REPORT OF THE UNITY COMMITTEE
TO THE MESSENGERS OF TO THE 2003
ARKANSAS BAPTIST STATE CONVENTION
Why is 11 a.m. Sunday still the most segregated hour of the week?
Although often attributed to others, the statement, “The most segregated hour of the week is still 11 o’clock Sunday morning,” was made by Southern Baptists’ own Billy Graham and included in an August 1960 Readers ‘Digest article. Dr. Graham was quoted further in that article as follows:
If we cannot work together in a spiritual dimension, how can we expect citizens to do so on more secular levels? Though the race question has important social implications, it is fundamentally a moral and spiritual issue. Only moral and spiritual approaches can provide a solution. (Readers’ Digest 72 (August 1960)) (Emphasis ours)
Reverend Graham, quite likely the best known and most highly respected Southern Baptist living todi, spoke to the problem even prior to the Readers ‘Digest article. In an October 1, 1956, Life magazine article, he challenged the racial prejudice within Christianity and in so doing idatified for that day a significant impediment to racial reconciliation.
Today, though, is the problem as simple and as singular as racism? No, not hardly. Are prejudicial attitudes still present in some individuals, both in the church and in the general population? Of course there are, and we would be guilty of serious disingenuousness to opine otherwise.
There are two points important to make at this juncture. First, racial prejudice is wrong, it is sin, and it should have no quarter in the hearts of any persons, particularly those of believers. We all should abhor it and denounce it in the strongest of terms whenever and wherever given the opportunity.
Second, while racism may have a part to play and be an inhibitor in the lack of multiethnic congregations among Southern Baptist Churches, our honest belief is that it is not the predominate factor preventing the formation of churches with diversity in membership.
In the balance of this report, we will attempt to reveal what those major hindrances to unity are and strategies Southern Baptists can implement in an effort to overcome them. One important caveat should be stated before proceeding. It ought to be apparent to every believer living in America in these early years of the Twenty-first century that the incredible problem of being a people divided along ethnic and racial lines can not be solved and racial reconciliation and unity will not be achieved without God’s people being infused with and empowered by the Holy Spirit, modeling Christlike behavior, and being led by God’s strong hand.
How did we get here?
No discussion of this issue can be had without a proper frame of reference. Where are we Southern Baptists in the matter of race relations? How have we gotten here? And what is required of us now based on that journey and what ought to be our desired destination?
This report is the result of work you commissioned by your resolution on unity passed unanimously at last year’s meeting of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. That resolution stated in pertinent parts:
Artificial, arbitrary, capricious, and often hurtful boundaries continue to obstruct the unity of God’s people. . . divisions based on considerations of ethnicity, nationality, and language impede our task of relating properly to others, identifying them as our neighbors, meeting their physical and spiritual needs, and ultimately helping them accept Christ as their Lord and Savior. . . We acknowledge that there is only one race—the human race—and that is clearly God’s desire that all believers be in one body, in one spirit, in one truth, and under one Lord. . . we express our intentions to work diligently and tirelessly for the unity for God’s people. . . We know that should we be able to achieve the unity we have described here, it will enhance and maximize our witness for Christ. . . we request our Convention President appoint a study committee to explore ways in which the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, associations, churches, and their members can achieve this unity in the body of Christ and to make recommendations in furtherance of that objective…
Last year is not the first occasion Southern Baptists, either at the state or national levels, have addressed the race issue through resolutions. In l995,nssengers to both the Arkansas Baptist State Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions in whidi they repented of racism, asked forgiveness from African- Americans, pledged to eradicate racism, and committed to work actively for racial reconciliation.
But have Southern Baptists really progressed in the matter of race relations? The answer to that question is an unqualified yes. To graphically illustrate that fact, one need go no further back than the year 1939 to see how far not just Baptists, but Americans as well, have come.
That year, a resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention began, “That we record our gratitude that for the year 1938 the number of lynchings decreased and that only six lives were sacrificed to mob violence. . .“ (Emphasis ours)
That was 1939, not 1839. Can you imagine living in a culture where you feel the need to express gratitude about the number of lynchings that occurred in the previous year? And some say no improvements in racial matters have occurred. There have been many. Have there been nearly enough? No. Should there—can there—be more? Yes; if we believers make it happen.
We’ve made real progress and the evidence manifests that. Despite the positive track record, the world often dismisses us as “good ol’ boys” still harboring racist attitudes that we try to camouflage with subtler manifestations than in previous generations. As we vigorously disavow this, we must also recognize that “perception is reality.”
The perception of some, a perception not grounded in any factual basis, is that our dearth of mixed, ethnically diverse congregations is clear and convincing evidence that Southern Baptists are largely composed of racists who care little or none at all for “others.” The only thing wrong with that conclusion is that it is just plain wrong.
