by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World
The meeting of the Southern Baptists this week in Phoenix revealed an interesting surprise. In an effort to increase minority representation in its ranks, the group has elected an African American pastor to become First Vice President. This is the first time in the group’s history that this move has been made.
Rev. Fred Luter Jr. was the man selected for the post, elected on Tuesday to help run the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The group is seeing declining membership levels, and in response, has been working to bring minorities into the fold. Executive Committee President and CEO Frank Page has admitted that there needs to be “measurable information” to help the Southern Baptists evaluate their progress on race relations.
"I believe we are living in a day and time where there will be increased ethnic involvement and increased sensitivity to ethnic diversity within our convention," said Page. "In the principle of honesty, I tell you we have not done as we ought."
The Southern Baptists Convention has seen a decline in the rate of Baptism by five percent since 2009 and a .15 percent decline in membership, making this the fourth year the number has dipped. There was a debate regarding whether there should be specific language in the group’s charter to address diversity. Some felt that it was too deliberate, while others felt the change was necessary.
"We cannot any longer be a convention that is basically a white convention that anybody can come to," said Pastor Jim Goforth, who leads a multicultural church in Florissant, Mo. "We must intentionally be a convention that reaches out to everyone, and until the stage looks like we want the pew to look like, it won't be that way. It doesn't happen by accident."
SBC President Bryant Wright acknowledges that the Southern Baptist Convention was created to defend slavery.
"It took us 150 years to come to our senses … and seek the forgiveness of God and to apologize with our African-American friends and to ask their forgiveness for the strain of racism all through our history," he said. "But there's a noble reason for which we were founded, and that is for the propagation of the gospel of Jesus Christ."
It seems that the Southern Baptist Convention has the same problem as the Republican Party. Even though the groups possess many principles that are in alignment with common views within the black community, they’ve allowed the blindness of racism to keep them from taking advantage of an opportunity for greater support. Republicans are continuously hindered by those on the Right Wing who can’t stomach a black president, which keeps African Americans loyal to the Democrats, even when the loyalty has not been earned.
I am impressed that there are those within the Southern Baptist Convention who avoid the temptation to, like so many other institutions, use the word “diversity” in every pamphlet without truly proving that they are committed to the concept. I spoke with a friend today who works for a law firm where there is only one black female attorney out of over 200 total attorneys working for the organization. There are quite a few organizations with equally embarrassing statistics, and no one holds these groups accountable for this blatant form of Americanized apartheid. If you are involved with a company, university or organization that has less than 10% African American representation within its ranks, the organization needs to be confronted in an honest and forthright way. It’s much easier to use the word “diversity” than to prove that diversity actually exists.
There are few institutions that run deeper in black America than the church. Additionally, the Southern Baptist tradition in is strong, alive and well. It is both wasteful and confusing that the Southern Baptist Convention has waited this long to take advantage of the obvious connection. But now that they’ve opened that door to accepting black people as their fellow citizens with the Lord, they’ve taken a few steps closer to Godliness.