On Tuesday June 19th the Southern Baptist Convention made history when 7,700 ministers unanimously supported the vote for Rev. Fred Luter, Jr. to become the first Black president of the predominately White denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention is the world’s largest protestant denomination and some would say the whitest. The vote is extremely historic in light of church history, because the Southern Baptist denomination became a separate denomination in 1845 after a regional split with northern Baptist over the issues of slavery. After the Civil War a second split occurred when most Black Baptists in the South separated from white churches and set up their own congregations.
To further distance itself from the history of slavery the denomination changed its name to Great Commission Baptists; this name change was endorsed by a 53% vote. These changes are extremely important and a good start but in order to move past it’s history of racism the Southern Baptist will have to do more than change its leadership and name, but it will have to create an environment where church leaders can truly repent of racism and prophetically preach that their congregants do the same. It should be noted that these large scale changes began with a 1995 apology the denomination made to African-Americans for its history of racism and supporting segregation.
It remains to be seen if these high level changes will trickle down to individual congregations where 11:00am Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week. These recent changes by the Southern Baptist Convention highlight the fact that globally the Christian Church will have to make serious adjustments as a result of the exponential growth of people of color in the pews. Many cathedrals in Europe are empty while in South America and Africa church membership is exploding, for example the two largest churches in the world are located in South Korea NOT the Bible Belt. In order to survive the Christian church will have to deal with racism and accept leadership from people of color, with these inevitable changes it remains to be seen whether White Christians will make the needed adjustments or leave the church unable to let go of the idolatry of racism.
Though the Southern Baptist have made two huge steps this week now the real work of healing the racial divide in its church begins, as we know from the historic election of President Barack Obama just because “our president is Black” does not mean that racism has come to an end and in fact it may rear its head in more insidious ways.
- New Orleanian Rev. Fred Luter elected president of Southern Baptist Convention (wwltv.com)
- Southern Baptists elect 1st black president (thegrio.com)
- “Jim Crow is dead. Jesus is alive!” (inviewofthecall.wordpress.com)
- Southern Baptists to elect first black president (religion.blogs.cnn.com)