historian must be guided by a higher motive than race. He must see the earth as the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (45). God’s calling of salvation focuses not on the tribe, tongue, or nation of man. It certainly does not focus on the pigment of skin. Such understanding is a shallow view of God’s creation. 

Why is this relevant today?

No Flesh Shall Glory was a challenge to the Church during a time of severe segregation and egregious racism in the 1960s. Olivers discusses particular racial issues that were not widely accepted by evangelicals such as segregation, interracial marriage, the Bible’s embrace of racial diversity, and the association of different races. At the time of publication, these were contentious issues, but Oliver wisely uses the Word of God to approach each of these topics and challenges the Church to do so along the way.

Why is this relevant today? Children from different races are legally allowed to attend the same school, men and women of different races are legally allowed to marry, and there are numerous laws making discrimination illegal. Oliver’s work extends far beyond the racial injustice of his day. This work presents a responsibility that the Church should hold far into the future. While racism looks different, tragically, it still exists today. 

There are also new issues which are attacks on the dignity of individuals within our culture such as abortion and sexual violence. The principle of Christian responsibility to bring the full weight of Scripture to bear on the moral issues of the day that Oliver lays out before us applies to all of these issues, especially the idea that the Church ought to be the one pushing for a change in culture, not the other way around. 

The call of this book for the church to meet the problem of racial prejudice remains relevant today. Racism still exists, therefore, the same call to action that Oliver made to the Church in the civil rights era still remains true today. Our current moment calls for the Church to lead on the question of racial justice and reconciliation from our conviction that Christ enables a unity that crosses racial boundaries. The Church is an institution uniquely capable of doing this work, not the wider culture. Christians must esteem the worth and dignity of every boy and girl, man and woman, no matter our outward distinctions. And we must extend the call of reconciliation to them—reconciliation to God through Jesus and to one another. 

By / Mar 30

The people of God should delight in the different colors that make up the human race. Each shade is a reflection of the Creator’s beauty and creativity. Shamefully, we have often turned a point of celebration into one of contention. The Southern Baptist Convention is no exception. As we reckon with the sins of our past and move forward in obedience to God and love for our neighbor, it’s encouraging to see more diversity represented in the SBC. Willie McLaurin’s appointment as the interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee is a historic moment. He shares his perspective on the SBC, racial unity, and embracing diversity. 

What is the importance of your appointment as interim president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee to the worthy aim of racial unity? 

It marks a significant turning point in the history of the SBC. This is the first time in 177 years that an individual of non-Anglo descent has served as the interim or head of any SBC entity. This moment is marked with a number of African Americans who are serving in key positions in state conventions, associations, and national entities. In addition, many of our state conventions have non-Anglo leaders serving as president of their state conventions. I am prayerful this moment will signal the Southern Baptist Convention is actively engaged in atoning for the stain of racism.

I am honored to be the first African American to lead an SBC entity, even if only for an interim season. So many people have paved a path for me. I am standing on the shoulders of many who have gone before me, and I’m thankful for ministry leaders, past and present, who believed in me and gave me an opportunity to serve in various capacities. When I began serving in denominational work in 2004, my goal was to simply be faithful where the Lord planted me. My grandfathers were all born in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They would have never had an opportunity to serve where I am serving today. One of my grandfathers worked in a granite quarry. Grandpa Brim served as a deacon in his local Baptist church for more than 50 years. He modeled to me what it means to be faithful in serving God. I believe God has allowed me to serve in this moment because of my grandpa’s faithfulness that was passed on to my generation (Psalm 145:5). Now I want to serve faithfully so I can pass on a godly legacy to the generations that follow me.

As a Christian who is black and ministering in the Southern Baptist Convention, what have you been encouraged by in recent years as it relates to racial unity? And what have you been concerned about?

I have been encouraged by the vast number of individuals and organizations that realize racial unity is a gospel issue. It has been encouraging to see that our orthodoxy is beginning to inform our orthopraxy in the areas of racial unity. For many years, the Southern Baptist Convention was only talking racial reconciliation; however, upon the election of Dr. Fred Luter as the first African American president of the SBC, walls began to be torn down across our convention not only for African Americans but for all ethnic groups. I am seeing African Americans and other ethnic leaders serving in significant positions in associations, state conventions, and SBC entities. 

My concern has been what I call topical burnout. We live in a culture that has been discipled by cable news and social media. Thus, the latest topic and issue consume the narrative. When we are focused on racial unity as a gospel issue, we are focused; but, when other issues rise to the surface, our attention is derailed, and thus the conversation and focus has to be rebooted. I am concerned that as we attempt to atone for the stain of racism in the SBC that we do not erase the beauty of the vast numbers of ethnicities represented in the SBC. And, as we lock arms for the advancement of the gospel, we do not confuse unity with uniformity.

How would you counsel a pastor or church leader who desires their church to pursue racial unity? And how would you encourage them if they have grown weary in the work?

