Southern Baptist race summit calls for focus on reconciliation

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Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right. File photo, June 9, 2014. Photo by Adelle M. Banks.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) Southern Baptists did not mince words about their racist past during a two-day summit here devoted to making churches more diverse.

During the first half-hour of the conference Thursday (March 26), the Southern Baptist Convention's top ethics czar acknowledged that the denomination's heritage included preaching family values while splitting up the families of black slaves.

“Our heritage comes to us through a trail of blood, but not all of it is Christ's blood, and some of it cries out from the ground right now,” said Russell Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

He assured the audience that racial hatred would land them in hell.

But demonstrating the difficult task of getting blacks and whites to worship together, fewer than a fifth of the nearly 550 attendees at The Gospel and Racial Reconciliation summit were black -- even with powerhouse names such as African-American pastor Tony Evans on the agenda.

This was the second year that the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission held a summit for pastors and other church leaders. Registration drew more than twice last year’s number when the summit focused on homosexuality.

Commission officials attributed that jump to a national conversation surrounding the Ferguson protests that followed the shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

Moore said the work of racial reconciliation isn’t just for people whose “bedsheets have eyeholes,” he said, referring to the Ku Klux Klan. It’s for articulate people whose racism finds expression in complex and indirect ways.

“Racial reconciliation is going to take the courage of knowing who you are in Christ,” he told an energetic crowd, earning a shower of amens and yeses. “We are not the state church of the Confederate States of America.”

The Southern Baptist Convention was born in 1845 in a split over its support of slavery, a stance its leadership didn’t formally apologize for until 1995.

Still today, of the 50,474 Southern Baptist congregations in North America, only about 20 percent self-identified as predominantly minority, including 3,502 African-American and 3,229 Latino churches.

Four years ago, the SBC considered a name change to increase opportunities for expansion outside the South.

Moore, a Mississippi native, was among those who rejected the idea. He said the denomination doesn’t need rebranding; it needs repentance.

The name can be challenging to overcome, admitted Carlos Smith, a black youth pastor from First Baptist Church of Chesterfield, Mo., who attended Thursday’s summit. Start any phrase with “Southern,” and some African-Americans will stop listening, he said. The only solution is to speak candidly about the denomination’s history and move forward with events such as the summit.

“I am thrilled to hear a white man, Russell Moore, stand up and preach the message he just preached,” Smith said during a break in Thursday’s program. “We need some of our white brothers and sisters saying that it isn’t just race-baiters and people with a victimized mentality who believe these things. (Racism) is a real problem.”

Evans, a well-known speaker in African-American evangelical circles, built his sermon on comparing modern racial divisions to the biblical account of Jesus overcoming ethnic differences to talk to the racially mixed Samaritan woman at the well.

He went on to counsel Christians who would let political differences get in the way.

“God doesn’t ride the backs of donkeys or elephants,” Evans said. “Jesus didn’t come to take sides. He came to take over.”

An afternoon panel explored racial discussions about Ferguson and veered off into abortion as a social justice issue for African-Americans.

Robert George, a Princeton law professor and anti-abortion activist, tied the #BlackLivesMatter social media hashtag to the abortion debate. George said there are more abortion clinics in African-American and Latino neighborhoods than white neighborhoods and pointed to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention numbers showing black women are significantly more likely to have an abortion than white women.

The conference continued on Friday with a panel including Andrew Walker, the ERLC’s director of policy studies, titled “Marriage, Sexuality, Adoption and Racial Reconciliation.”

(Contact Heidi Hall on Twitter @HeidiHallTN.)



  1. Dum de dum de dum.

    I’m beginning to think Russell Moore has never had an original observation in his life.

  2. We (sbc) need to express that there is only one race, many cultures but only on race. Whites and blacks need to realize that we should have more allegiance to our Father in heaven and our christian brothers then the color of our skin and our biological brothers.

  3. While Russell Moore is not saying anything really new, he is speaking out boldly which is like being out on a limb as a Southern Baptist. Many, years ago there was a movement to change the same of the SBC because of the mission work to plant churches in the northern US. A splinter group, the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, incorporated a part of the suggested name.

    Now its been over one hundred and fifty years since the establishment of denomination and they still hold to the title born in racism. Nothing really going to change until they, “man up” (women aren’t allow to be pastors) and change the name. Maybe even join up with the American or Northern or even the National Baptist Convention and then they can truly be integrated.

  4. Staying true to scripture should trump all. That’s what dr moore and the sbc is about. I applaud that.

  5. Does anyone know what percentage of SBC’s members make it to heaven? From an earthly point of view it does sound like a good “club” to be part of.