If Southern Baptists were nothing more than stealth versions of racists of past generations would they have invested so heavily by committing resources and exerting great effort in starting churches for members of other ethnic groups? Look at the facts. The Arkansas Baptist State Convention, in a state ofjust over 2.6 million people (well over 2.1 million are Anglos), is responsible for 27 African-American congregations (up 28% since 2000), 39 Hispanic congregations (up 129% since 2000), and 14 Asian-American congregations (up 16% since 2000).
As of 2000, the last year for complete compilations, the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention reported 2,319 African-American congregations, 2,148 Hispanic congregations, 1,261 Asian-American congregations, and 354 Native American congregations for a total of 6,082. Hard numbers for the last three years aren’t available, but if the growth in the numbers of ethnic churches across the Southern Baptist Convention had grown comparable to growth in Arkansas for that period, the total number would be 9,906.
And how can Southern Baptists’ apparent (to some) negative racial attitudes account for the millions upon millions of dollars spent annually in mission endeavors, both domestically and abroad, to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, training in vocational areas, drought and pestilence relief, and, yes, Christ to those in the world often neglected or even forgotten by many? And with the exception of the very impoverished living in regions such as the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia, almost none of those funds are expended to benefit Southern Baptists.
After now acknowledging that we have made a good deal of progress in race relations, even if sometimes at a glacial pace, we must again refocus on a very glaring omission in our efforts. There are far too few multiethnic congregations among Southern Baptist churches. That recognition is what fueled last year’s unity resolution and it is what gives impetus to this new initiative among Southern Baptists.
Now that we’ve shown we can birth, foster, and equip ethnic congregations, let’s begin to transform some of our traditional churches into diverse congregations. And it should be noted here that several churches within the Arkansas Baptist State Convention have made some good initial progress by seeking out people of other ethnic groups and making new members of them. Let’s also seek to create some new churches intended to be multiethnic from the outset.
Obviously, not every church has to be racially diverse, Demographic features, such as low representation of other ethnic groups in a given geographic area, will often militate against the establishment of a multiethnic congregation. However, where the population is mixed, there is no justification for churches to continue to be segregated.
III. REASONS AND RATIONALE:
Why should we do this?
Some ask why we should make this’ a priority or an objective at all—why must unity become something we need to achieve—won’t it distract from a proper focus on the gospel? Norman Peart addresses this in his book, Separate No More, (a book that your committee would highly commend to you).
Racial reconciliation is dangerous to pursue and to maintain. Anytime you bring.,. groups together who have been, divided by years of abuse, oppression, anger, suspicion, and fear and encourage them to love one another, you have a volatile situation, with perhaps an unattainable goal. . . churches have accepted the present state of race relations as inevitable. For that reason racial unity is viewed as an ideal state that is peripheral to a church’s primary task, the proclamation of the gospel. Because this social ministry is viewed as dangerous and peripheral to the spiritual ministry of the gospel, it has not been a priority for many evangelicals, . . one of the issues repeatedly raised. . . about a church that holds racial reconciliation as a priority is that a focus on this ministry will distract from a proper focus on the gospel. This reservation is unfortunate but expected since the ministry of racial reconciliation is erroneously viewed as detached from the ministry of the gospel. There is an integral link between racial reconciliation and spiritual reconciliation. racial reconciliation should not be viewed as a rival to evangelism and discipleship but as an outgrowth and accentuation of the gospel’s ministry. (Separate No More, Norman Peart, pp. 104 & 105)
You aptly assessed the value of racial reconciliation that would be reflected in our churches and its import to the gospel in last year’s resolution. There you said:
God does not make the kinds of distinctions that hinder the unity he desires as Paul articulated in Romans 10:12: ‘For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile— the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him’ . . . Paul reveals God’s command that we strive for the unity He wishes for us in Ephesians 4:3-6: ‘Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ . . we know that should we be able to achieve the unity we have described here, it will enhance and maximize our witness for Christ..
Perhaps nowhere is the imperative of real unity expressed more forcefully than in our Lord’s words as recorded in the Gospel of John.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23) (Emphasis ours)
We should note carefully the words in the Twenty-third verse, “complete unity.” What is it about the word “complete” that modern-day evangelicals don’t understand?
The Oxford Dictionary defines “complete” as “having all its parts. . . entire. . . of the maximum extent.” Some of the synonyms given there for the word “complete” include “inthct, uncut, unbroken, undivided, full, entire, and total.”
As Jesus prayed for us and all who would believe in Him prior to His return, He focused like a laser beam on one characteristic we must exhibit. Although, He could have chosen any number of Christian traits, He selected unity—”complete unity”—to be the one we should manifest in order to best reflect a characteristic of God that the world would sit up and takenotice of and one that would be certain to impact that world. It is to be a unity of supernatural flavor that goes beyond and overcomes the earthly differences—arbitrary, unreasonable, unnecessary, and hurtful distinctions— that routinely separate, divide, categorize, and stereotype people.
