Twelve and a half years ago Middle District’s Search Committee was talking with me regarding the Executive Director position and I asked them, “Why does Middle District have no African American churches? The area the Association serves, especially in South Richmond, has a notable percentage of African Americans in the demographic profile. So, what does the absence of any ethnic or churches of color indicate.?” Frankly, this concerned me because I knew other associations had African American congregations – why not Middle District? The response from each committee member was honest, candid, and allayed my fears that I might be talking to a group of Southern Baptists who were “southern bigots” who masked their racism in the cloak of historical contextualization and rationalizations.
Realizing that our Middle District churches and leadership would be very open to African American churches joining our Association, over the years I have entered into serious private conversations with pastors about their churches of color becoming a part of the life and ministry of our association. Learning from the mistakes of other associations, I have gone out of the way to emphasize that I did not want their churches to be “token” congregations but I felt it was best for them and us if they truly were active in our fellowship. While none of these conversations have progressed to the point of a congregation becoming a part of our church network, a couple of these conversations continue to hopeful and positive.
This week in Phoenix, Southern Baptists took a history-making stance against racism. At the annual convention, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic brought a proposal condemning the radical right white nationalist movement and it passed; by a 99.9% vote, followed by a standing ovation.
I am so glad that this generation of Baptist leaders and messengers to the convention are willing and able to take such a stand. Unfortunately, I remember too well when something like this would have never, ever happened. Once I was in a private conversation where the words of a notable Southern Baptist pastor made it very clear that: “No “n*****” is ever going to be a member of OUR church.”
I am not so naïve to think that this type of racial prejudice does not still exist in pockets of Southern Baptist life, even in Middle District. But, praise God, like those who voted at this week’s meeting, it’s only .01%. We’ve come a long way. We still have a long way to go!
So what are the implications for Middle District? We will have to see. But this I know. This resolution will give additional evidence that, as a Southern Baptist Association, Middle District is a part of a convention that is genuinely interested in moving beyond the past and desires to share our life and ministry with brothers and sisters of color as, together, we demonstrate the the love of Jesus to all people in our communities.