By / Feb 9

February 25, 2024 is Racial Reconciliation Sunday. We created a free downloadable bulletin insert for use in your church.

Color Color Two-up Grayscale Grayscale Two-up

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. 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.

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.

Racial unity in the SBC

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.”

Our churches are yearning for unity, but often struggling to bring it to fruition among their congregations. Our communities are scarred and in turmoil. What are we to do? It is the Church 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 on this Racial Reconciliation Sunday in 2024, may we humble ourselves and pray 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.

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Jan 25

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

To see additional SBC event dates, visit sbc.net/calendar.

By / Jan 16

The Bible was central to the thought, rhetoric, and development of the Civil Rights Movement. This was influenced by the essential role of Black churches and preachers in the organization of the movement. Not only was the movement characterized by meetings in churches and the singing of Negro spirituals, it was also marked by biblical themes and biblical rhetoric.

An example of biblical rhetoric

A prime example of popular civil rights rhetoric is Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech delivered on August 28, 1963. The speech reflected King’s criticisms and hopes for America set in the language of the prophets of the Old Testament. For example, he said satisfaction would not come until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). This was familiar language in the Bible-literate America of that day.

In the conclusion, as King soared into describing his dream, he described a day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Isa. 40:4-5).

Furthermore, it should not be taken for granted that the celebrated leader of the Civil Rights Movement was a Black Baptist preacher.

The biblical teaching behind the movement

The central intellectual strain behind the movement focused on the issue of the equality of all humans, since they were “created . . . in the image of God” (Gen. 1:27), whether Black or white. Throughout the Black freedom struggle in American history, the biblical teachings on creation and human dignity were foundational to the arguments being put forth, both by scholars and by everyday people. Even those who were illiterate knew from the rhetoric of the movement that God had created all people from one man (Acts 17:26).

In his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail written April 16, 1963, King resorted to biblical examples as a defense when he was accused of being an extremist for participating in demonstrations, sit-ins, and boycotts. He asked whether Jesus was an extremist when he said, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). He also cited the prophet Amos and the apostle Paul, asking whether their words and actions were not also “extreme.” Finally, reflecting on Jesus’ death at Calvary, he wrote that “Jesus was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness.”

And in his appeal to white ministers for support, King commonly cited biblical texts and the examples of Christ.

Conclusion

The Bible was central to the pulse of the Civil Rights Movement. In planning meetings, preachers and laypersons read from its pages. In public disputes, everyday people quoted its promises and its truth regarding the dignity of all humanity, regardless of skin color. It truly would not be a stretch to suggest that the Civil Rights Movement would have lacked moral fiber (and one might further say divine blessing) without the underlying truth claims drawn from the Bible.

By / Jun 16

There are few issues more difficult to discuss in recent years than those related to race and justice. For families especially, it can be difficult to know what is appropriate to mention to children and how to introduce the topic in a way that honors God and his vision of kingdom diversity and is also cognizant of the current points of conflict and concern. That is why Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes’ The Race-Wise Family: Ten Postures to Becoming Households of Healing and Hope is such a welcome addition to conversation. Lee and Reyes provide practical lessons as well as guidance on what it means to disciple our families in upholding the dignity of all individuals and seeking justice. They joined us recently to talk about their book and what this means for each of our households. 

Alex Ward: In reading your book, and looking at a lot of the conversations around race in the church, I was struck by the point you make that so often we don’t seem to have the same goal when we talk of racial reconciliation. How does that shape the way we approach these conversations, and what is a goal that you think should unify the church?

Helen Lee and Michelle Reyes: We have to understand that Black, Brown and white churches have fundamentally different starting points when it comes to the issue of race. For many white churches, conversations on race are more theoretical than personal. White leaders and parents aren’t often aware of their cultural identity, let alone how they live at the intersection of their faith and their culture, so race-related issues can feel like something relevant to other people and not themselves. Some white leaders feel they are guilty by default, just for being white, and that their only role in race conversations is to apologize. In addition, some in white churches fear that they or their children will upset someone of another ethnicity, i.e., by saying the wrong thing or making someone angry. These perspectives and concerns often lead white churches to avoid and disengage with race-related issues.

Conversely, for many Black and Brown churches, race is the reality in which we live. It is the very air we breathe because we are very aware of the color of our skin and the way people treat us accordingly. We feel unheard and even silenced at times by majority culture evangelicalism. In addition, our greatest fear is our children, our spouses, and our parents being racially assaulted, perhaps even killed. When our fears take hold, it leads to defensiveness and, even at times, hate. 