So given the high priority that Jesus placed on unity and in lightof the fact that racial prejudice is not the major reason that we haven’t come together to form multiethnic congregations, what then is keeping us apart? Norman Peart addresses this question and reveals what is proving to be the prime inhibitor.
When it comes to race, the American evangelical church has for the most part been unsuccessful in rejecting the beliefs and values of the world. . . the reaon for this difficulty is that we have accepted society’s norm rather than what God has said is real. Who in their right mind would attempt to accomplish that which is seemingly unattainable and unrealistic? In God’s reality, though, racial reconciliation is attainable because Christ has already removed all barriers except one—our choices. Jesus has already made racial reconciliation, as he has our spiritual unity, a positional reality. We are one in Christ regardless of our racial category. Christians are now responsible to make racial reconciliation and unity our experiential reality. . . [People of different ethnicities], regardless of their position in society, in Christ meet at the same point of salvation and continue on from that point unified positionally in Christ. Although united as the church, [they] are responsible for experiencing that unity in their day-to-day interactions. Unfortunately throughout American history the experiential unity that [they] should have as the church has not equaled the positional unity they have in Christ. (Separate No More, Norman Peart, pp. 110 & 111)
IV. REQUIREMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
What will it take?
These ideas are conceptually broad, because there is no “one size fits all.” Any organization of the Church seeking to have a multiethnic profile will by necessity have to tailor these various suggestions, methods, ministries, and stratagems to its particular circumstances, demographics, local culture, and community character.
The first and perhaps most important characteristic that an entity attempting to become multiethnic must exhibit is that of “intentionality.” By design, driven by passion, and led by the Holy Spirit, a tough mentality and dogged determination must be developed to overcome the myriad problems that will present themselves.
Norman Peart in Separate No More weighs in on this very important characteristic.
Racial reconciliation doesn’t just happen. Those who wish to pursue it must do so intentionally. They must not step out without becoming informed about the history of the other group. Then they must be ready to extend and receive forgiveness. They must drop all the old stereotypes and they must be prepared to stand alone in their convictions and against the criticism of others. This is what God expects. Thisis what he has called us to do. (Separate No More, Norman Peart, pp. 164 & 165)
Christians must be willing to drop the stereotypes they hold of members of other groups. In matters of race, stereotypes are oversimplified, overstated, and usually inaccurate beliefs about a category of people. They are developed when a trait or behavior is noticed about an individual or a small group and then it is projected on the particular racial group.
Stereotypes are most destructive when they create a negative image of members of a racial or ethnic group. They often become the basis for prejudicial attitudes about and unfair treatment of a group or its members. The best way to neutralize the almost always harmful effects of stereotyping is to treat people as Christ treated them when He walked on this earth—as individuals—unique in all of creation.
Norman Peart provides in his book a special word for white Christians in America. He cautions them to proceed with sensitivity and understanding in their dealings with their black brothers and sisters. Some whites refuse to accept the wisdom of his counsel. Your committee believes his guidance has merit and recommends that we should follow it in the spirit and admonition of Proverbs 19:20. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.”
The Christian who is white and seeks to reach out to someone who is black must understand the pain and resultant anger that resides within the black community. The intensity of these emotions varies but their presence is understandable when one considers the history of sin’s manifestations through racial hatred in America. A major challenge to racial reconciliation being realized is that most white Americans do not consider that the history of oppression and discrimination in America is relevant for race relations today. . . But the past is very relevant to most African- Americans . . . calling America’s race history irrelevant for interactions between whites and blacks today is insensitive and will not be well received. (Separate No More, Norman Peart, pp. 167 & 168)
For churches seeking unity, there are at least four models. An already established church may make the decision to seek out and actively recruit for membership those of other ethnic groups. A new church may be started by a sponsoring church, an association, or the state convention with the intent of being a multiethnic congregation from its inception.
Two or more churches that are already comprised of different ethnic groups may consolidate to form a multiracial congregation. The last model is one in which one church shares its name and its facilities with different ethnic congregations with the intent that eventually some portion or the entireties of those groups will merge into a larger and more diverse congregation.
The church that achieves unity-in-diversity must be willing to be eclectic in its worship style and not be rigidly locked into any set and immutable tradition. The most efficacious model is the one in which the church creates a moving worship experience by blending, rather than isolating, the various worship traditions.
The staffs of multiethnic churches and denominational entities that are now succeeding are almost always diversified and the diversity usually reflects, without imposition of ratios or quotas, the ethnic composition of the congregation and the relevant demographic factors. A congregation that desires unity, but is reluctant to employ a diverse staff, will find the development of a racially diverse church very difficult indeed.
