Magazine article The Christian Century

SBC Renounces Racist Past

Magazine article The Christian Century

SBC Renounces Racist Past

Article excerpt

THE SOUTHERN Baptist Convention voted June 20 to adopt a resolution renouncing its racist roots and apologizing for its past defense of slavery. On its opening day the convention altered its planned order of business in order to consider the statement of repudiation and repentance, prior to a celebration of the SBC's 150th anniversary the same evening. More than 20,000 Southern Baptists registered for the June 20-22 meeting at Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

The resolution declared that messengers, as SBC delegates are called, "unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin" and "lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest." It offered an apology to all African-Americans for "condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime" and repentance for "racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously." Although Southern Baptists have condemned racism in the past, this was the first time the predominantly white convention had dealt specifically with the issue of slavery.

The statement sought forgiveness "from our African-American brothers and sisters" and pledged to "eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry." The SBC was founded in 1845 in Augusta, Georgia, by Baptists in the South seceding from the national Triennial Convention of Baptists after that body decreed it would not appoint slaveholders as missionaries. Currently about 500,000 members of the 15.6-million-member denomination are African-Americans and another 300,000 are ethnic minorities. Since 1980 most of the growth in Southern Baptist churches has been among racial and ethnic minorities. The racism resolution marked the denomination's first formal acknowledgment that racism played a role in its founding.

The resolution acknowledges that because of the SBC's links to slavery, "our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning," and that in more recent history Southern Baptists "failed in many cases to support and in some cases opposed legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans." Many Southern Baptist congregations have "intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded" blacks from worship, the resolution added.

Messengers debated the resolution only briefly before voting overwhelmingly in favor of it. Gary Frost, SBC second vice-president and the first African-American to serve as an SBC officer, urged messengers to adopt the resolution. "Our nation is being ripped apart by hatred," Frost said. "I believe it's up to the church of Jesus Christ to begin the process of true reconciliation."

Three messengers spoke against the resolution. Two said it was inappropriate to apologize only to African-Americans for acts of racism. The third, Carey Kimbrell of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said the resolution imposed too broad a condemnation on the "great men who founded this convention." He proposed that the resolution be referred to the SBC Historical Commission for more study.

After the vote SBC President James B. Henry remarked, "The body has spoken clearly and definitively on this very important issue." Henry then embraced Frost. "On behalf of my black brothers and sisters, we accept your apology and we extend to you our forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ," Frost responded. "We pray that the genuineness of your repentance will be demonstrated in your attitude and your action. …

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