It is impossible to pursue healthy gospel-centered conversations on race as the big ‘C’ church if our approach is filled with either fear or defensiveness. When it comes to race, the goal of the church should be to have a joy-filled biblical engagement. Instead of simply creating a list of what not to do or what we want others to do, we should challenge ourselves to have a far more robust, Christ-centered lens that sees the topic of race as an opportunity to build the kingdom of God together. The more we can see each other—Black, Brown, and white—as fellow co-laborers, striving together for the gospel, healing, unity, and shalom, the more we will be able to unify in our efforts.

AW: In a similar way, the church isn’t the only place that has a story of what this should look like. So how can Christian parents be particularly attentive to the kinds of stories that their children are receiving and also take an active role in providing a kingdom framework for these issues? 

HL & MR: We can’t predict what racial incident is going to happen next. To some extent, we can’t control the kind of racial brokenness or pain that will rage through our communities, let alone how these events will affect our kids. What we can have agency in is to engage in current events together and develop a race-wise lens in age-appropriate ways. A race-wise family asks God for help in unpacking racial issues and seeks his direction to know how to identify and combat racism in all its overt and subtle forms. 

In our [Michelle’s family] home, we talk about what’s happening around the world with our kids (mine are currently ages 7 and 3). From the wars in Ukraine and Afghanistan to the Haitian migrants at the border, the murder of Black and Brown folk, and anti-Asian racism related to the pandemic, my husband and I tell our kids what’s happening in the world (if your kids are older, you could watch the news together) and then pray. We pray for wisdom in how to respond. We also pray for God to protect and provide for the hurting, and that he would draw people to himself during this difficult time. We tell our kids about police shootings too and ask them, “What do you think the Bible says about this?” 

Now, when my 7-year-old hears about a racial incident, his first response is, “we need to pray!” I know a day is coming when my kids will be all grown up and will leave our home to go out into the world. I can’t control what they will see or experience, but if their immediate heart posture is to see the racial brokenness in the world and then turn to pray and seek wisdom from God’s Word, I know they have a healthy biblical foundation to build on. 

AW: You talk about how one of the “postures” of a race-wise family is that of seeing color. What does it mean to “see color” but also not make that the defining or essential characteristic of their personhood?

HL & MR: The end of the civil rights era heralded the concept of colorblind as a new and healthier way forward for race relations. The term is borrowed from the last part of Dr. King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, where he says he wants people to judge his children for the content of their character, not the color of their skin. I think a lot of well meaning folks ran with that in the 60s and 70s and wanted to prove that they weren’t using skin color to treat people unequally. 

The unintended consequence, though, is that folks who strove to be colorblind also became blind to the lived experiences of ethnic minorities. In an attempt to treat us all the same, people’s racialized experiences of everything from racial profiling, police brutality, and more got swept under the rug. It’s easy for folks who say “I don’t see color” to also ignore laws, policies and zoning that creates gaps in education and wealth equality along racial lines. In other words, when you tell someone of color that “color doesn’t matter” or that you prefer to be “colorblind”, you are essentially saying that you don’t care about their story and their lived experiences of pain.

So what we’ve come to realize now, especially in the past decade, is that we need to see color because seeing color is the portal into people’s lived realities. I am more than the color of my skin, but I am no less than my pigmentation. God is El Roi, the God who sees (Gen. 16:13). He sees all of us; our skin color, our pains, the beauties of our culture. God created the world, including people, with glorious diversity. He declared that all that he had made in wondrous technicolor was “good.” God’s heart throughout Scripture is for a multiethnic, globally diverse people. If we want to see people like God does, we must see in color without sliding back into any form of segregation or disunity. 

AW: How can Christian parents approach the topic of inviting people of color into their lives proactively, in a way that allows people they know to share their stories, but that also doesn’t treat their pain as “just” an example from a history book? 

HL & MR: We need to value stories within the context of relationships. If a person only cares about an Asian woman’s story during AAPI Heritage month or after an anti-Asian hate crime, they are posturing at best. They are treating that Asian woman as a token—maybe even without realizing it—often using her story to feel a little better about themselves for having new knowledge and greater awareness about a reality in the world, but without proactively doing much in response. 

If you really care about breaking cycles of anti-Asian hate, for example, then first begin reaching out to your Asian American congregants, neighbors, and co-workers. Invite them over for a meal. Better yet, go to their home and eat food from their cuisine. Imitate the model of Jesus, who went to Zaccheus and said, “I’m coming to your house today!” (Luke 19:1-10). Start building a friendship by asking questions such as, “What’s your story?,” “What are your ethnic roots?,” and “How is your family doing?” 

Then, when a racial incident occurs, reach out, ask your friend how they’re doing, if you can bring a meal over, and what they need. Instead of being the outsider, peering into moments of racism from an impersonal stance, walk alongside those who are hurting. Live life together. Be in the trenches with your friends as best you can. Pray together. Show up when they need you to show up. This is how we proactively engage racial problems in ways that are honoring to the people around us. 

