Several weeks ago I was invited by Dr. David Lee, Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, to participate in a group of pastors exploring ways to more deeply and more inclusively involve African-American pastors and their congregations in the life of BCM/D. These pastors are already a part of BCM/D—one in fact is the current president of the convention and another is a past president--but apparently there was a feeling among some that BCM/D did not fully understand the needs of historically Black congregations.
Some background is perhaps in order here. Although the BCM/D is actually older than the Southern Baptist Convention, it became associated with the national convention soon after its founding in 1845, when the SBC split from the larger national Baptist convention, what eventually became the present day American Baptist Convention. The issue which caused the southern church to leave was, as you might imagine, over slavery. The convention had ruled that slave owners could not be appointed missionaries, and so the southern Baptists left and formed their own convention.
Just as the SBC was on the wrong side of the slavery issue in the 19th century, it was also on the wrong side of the civil rights movement in the 20th century, and it was only in 1995 that the SBC addressed its complicity in American racism, passing a resolution apologizing to African-Americans “for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime.”
A few years ago Dr. Lee made it a point throughout the state convention to be more intentional about working with African-American congregations that are part of the convention. You would be hard-pressed to find an SBC state convention south of the
Mason-Dixon line that is more progressive in race relations.
Yet we have far to go, and that is why Dr. Lee formed this group of Anglo- and African-American pastors. I already knew some of the other pastors, both black and white, but I have enjoyed making some new friends as well. More than anything, we are learning from each other. For instance, when a Black congregation gets Southern Baptist literature and all the faces in the photographs are white, its natural for them to wonder if they really are wanted in the convention. While that may seem simple to many whites, it is actually quite profound. Even more seriously, in June the Southern Baptist Convention formed an ad hoc study committee called the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, not one of the members was African American. When this was pointed out, a single Black man was added. In our meetings there was frustration expressed at the exclusion, frustration that they had to be the ones to even notice the lack of racial diversity, and frustration at the perceived tokenism.
In our meetings there has been a great deal of honesty and transparency. You can hear the hurt expressed, as well as the fear. Yet, there has been a lot of hope expressed also, as well as a sense that what we are doing is not only unprecedented but vitally important.
The group has adopted the name “A New Day”, and we are exploring ways to rid ourselves of the ignorance and the fear that has characterized race relations and threatens efforts at reconciliation. One of the things that has been discussed is having traditionally White congregations partner with traditionally Black congregations for ministry, missions activities, worship and fellowship. A pastor in
Southeast D.C. has invited me to come to his neighborhood and his church and see the kinds of ministry they are doing.
One of the things that we are going to be tackling is the way poverty and racism interact in our country. Poverty is more pervasive in our country than most people think, but it is the fear of poverty, or more precisely the fear of becoming poor, that is most pervasive. While financial planners recommend that a household have the equivalent of six months of income in savings, most households live paycheck to paycheck, which means that homelessness for some people is literally one pink slip away. It is this fear that causes people to resent people of other races or ethnic groups who are perceived as “taking our (the race or ethnicity to which one belongs) jobs away.”
I am excited to be part of this “New Day” group, and very hopeful that we can make some significant headway in understanding and dealing with some significant issues in our communities and our nation. This truly is Kingdom work, and I believe it please our Father.