  6. Nothing really going to change until they, “man up” (women aren’t allow to be pastors) and change the name.

    One constant in this world is idiots making arbitrary ex cathedra pronouncements.

  7. The question remains. Why is/has there thus far been no organic white led movement to irradiate systemic racism in the educational and criminal justice systems? Why is there no serious plan to tackle the logistically challenging issue of compensation for the victims of chattel slavery and Jim Crow (perhaps as a group rather than individually). When much of the wealth of the country was accumulated as a result of state sanctioned kidnap and wage fraud, why no economic redress? We have seen compensation of Sandy victims, BP oil spill victims, Japanese internment victims… The selective amnesia makes me doubt the intentions of the white Christians and clergy. If your family had been robbed and the children of the perpetrators pranced around with the proceeds of the sale of the stolen goods – Would you believe them when the spoke about “reconciliation”?

  8. The reason such events are not extremely well-attended is that they are the same-old, same-old, repeated ad infinitum.

    The white church keeps groveling about racism, and most of the black church rightly thinks the whole spectacle is just ridiculous….because the average black pastor knows that while racism persists, he has much bigger problems to face in 2015, the same sorts of problems white pastors face — family breakdown, kids who rebel and get into trouble, etc, etc.

    Sometimes the groveling can itself be a kind of racism — a failure to have the guts to treat black America just as morally responsible as white America for the choices it makes in life. When every failing of every black person is ascribed to racism, that ultimately is saying that blacks are morally inferior to whites and that less should be expected of them. And that, itself, is racist.

    Black pastors would rather not bring up the subject, but for the sake of clueless people like Moore, they must.

  9. Agreed, Art Deco. He is merely attempting to manage the SBC’s decline. What the SBC should be doing is partnering with black evangelicals to get beyond the tired old BS about race and get to the real issues like fighting poverty and pathology by replacing the welfare state in Washington with grassroots, faith-based nonprofits in poor neighborhoods across the nation.

    Instead of wasting time navel-gazing and talking about nothing substantive, this would be a great way to model racial reconciliation, not by focusing on it, but by focusing on actual things that need doing and that require the whole church to roll up its sleeves and just do it.

  10. This is pure nonsense. Racism is way down on the list of things that both white and black churches must combat. But if we wish to talk about racism, let’s talk about what George W. Bush once called “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” ie the inherent racism in believing that blacks are too stupid and fragile to make it without the constant help of King and Queen White.

    True racial equality requires white people like Moore to look into the eyes of a black man or black woman and say, “you and I are equal in every conceivable way, from rights to responsibilities….and I will honor that equality in every way….that includes expecting great things from you as I do from white people…..and that includes not making excuses for anyone’s moral failures, black or white. Anything less is denying racial equality.”

  11. Not a bad idea, Gina, if the quid pro quo is an end to every current instance of racial preferences and quotas. Otherwise, it becomes an eternal shakedown game, where the main beneficiaries aren’t poor black people, but upper middle-class blacks who don’t need the help, and charlatans like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton who line their own pockets by trotting out minstrel-like stereotypes of black people as eternal supplicants who can’t make it on their own.

  12. Why not avoid the trouble and just have a non-white, non southern-based and non-sbc appointed committee divide up the assets, institutions and agencies of the SBC however they see fit?

    I’m confused. Is “repentance” or “intergation” the objective here?

    If the answer is “repentance”, are we supposed to be working collectively off a sour-grapes-of the fathers theology that requires ancestral research to determine culpability for the sins of past generations with no attention to Christ’s call and example (even on the cross) of extending forgiveness without retribution?

    If the answer is both “repentance” and “intergration” then aforementioned suggestion should work flawlessly.

  13. The plea for “making the church on earth look more like the church in heaven” sounds good but may be logistically problematic for 2 reasons.

    I understand from Sunday School and scripture that the church on earth will not look like the church in heaven until there is a “Transformation” (i.e movement from “sanctification” to “glorification” or earthly sojourn to eternal reality. Same thing occurs as I understand in the translation of the believer’s “body” from earthly to heavenly existence. Our earthly sanctification is a life-long process,

    Second, biblical teachings (i.e Apocalypse of John) that the resurrected glorified bodies (identities) of believers in heaven will include those from every tribe, nation and tongue does not fully imply for my satisfaction that the “skin color” of a glorified body is among the characteristics which serve to link the recognition of individuals between their earthly and heavenly bodies on that side of the veil. Could be I guess…

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