AW: So often, the question about race and ethnicity in America is filtered through a white/Black binary, understandably because of the history of slavery and segregation. However, that often overlooks the other ways that racism toward other minority groups is a reality. How should families think about racism as not just an issue for white and African Americans, but all racial groups?

HL & MR: There is a tendency in our country to prioritize Black-White relations when it comes to conversations on race. The problem with this approach is that it overlooks and even erases the experiences and livelihoods of Asian Americans, Latinos, and Mixed Race among other groups in the United States. 

For example, a 2021 survey conducted by LAAUNCH showed that 42% of Americans cannot even name a well-known Asian American. The next most popular choices after “I don’t know” were martial arts legends Jackie Chan (11%), who’s from Hong Kong, and Bruce Lee (9%), who died nearly a half century ago. These findings were disappointing, but not surprising for me. The inability to name a prominent Asian American reflects the invisibility of Asian Americans in U.S. society. Not only are Asian Americans victims of racism, but our experiences are overlooked. In fact, despite rises in anti-Asian racism throughout the pandemic, more than one-third of white Americans and nearly half of Republicans said they didn’t know anti-Asian violence was a problem. After the Atlanta shooting on March 16, 2021 in which six Asian women were murdered, many white Christians confessed to me that they hadn’t even heard of the incident.

Asian Americans have also been overlooked throughout U.S. American history. As former Japanese American politician, Norman Mineta, once said, “When one hears Americans tell of the immigrants who built the nation, one is often led to believe that all our forebears came from Europe. When one hears stories about the pioneers going West to shape the land, the Asian immigrant is rarely mentioned.” A lack of education on Asian American heroes, leaders, and theologians both within schools and the church have led to this erasure. Moreover, not “soaking in the presence of Asian Americans,” as Norman Chen says, means most folks have not sat under the teaching of Asian voices, and this includes Asian American Christian leaders in the church. 

If you don’t have books by Asian American Christians on your bookshelves, start investing in some. My first book, Becoming All Things, as well as Helen Lee and I’s The Race-Wise Family, are good places to start. Follow the Asian American Christian Collaborative and listen to the AACC Reclaim Podcast co-hosted by myself and Raymond Change, AACC President. The resources are out there. All it takes is a commitment and a little bit of effort to find them.

AW: Your book focuses on the need to develop both the prophetic and pastoral voice. How are these different, but also linked to one another? Why do we need to develop both?

HL & MR: The practices of calling out and calling in are what we refer to as the prophetic voice and the pastoral voice, respectively, in The Race-Wise Family

In our cultural moment, we all love exercising our prophetic voices. We love calling out sin, exposing toxicity, and shedding light on racism. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the ways that our prophetic voices have become damaging and even sinful as we engage in the world’s forms of cancel culture and shaming. So, even when we feel that holy righteousness to call out the sins of the world, we must do so with a certain degree of slowness, humility, and wisdom. We absolutely should stand up for those being racially insulted and maligned. We should step in and be an ally when someone is being bullied because of their ethnicity, skin color, or culture. 

In those moments, we should speak truth in love. We can let someone know that their words or actions were not honoring or kind in ways that honor the other person being made in God’s image. Our language must be humanizing and speak to the other person’s self-worth. I don’t know anyone who has been shamed in a conversation on race that then wants to turn around and make a change in their life. If our prophetic call out only shuts someone down instead of helping usher them into greater love, we’ve missed the mark. 

Our pastoral voice, conversely, is a way of calling people in. It is positive, biblical language on race that helps educate and offer alternatives to where people are right now. When we exercise our pastoral voice, we speak God’s own affirmations over people. We speak aloud his promises, his love for all people, and the beauty in their individual cultures. For example, we tell our kids often that God created other cultures, and he calls them “good” (Gen. 1). The more that we can see and name the beauty in each other’s cultures, the more we can move forward on the path of racial healing. Proverbs 12:18 tells us that “thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words heal.” As we writein  The Race-Wise Family, “the more we speak kind, loving words to others, the more our words will generate kind, loving relationships” (70). 

AW: As a parent of a young daughter, I think about how to raise her in a way that you describe in your book. But I am also keenly aware of just how difficult that is and how I am myself still growing in the way that I understand the beauty of God’s multiethnic vision. I’m sure that I will get some of this wrong. How would you counsel parents to respond when they stumble and mess up in this process? 

HL & MR: I think some of the most powerful phrases we can have in our toolkit within conversations on race are, “I’m sorry,” “I don’t know,” and “What can I do?” We need to normalize making mistakes. In fact, it’s only through putting ourselves out there and being willing to make mistakes that we will learn and grow in issues related to race. If we choose to never engage out of fear of saying the wrong thing, we deny ourselves the opportunity of being used by God as a force for good and racial healing in his kingdom. 