God has given pastors charge to provide spiritual leadership to the local church. I have often said that when you do not know how to talk about a matter, then you should be able to pray about the matter. I would encourage pastors to begin praying that God will create a culture in their church and community that facilitates racial unity. 

Second, I would encourage pastors to intentionally begin a relationship with someone that doesn’t look like him and begin to learn about his culture and customs. Every people group has a story, and once we develop community and spend time with each other we begin to cultivate love, which is the foundation for unity. 

Third, I would encourage pastors to disciple their members in the teaching of Jesus regarding racial unity and loving our neighbor. He taught very clearly how we are to relate to one another in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5–7).

If you could sit down with each member of the SBC individually, what would you want to say to them as it regards race relations in our country and our churches?

We should love other people the way that Jesus loves other people. Jesus says in John 13:35, “by this will all men know that you are my disciples that you have love one for another.” When you love other people the way that Jesus loves other people, you will treat them with dignity and respect. When you love other people the way Jesus loves other people, you will be quick to forgive and will always take the high road. First Peter 4:8 remind us, “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sin.” 

Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th-century Danish philosopher, said, “Life must be lived forward, but can only be understood backwards.” We need to learn from the past and use the lessons to help draft a picture of the foreseeable future. Our automobiles are equipped with a rear-view mirror and a front windshield. The front windshield is 80% larger than the rear-view mirror. I would encourage every individual to always take a glance at the past so that you can be rooted in what is true, but keep focused on creating a future that will honor the Kingdom of God.  

How can we encourage our brothers and sisters of color in these tumultuous times?

We are living in some really challenging times. We are still in a global pandemic, and there is racial unrest and political unrest. But there are five words that give us hope: “Jesus only, and only Jesus!” I would encourage my brothers and sisters of color to look to Jesus, and Jesus Christ alone. 

People of color are people who have traditionally held on to their faith in difficult times. Our faith is not a foolishly-optimistic type of faith where everyone has to be happy. We have a faith that is active during the difficult parts of the journey. I would encourage every person of color to be clear about who you are and whose you are. You are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God to accomplish a specific purpose. If you allow other people to define who you are, then you are no more than they say you are. But if you are defined by God, then you are who God says you are. I would encourage you to stand for what is right and exercise your rights as a Kingdom citizen.

In your experience, do you have any practical wisdom for believers who are seeking to pursue diversity within their communities?

Pray: Convene a solemn assembly in every community in which churches come together across racial, cultural, and class lines with other churches. The purpose of this gathering is acknowledging and crying out for the presence of God. Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21 is still unanswered: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one — as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” Call on God, and then God works! 

Participate: Churches should join together in outreach to engage the entire community.
Create community partnerships such as adopting schools together and ministering at strategic points in the community. 

Partner: Churches should have a single, unified voice on clear issues of racial injustice in their communities. When these issues surface in the community and within the SBC, the Church cannot be silent. 

How can we, as Christians, ensure that our children grow up to be confident of their worth, not because of any attribute, but because God has created them in his image?

Psalm 127:3 says that our “children are a heritage from the Lord.” Our children are living in a difficult time in history. They have the world at the palm of their hand. They are connected digitally across the globe. When I was growing up, we had the complete set of World Book Encyclopedia. That treasured resource still sits on the bookshelf of my homestead. In our home, we do not have an encyclopedia, we have the World Wide Web. More specifically, we have Google. 

I would encourage parents, grandparents, and guardians to make sure that children are nurtured with love, care, and concern. Involve your children in a local church where they are regularly engaged in community. Teach your children to love God, love their family, and love others. We live in a “me-centered” culture, and children need community. Encourage your children to know that there is so much they can accomplish by God’s grace and in obedience to his will. 

Remember the words of Jesus: “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Luke 18:17). Here, as in so many other areas of the spiritual life, Jesus turns our human expectations inside-out and upside-down. The point, of course, is that knowing God is not a matter of mastering difficult theological concepts or immersing yourself in esoteric mystical experiences. It’s all about childlike trust.

Watch the ERLC’s racial unity event for an informative and hopeful conversation about race in the SBC. 

By / Feb 22

WASHINGTON, D.C., Feb. 22, 2022—The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, will host a special online eventWednesday, Feb. 23 at 11:00 a.m. EST, on the topic of racial reconciliation and the SBC.

Event panelists include:

  • Ed Litton, President, Southern Baptist Convention
  • Fred Luter, Senior Pastor, Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, La.
  • Missie Branch, Assistant Dean of Students to Women, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary 
  • Jon Kelly, Lead Pastor, Chicago West Bible Church in Chicago, Ill. 

During the event, panelists will address questions and topics such as:

  • How to navigate challenging conversations about race;
  • How the SBC has worked together towards greater unity in recent years;
  • What practical steps churches can take to create unity; 
  • How the SBC can continue to advance racial reconciliation;
  • How to pursue racial reconciliation in your community. 

The ERLC is committed to working towards racial unity and has hosted several events and provided training and content to better equip church leaders on this issue.

Below are ERLC past assets calling attention to racial unity:

Event registration is free and available online.