Southern Baptists, Racism, & Fred Luter

I returned from Swaziland a week before. It was now time to share with my Church about our ministry and what the Lord did through us while we were there. Everyone was happy for my return and were excited to hear about what all took place. I wore my traditional Swaziland attire and a necklace I had purchased while in the country. The last two months were spent working among the poorest of poor in a country ravaged by the hell of AIDS caused by the HIV virus. It was the moment right before I went up to the pulpit to speak, the dreaded “fellowship time.” It is a time in Churches where you greet one another and express cordialities. Right before taking the stage, a fellow brother that I had looked up to for many years came up to me and said some spine-tingling words, “you look like one of those N*$#!@^ from over there.” My eyes almost dampened the floor from tears and my heart pounded in righteous anger. The people I had poured into for two months, the people that poured into me for two months, were regarded as N*$#!@^ ! I left the man’s cruel joke standing there with him and took the pulpit. Before I could speak about the trip, I had to comment on racism and what separates us from them. In that moment, I was ashamed to be a Southerner. I was a ashamed to even be a Southern Baptist. I was ashamed to be near such ignorance. The words spoken by that man are all too common here in the South.

On June 14, 2011 African American pastor Fred Luter was elected as the vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Luter is an astute pastor who preaches to a 7,000 plus congregation at Franklin Avenue Baptist. This is a landmark event and a cause for rejoicing for Southern Baptists who long for and work for ethnic equality in all avenues of Church life. This is the first time in our denomination’s history where an African American has held such a high office. When asked about his recent election and the SBC’s history with racism, Pastor Luter commented It is really humbling. This is something that the convention has been dealing with for years. But this says that we are at the point where we are tired of talking about this thing, we want to do something about it. Before it was just words, but now they are putting actions behind their words, and that is a blessing. I am just honored to be part of it.”

For those who do not know and thus fail to see the gravity of this nomination, the Southern Baptist Convention began in 1845 knee-deep in the murky waters of slavery and racism. In May 1845, a delegation of Southern Baptists met in Augusta, Georgia to discuss matters of pressing concern. Instead of just discussing various topics, they formed the convention, adopted a constitution, and established mission boards. H. Leon Macbeth, a professor and historian at Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary, said “At least three factors led to the fateful schism: disagreements on methods of organization, problems in home mission work, and the slavery controversy. While each of these played an important role, they were not of equal weight; slavery was the final and most decisive factor that led Southern Baptists to form their own convention…Slavery was the main issue that led to the 1845 schism; that is a blunt historical fact. Other issues raised barriers and, in time, might have led to division, if not North-South, possibly East-West. However, slavery did lead to division.” The Southern Baptist convention has since issued an official apology and a penned the “Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention (found here) Despite the apology, there are many within my denomination who still view racism as an acceptable practice in their lives.

I close this blog with five thoughts on racism and racial equality as I rejoice over the election of Fred Luter.

  1. Racism is a blatant denial of the truth that all of humanity is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27, 5:1-3, 9:5-6; Psa. 8:3-8; 1 Cor. 11:7; Col. 3:8-11; Jas. 3:7-9). Commenting on the image of God in all peoples, John Macarthur said “The truth that humanity was made in the likeness of God is the starting point for a biblical understanding of the nature of man. It explains our spiritual urges. It helps us make sense of the human conscience. It establishes our moral accountability. It reveals the very essence of the meaning and purpose of human life. It is full of practical and doctrinal significance.” Humanity finds their dignity in being made in the image of God. Racism denies that dignity.
  2. Racism is a blatant denial of the universality of God’s intent in the cross (John 3:16, 1 John 2:2). Jesus Christ died for the whole world, for people in every ethnic group. If we want the meaning and the worth and the beauty and the power of the cross of Christ to be seen and loved in our churches, and if the design of the death of His Son is not only to reconcile us to God but to reconcile alienated ethnic groups to each other in Christ, then will we not display and magnify the cross of Christ better by more and deeper and sweeter ethnic diversity and unity in our worship and life?
  3. Racism is a blatant denial of justification by faith. J.I. Packer said the doctrine of justification is “by grace alone, through faith alone, on the basis of Christ’s blood and righteousness alone, for the glory of God alone, as taught with final authority in Scripture alone.” We are not made right by God by attending white churches, doing things that only white people do, and basically being white. The grounds for justification are found in what a Jewish rabbi who happens to rule the cosmos did 2,000 years ago on a cross. Jesus Christ paid too high of a price for his people to pick and choose who gets to be redeemed by God by faith in his Son.
  4. Racism is a blatant denial of God’s desire for the Church. Revelation 7 describes worshipers “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev. 7:9). As John Piper has stated “”If you love the cross, like we sing, you must love what it was designed to do – namely, to gather a people from every people group on planet Earth. If you don’t love that, you don’t love the cross. You’re creating it in your own imagination.” The family of God is ethnically and culturally diverse. As Christians we not only permit such diversity, but we cherish it. This is because God Himself cherishes ethnic diversity. He is not color-blind; He is colorful. His plan of redemption is for the peoples of the world in all their rich variety.
  5. Racism is a blatant denial of the holiness God expects of his people. The Bible makes it clear that no child of God continues to practice sin and does not bear fruit (John 8:31-36; 1 John 1:5-6; 2:3-5; 3:4-10). Tony Evans said “Racism isn’t a bad habit; it’s not a mistake; it’s a sin. The answer is not sociology; it’s theology.” It is unthinkable for people to dwell in the sin of racism their whole lives and expect to be greeted by a loving Savior who died for the very people they hate. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord.

I rejoice with this election and hope it will be used by God to further racial equality here in the South. Lead with broken-hearted boldness Fred Luter. There are people who are praying and rejoicing over you.

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3 responses to “Southern Baptists, Racism, & Fred Luter

  1. Hi, Austin. I love reading your blogs. They are always very insightful. One thing I always like to point out to bigoted Christians is that God does not see skin, nor clothes. He only sees our spirit.

    I have lived in Chicago, New York, New Orleans and places in between. I found bigotry as deep and hateful in the North as in the South. I have always been saddened by the fact that people assume I am a bigot because I have a southern accent.

    The times are changing, but slowly.

    Love you, Cyndi

  2. I agree, very well written. I remember the incident that happend after your mission trip. When you told me what happend my heart hurt and my anger rose. It is such a sad day when people not only say things like that but also harness feelings like this in their heart. Another such incident happend with me after my mission trip to Burkina Faso West Africa, only this time it came from the mouth of one of my teens. Our teens today harness these feelings as well and it breaks my heart. The SBC’s Resolution in 1995 was a HUGE step in the proper direction. I am delighted and overjoyed to hear this great news about our new Vice President. I only hope that this has not taken place to make ourselves look better. Another former church of mine would make a large effort to help support african american’s in the community during the Christmas Holidays because it helped us “look good” to others, yet we did nothing to help these same people the rest of the year. The SBC has come a long way but we still have a long way to go……

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