So, instead, as a parent, be open and honest when you don’t have an answer to your kid’s questions about race. Tell them, “That’s a good question! I don’t know the answer. Perhaps we can investigate this together.” Then reach out to a friend or read a book or a news article together, discuss, and explore. When you say the wrong thing, when you realize that your response was selfishly-driven or perhaps was well-intentioned but still missed the mark, challenge yourself to apologize. Admit when you were wrong. Process those moments with your family and your children so that they can be spiritually formed by your honesty and willingness to learn and grow. The goal isn’t perfection. No matter how hard we try, we will make mistakes. But if we can commit to a posture of heart to grow in greater love, knowledge, and kindness each day, we can acknowledge our mistakes without becoming paralyzed by them.

By / Apr 1

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law, making lynching a federal hate crime. “Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem,” said Biden. “Hate never goes away, it only hides under the rocks. If it gets a little bit of oxygen, it comes roaring back out, screaming. What stops it? All of us.”

The new law ends a 122-year effort to make lynching a federal crime. The first attempt occurred in 1900 when antilynching legislation was introduced by Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina, the only African American in Congress at the time. That bill failed, as did the nearly 200 an­tilynch­ing bills introduced in Congress during the first half of the 20th century. Between 1890 and 1952, seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching. And between 1920 and 1940, the House of Representatives passed three strong antilynching measures, though none passed the Senate. 

The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was the closest Congress ever came in the post-Reconstruction era to enacting antilynching legislation until 2020. In that year, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act was passed by the House by a vote of 410 to 4. But it was held up in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul, who wanted an amendment that would apply a “serious bodily injury standard” for a crime to be considered as lynching.

Here is what you should know about lynching and the new antilynching law. 

What is lynching?

Lynching is a form of violence in which a mob kills or attempts to kill a person suspected of a crime, under the pretext of administering justice without trial. The term has become a synonym for execution by hanging, but lynching can take many forms and often includes inflicting torture and corporal mutilation. The current legal definition of lynching ​​ includes “serious bodily harm.” 

Lynching is a form of terrorist activity since it is intended to affect not just the victim but to spread fear to a particular group of people. “Lynching has typically sent a message to an entire community that ‘you’re not safe here’ or ‘you could be next.’ Lynching has typically been motivated by racial animus and harms an entire community,” said Justin Hansford, a law professor at Howard University.

How common is lynching?

From the end of the Civil War to 1968, 15 U.S. states had Jim Crow laws, legislation that legalized racial segregation. These laws provided legal cover for acts of violence against Black Americans. 

During this period (from 1882-1968), 4,743 recorded lynchings occurred in the United States. Almost three-fourths of the victims were Black (a total 3,446 victims), while just over 1-in-4 were white (1,297 victims). More than three-fourths of all lynchings (79%) occurred in the South. Across the South, someone was hanged or burned alive every four days from 1889 to 1929. Mississippi had the highest number with 581, followed by Georgia with 531, and Texas with 493. 

Five states had no lynchings during this period (Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut), while seven states (Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Nevada, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wisconsin) had no recorded lynchings of those who were Black. In 16 states, a greater number of white people than Black people were lynched (California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). Most lynchings outside the South were of those who were white, and usually for such crimes as murder or theft of livestock.

The last recorded lynching in the United States occurred in 1981. But since 2000, there have been at least eight suspected lynchings of Black men and teenagers in Mississippi, according to court records and police reports.

 What is a hate crime?

According to the Justice Department, when used in a hate crime law, the word “hate” does not mean rage, anger, or general dislike. In this context “hate” means bias against people or groups with specific characteristics that are defined by the law.

At the federal level, hate crime laws include crimes committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. The “crime” in hate crime is often a violent crime, such as assault, murder, arson, vandalism, or threats to commit such crimes. It may also cover conspiring or asking another person to commit such crimes, even if the crime was never carried out.

What changes does the new law make?

The new law amends 18 U.S. Code § 249, the hate crime acts, to include:

(5) LYNCHING.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.

(6) OTHER CONSPIRACIES.—Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, or if the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.

Who was Emmitt Till?

Born in 1941, Emmett Till grew up in a middle-class black neighborhood in Chicago. In August 1955, at the age of 14, he traveled to Mississippi to spend time with his cousins. Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, Till and a group of teenagers entered Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market. Till purchased bubble gum and, in later accounts, was accused of either whistling at, flirting with, or touching the hand of Carolyn Bryant, a white female whose husband, Roy Bryant, owned the store.

Four days after the alleged incident at the store, Till was kidnapped from his uncle’s home by Bryant and Bryant’s half-brother, J.W. Milam. The two men brutally beat the teenager, shot him in the head, tied him with barbed wire to a large metal fan, and tossed his body into the Tallahatchie River. When Till’s body was discovered three days later, his face was so mutilated he could only be positively identified by the ring on his finger — a signet ring engraved with his late father’s initials that his mother had given him a day before he left Chicago.

The teen’s body was sent back to Chicago, and his mother opted for an open casket to show the world how her son was brutally tortured. Tens of thousands of people came during the five days Till’s body was on display at his church. Two black publications, Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender, published graphic images of the body. The reaction to the murder helped spark the civil rights movement. Rosa Parks is reported to have said she was thinking about Till when she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

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 24

Many who think of the civil rights movement often picture it through the lens of its great male leaders. Martin Luther King Jr sharing powerfully about his dream for America. John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) giving a speech before the March on Washington. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) marching on the front lines at Selma. 

However, these men were not the only figures who led during the movement. Women worked and marched and bled alongside the men during the freedom struggles, even if they were not as prominent in media appearances. As Andrew Young, who worked closely with MLK as part of the SCLC has said, “There could not have been a civil rights movement without the sacrifice, the vision, the support and the hard work of the thousands of women.” Below are just three of the women who were crucial to the work of the freedom struggle. 

Septima Poinsette Clark (1898–1987)

Septima Poinsette Clark was described as the “mother of the movement” or the “queen mother” of civil rights because of her long activity in the struggle for freedom. Born in 1898 in Charleston, South Carolina, to a former slave and his wife, she would go on to become a teacher in the state at a Black school on Johns Island. She was active in the work of the NAACP, even participating in a lawsuit that gave equal pay to Black and white teachers in South Carolina. However, she was fired from her job in 1956 when the state passed a law forbidding state employees from belonging to civil rights organizations. 

Rather than forego her civil rights work, she left her position as an educator. She went on to focus her time more on the activism that she had begun earlier. She was already working with the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee which was focused on training activists and leaders in the civil rights movement (Rosa Parks was one of the trainees just a few months before her refusal to give up her seat in Montgomery). Clark led the institute in providing literacy training, citizenship information, and helping African Americans complete voter registration forms. She would go on to work with the SCLC in their Citizenship Education Program performing similar work to what she had done at Highlander. 

She was eventually recognized by President Jimmy Carter for her work in civil rights. Furthermore, in 1976, the state of South Carolina admitted that she had been unjustly fired and reinstated her teacher’s pension. She stands out because her work began long before people traditionally think of the civil rights era, but was crucial for the legislative and judicial victories that would occur during the 50s and 60s.  

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977)

The work of the civil rights movement would not have occurred without the activity of local, grassroots organizers. Mississippian Fannie Lou Hamer serves as a powerful example of the ways that Black women were crucial in mobilizing people in support of the movement. Born to poor sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta in 1917, she would leave school at age 12 to pick cotton with her family. In 1944, she would marry her husband Perry Hamer, and the couple began working for B.D. Marlowe as sharecroppers on his plantation. In 1961, she attended a meeting of SNCC and SCLC were she began her role as a SNCC organizer. 

The next year, she and a group attempted to register to vote in Indianola but were denied because of a literacy test. As they were leaving, they were harassed and fined $100 by the police because the bus they were on was “too yellow.” Hamer was also fired by Marlow (though her husband was required to stay on and complete the contract), and after the season was complete he confiscated much of their property, necessitating their move to Ruleville, Mississippi, where she became a leader in organizing individuals to vote. She would be arrested and jailed in Winona in 1963 because she sat at a “whites-only” bus station restaurant. During her night in jail, she was beaten, leading to lifelong injuries. 

Hammer was also a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which protested the work of the local Democratic Party’s exclusion of African Americans. At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the MFDP asked to be recognized as the official delegation rather than the all-white delegation sent by the Mississippi Democratic party. Though national leadership attempted to deny her press coverage, her impassioned speech, with its descriptions of injustice in the South, was televised. She was also instrumental in the organization of Freedom Summer which brought college students to the South to help register African Americans to vote. At the grassroots level, Hamer is representative of the thousands of women who organized in their communities, worked tirelessly, and mobilized others in the fight for equal rights and justice. 

Diane Nash (1938– )

Diane Nash is representative of the many college students who were crucial to the ativism that led to the end of the Jim Crow system. Though she initially started college at Howard University in Washington, D.C., she transferred to Fisk University in Nashville after a year. As a native of Chicago, it was in Nashville that she experienced the full weight of Jim Crow and its effect on African Americans. She began attending nonviolence workshops led by James Lawson, and though initially skeptical, she came to agree with their effectiveness. 

Nash was one of the leaders of the students who participated in department store sit-ins in Nashville to protest segregation because she ably presented herself to the press and police. She was especially noted for her refusal, when arrested, to post bail. In one instance, she along with her fellow detainees, told the judge that to pay bail would be “contributing to and supporting the injustice and immoral practices that have been performed in the arrest and conviction” of the protestors. Nash and her fellow students were not going to let the state profit off their protest or validate the actions of the state in unjustly arresting them. 

Nash played a role in the founding of SNCC, eventually assuming the role of leading their direct action campaigns. She also helped to continue the Freedom Rides of 1961 through coordination and support. She would eventually be arrested in Mississippi on the charge of contributing to delinquency of minors because of her role in teaching them nonviolence. Though pregnant, she opted to serve her sentence rather than post bail, continuing her long-standing principle of “jail without bail.” The judge chose to suspend her sentence rather than face the negative publicity likely to arise from sending a pregnant woman to jail. Nash, and the many college students like her, were often on the front lines of direct action and leaders in the nonviolent movement. Her activity in coordinating and organizing that activity was crucial to the work of freedom.

Clark, Hamer, and Nash deserve to be lauded and remembered for their tireless efforts in the civil rights movement. Each of these women — along with those whose names we might never know — contributed to the long-overdue recognition of every human being’s right to be treated equally and with dignity. May we all have such a heart for our fellow man and for the pursuit of justice. 

Image caption: The House of Representatives met today to affirm seating of its Mississippi members, as Civil Rights demonstrators massed in silent support of their claim that the State’s elections were illegal because blacks were barred from the polls. They are, left to right: Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Gray, and Annie Devine.

By / Feb 23

There are many reasons Frances Ellen Watkins Harper might have gone from humble schoolteacher to renowned lecturer, but the one that tugs at me most has to do with the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

The tipping point 

The Fugitive Slave Act endangered not only runaway enslaved people seeking sanctuary in northern free states, but also free Black men and women who matched the descriptions of their enslaved counterparts. Maryland furthered this legislation by enacting a law that put any free Black person who entered the state in jeopardy of imprisonment or enslavement.1 A free man in Frances’s own city of Baltimore was kidnapped, sold into slavery, and eventually died before he could regain his freedom.2

One theory is that this is the knowledge that galvanized Frances and moved her private support of the Underground Railroad into the public spotlight.

Rather than recoil from the Fugitive Slave Act in fear, Frances spoke all over America—both in the North and the South—offering a rallying cry for change. She did not shrink or shirk but rose to the occasion with everything she could muster. In a letter to William Still, a fellow Black abolitionist, she wrote, “I have a right to do my share of the work. The humblest and feeblest of us can do something; and though I may be deficient in many of the conventionalisms of city life, and be considered as a person of good impulses, but unfinished, yet if there is common rough work to be done, call on me.”3

Frances’s tipping point might have looked a lot like one of mine.

My firstborn son was born the summer of 2016. My husband, Phillip, and I were in the middle of a cross-country move from Minnesota to Mississippi. The lease was up on our cute suburban duplex, and we were staying in a hotel until it was time to set off. Phillip had run out to grab us some food, and I was sitting in bed nursing Wynn and scrolling Facebook.

Philando Castile was killed that same day.

I scrolled in horror, processing the details of what had happened. He was shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in the very suburb Phillip and I had been living in for the past year. I immediately called Phillip to check on him, heart hammering in my ears, postpartum hormones rushing through my veins.

Philando Castile’s death was not the first such shooting of a Black man that I had ever heard of. It wasn’t the first one I had ever mourned. It wasn’t even the first one that had happened in a state where I resided.

But it was the first one that felt close. And I remember sitting on that bed, holding my brand-new baby boy, and thinking of how much everything had changed for me. I was now a mother of a little brown-skinned boy. My heart was not only out and about on the streets of Minneapolis in search of takeout, but in my arms.

I do not pretend to know the mind of Frances Harper (would that I did!), but I know what it feels like for something to hit closer to home than ever before. I know what it’s like for passion to spark and bleed out onto the page, and for the writing on the page to move one into the lectern. Bronze muse though I may never be, I have mused on so many of the words that Frances shared in myriad speeches, and I have felt the conviction of them deep in my own heart and life.

Frances did not work for fame and renown, but from a deep conviction that the work she was applying herself to was a worthwhile endeavor.

What Frances teaches us

Like more than one woman profiled in these pages, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was raised by a reverend and a teacher. She started working at fourteen and did not stop working until the day she died. She was married only four years before going back to supporting herself and her young daughter. And yet, if single motherhood was a challenge to the calling God placed on her life, Frances kept it to herself. She doggedly pursued her passions—lecturing, writing, and imagining.

Her poise, rhetorical skill, and passion earned her the nickname The Bronze Muse, a title that pointed to the fact that Frances was a master of the English language in speech, poetry, and prose. She realized that she was an ambassador for her entire ethnicity every time she mounted the stage, and she did her people proud, her own ability for intelligent and articulate arguments proof of her claims of equality. 

What I love about Frances is how thoroughly her poetic ability seeped into her rhetorical moments. She was every bit a poet in the lectern and every bit a principled orator in her poetry. Frances had a knack for uniting all parts of her skill in service for her cause.

I teach at a classical Christian school in Jackson, Mississippi. I’m excited to introduce Frances Ellen Watkins Harper to my students. We are very picky about the classical canon at my school, but we also realize that so many Black voices have been barred from that canon throughout history. Phillis Wheatley is the one Black poet the kids know—maybe Paul Laurence Dunbar, if they’re lucky, and later, Langston Hughes. But the canon should be full to bursting with a wide array of Black voices and a huge cross section of the Black experience.

Frances was not just a phenomenal speaker—she was a phenomenal writer. Her poetry and her storytelling abilities have stood the test of time, even when it seemed that time had forgotten them. In fact, just a few years ago, her first published book of poetry, Forest Leaves, was rediscovered. For one hundred and fifty years, we assumed that her words were lost forever. . . and yet they were found by a pesky PhD candidate who knew exactly where to look.

As much as I love playing hide-and-seek with the treasure trove of the influential Black women who have shaped us, it is my earnest hope that fifty years from now, a little Black girl who wants to grow up to be a writer doesn’t have to look far to find the work of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Perhaps she will have had to memorize Bible Defense of Slavery or The Slave Mother. Maybe her teacher will have assigned The Two Offers in a short story unit. Perhaps in a class that focuses on nineteenth-century literature, Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy—the first novel published by a Black woman—will be found in its rightful chronology after Austen and the Brontës.

I do know that my own children and my own students will know her name. And perhaps, now that you’ve read her words, you can share her brilliance as well.

However, if I have learned anything from Frances, it is that no matter how quiet the record of her brilliance has been kept, it cannot remain silent forever. I did not know about her . . . until I did. And now that I do, I know to be incredibly grateful for her example and influence. And I know that there are myriad women like her, just waiting to be discovered. They are hidden gems and diamonds in the rough now, but they were outspoken dynamos while they lived. And their lives shine as examples to us all.

Footnotes

  1. Elizabeth Ammons and Frances Ellen Watkins [Harper], “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911)” Legacy 2, no. 2 (1985): 61-66. Accessed June 24, 2021, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25678939.
  2. Melba Joyce Boyd, Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Frances E.W. Harper, 1825–1911 (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1994), 40.
  3. Harper, A Brighter Coming Day, 47.

Excerpt from Carved in Ebony by Jasmine Holmes provided by Bethany House Publishers, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Copyright 2021. Used by permission.

“Chapter 4: Inspired by the Bronze Muse | Frances Ellen Watkins Harper,” from Carved in Ebony by Jasmine Holmes. pp. 70-71, 74-76, 79-80; 1,255 words (edited)

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.

By / Feb 22

In a moment of politicization and tribalism, conversations are always difficult. There are any number of topics today that cause controversy: who to vote (or not) for in the next election, responding to COVID restrictions, and how to think about protests both domestically and abroad. But there are few conversations that are as difficult to have as discussions of race. While Christians should be able to have these conversations because of our shared identity in Christ, we too are prone to avoiding the topic because it can be hard, difficult, and awkward. Isaac Adams wrote his new book, Talking About Race: Gospel Hope for Hard Conversations, to counter that problem. Adams offers hope for how to have these conversations and some guidance on where to begin. 

Alex Ward: You originally set out to write a book about what to do, and instead ended up writing about how to talk about the issue of racism. Why was it essential to make that shift, and why do we need to start there?

Isaac Adams: Often when I teach on race and racism, the question I know I’ll be asked is, “What can I do?” And in so many ways this is a great question. While we Christians aren’t saved by good works, we are saved for good works (Rom. 7:4; Titus 2:14). Yet, as a pastor, I often find people wanted to go and do big things as regards racial justice — they wanted to march down the street; they wanted to maintain unity in their church — yet these same people couldn’t even have a constructive conversation with the person they dreaded seeing at Thanksgiving, much less on Sunday morning. It seemed to me, then, that before we could talk about action, we’d do well to figure out why we couldn’t talk at all. Figuring that out would have us be that much better equipped for the good and right active pursuit of racial justice. 

AW: In the book, you use these fictional characters to unpack some of the common responses to the topic and provide an entry point. Why start with a story? Why not just begin with application and teachings?

IA: There’s something in people that loves a story. We see Jesus use them so often — the parables. Nathan, in 2 Samuel 12, when confronting David uses what? A story! David is sucked into it before he realizes that he is the bad guy. Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, though massive, reads beautifully because it’s told primarily through the lens of story. And so, I landed on a story because a fictional account would help me grasp the complexity that people are. Writing straightforward, didactic stuff, while I do that, doesn’t allow for painting the complexity that you and I so often live in. A person is more than their political opinions, their racial perspective, their racial sins. A story helped me to paint that complex picture more clearly. 

AW: When reading the chapter about the two sisters, Anna Beth and Samantha Lee, I was struck how often I have seen their argument play out, whether in real life or social media. One is more concerned with structural issues and doesn’t think her church and peers care enough about racism. The other thinks an overemphasis on race is part of the problem causing the divisions and anger. So as you look at the state of the discourse among white evangelicals today with one another, what counsel would you offer? 

IA: I try to offer a lot of different counsel in the book, as there are so many things to address. One piece of counsel I would give is to listen to the perspective of non-white evangelicals, and I praise God for many of my white brothers and sisters who do that. That said, often, the things that determine “the race conversation” are the anxieties and burdens of white evangelicals. But it’s important to realize that all people in the kingdom of God have anxieties and burdens that need to be addressed.

AW: One of the main reasons, you write, that we should engage in cross-race conversations about this topic is because “love compels” us. What do you mean by that? And if so, why are we so hard-pressed to have these conversations?

IA: I meant that love ought to be the main motivator behind our conversations. Without this, we could have all racial knowledge in the world and still be a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13). To love God and love neighbor are the two greatest commandments, and so it’s love for God’s glory, love for our Christian witness, love for our hurting neighbors that ought to motivate us — not revenge or power. 

In terms of being hard-pressed, I think it’s easy for many American Christians to have a biblical gospel in name but a prosperity gospel in function — a gospel that says life should always be easy. But, of course, we know that Scripture says quite the opposite. In the world we will have trouble (John 16:33). I say this because I think it’s easy to assume that love should be pain free. But the cross shows us that love can be painful, difficult, messy. And so much of what’s going on in our conversations about race is painful, difficult, messy. So while love is our motivator, it actually presses us further into hard things rather than further from them. Still, those hard things, I’d say, are good and worthwhile things to wrestle with.

AW: The recent COVID lockdowns and the protests for racial justice of the last few years have highlighted the exit of many African Americans from predominantly white congregations. Your book thinks through that process and doesn’t condemn Christians who make a decision to stay or leave. How would you encourage Christians to wrestle with that choice? Are there clear reasons why someone should choose to leave or stay?

IA: I appreciate this question! In the book, I tried to tackle questions like these head on. My main encouragement for Christians wrestling with this choice would be to fear the Lord most in the decision. It’s easy to fear what people will say about you, whether they call you an Uncle Tom for staying or a theological liberal for leaving. It turns out, though, that these aren’t the only two options. What’s more, someone’s opinion of you pales in importance compared to the Lord’s opinion about you. That said, the decision to leave or stay can be so difficult, so painful. As an African American who often navigates white spaces, I felt I had to address The Black Exodus from predominantly white churches. 

Regarding the clear reasons to stay or leave, yes — there are some reasons that are clear, and some that aren’t so clear. I lay that out on pages 32-36 in my book. 

AW: A helpful part of the book is the reminder that conversations about race are not just about the white-black binary, even if it appears to be the most pressing and visible. As you wrote about Jane (Eun-ji) and Luis, what were you hoping Christians would understand about this conversation?

IA: The black-white conversation is obviously an important one, and it’s a historically unique one. However, the kingdom of God is wonderfully colorful; it’s not just black and white. And I wanted to convey that in the book because if we’re going to faithfully follow Jesus amidst race relations, we’re going to have to remember that he bled and died for all tribes, not just ours. 

AW: Throughout the book, I was constantly thinking about the way that tone was essential to the conversations, particularly one of humility and lament as well as a refusal to impute motives to others or respond with sarcasm and condescension. How can Christians go about cultivating that in their own lives and conversations? The lives of their families? Their churches? 

IA: Start with prayer. Ask the Lord to reveal to you your hidden faults (Psa. 19:12). Then, go to a brother or sister from the “other side” and admit to them some things they’re right about. Then pray some more. Apologize for some of the ways you have not conducted yourself helpfully in these conversations. Then pray some more. Then, tell that person some things you are afraid about regarding this conversation. Then pray some more. Confession, humility, vulnerability, prayer — this is how we lower defenses rather than make other people defensive. 

AW: For a topic that is so polarizing, what encouragement would you offer for how to get the conversation started? And what should be our goal in that conversation? 

IA: There’s no better goal than Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The goal, then, is to benefit others. In terms of getting started, you would be shocked at how much talking to God (praying) before talking to that person can help you. After prayer, you might just print out this interview, ask the person to read it, and ask two questions: 1) What did you think of this? 2) Can I please share what I thought, and some of my hopes and fears in this conversation?