Michael Posey, pastor of a successful multiethnic church in Evansville, Indiana, illustrates this. He says, “When I am asked to assess if a church desires to be multiracial, I first request to look at its leadership. If they are not multiracial in their leadership, they are probably not committed td being a multiracial church.”
Believers must not try to gloss over the difficulties presented by the culture they are in. Churches and denominational entities should provide various forums, both within and without the body of the Church, to discuss cultural and social issues involving racial and ethnic matters. When handled appropriately, these forums can provide an ideal opportunity to show how the gospel and biblically-based principles can be employed to resolve even the most difficult problems.
Churches that are successful in creating multiethnic congregations should be examined as to how they are accomplishing that obj ective. Then, it should be determined which of those programs and emphases can be incorporated into various ministries and implementation of those strategies should begin.
Members of a diverse church must have an attitude that allows flexibility and adaptability, not one that imposes the “it’s our way, or it’s the highway” approach. If
essential and bedrock biblical principles are not at stake, then there should usually be room for change and accommodation.
With the above general principles in mind, the following are recommendations and guidelines that can prove effective in bringing unity to our churches and
denominational organizations. Some of them represent intermediate steps that can bring us incrementally toward greater unity and move us toward complete unity. None of the following suggestions are in any particular order and no inference regarding priority should be made based on placement of them on the lists.
•Joint worship opportunities
•Pulpit and/or choir exchanges
•Shared ministry opportunities: VBS; community service projects; mission trips; etc.
•Adopt sister churches or partner with other churches
•Employ flexible, adaptable, eclectic, and blended worship style
•Examine successful multiethnic churches and incorporate their strategies, programs, and ministries that fit
•Be willing to “think outside the box” and be ready to “move beyond the box”
•Consider establishing alternative, contemporaneous worship sites and encourage the easy flow of church members between the various locations
•Conduct innovative outreach ministries, programs, and events in ethnic neighborhoods and communities: block parties; sidewalk Sunday School; backyard VBS; hosting recreational activities off-site for children and youth, as well as for adults; etc.
•Accommodate special needs of target ethnic group(s): language; welfare-to-work programs; adult education; tutoring/nntoring of children and adolescents; etc.
•Encourage and make available opportunities for the discussion and study of matters of race, ethnicity, and culture
•Have resources available as library materials that illustrate and describe other racial and ethnic groups and matters regarding their cultures and traditions
•Identify and equip one or more of the church members as “Unity Champions” and provide resources for that person or persons to be the heart and soul and catalyst for change resulting in real inclusion of others in the congregation
•Establish a mission church that begins at its inception with the objective that it will be a diverse church and program everything with that goal in mind
FOR THE STATE CONVENTION,
ASSOCIATIONS, INSTITUTIONS, AND AGENCIES:
•Emphasize vision and encourage prayer for reaching and uniting all ethnic groups
•Develop a module for training and guiding churches in efforts to achieve racial reconciliation
•Devise a strategy for creating churches intended to be multiethnic congregations
•Diversify staffs and board memberships
•Establish pastors-mentoring-pastors programs
•Host pastor retreats where racial reconciliation and diversity in congregations is stressed
•Create joint mission opportunities
•Develop and use appropriate curriculum in the educational institutions intded to highlight the value and desirability of racial unity in our churches and other organizations
•Encourage our student organizations on the various college and university campuses to stress the importance of diversity and to prepare the students to go out and be promoters of racial reconciliation and inclusion in the churches they settle into and serve
•Identify and equip three to five existing churches that are willing to be developed as pilot churches and prototypes for churches that are transformed into multiethnic congregations
Will we answer the call?
Those of us who have had the privilege of serving in our nation’s armed forces, learned early in our military life that responding to reveille, the morning’s wake up call, was not an option. God’s clarion call in John 17:23 is not unlike reveille. Achieving unity for us is not optional. It is not something extra that would be nice if we happen to feel like doing it. We need to heed the call, get up, and get busy.
Complete unity, as described by our Lord, is the one overriding feature that our lives are to reflect to illustrate for the world that we are His. If we can achieve that kind of oneness, it will grab an old carnal world, shake it, and wake it up to the realization that these bedraggled followers of this Jesus must be the “real deal.” Just look at what they’ve done.
They are one, without artificial, arbitrary, and senseless divisions based on race, ethnicity, culture, and language. What but their obedience to Christ and the blessings and empowerment of God could account for that?
You see, there is a significant amount of diversity in our culture today. You can find it in residential patterns, in schools, in the military and other government entities, in employment, and in various social institutions. However, with few exceptions, those situations of racial integration are compelled and enfoxced by threats, economic, legal, criminal, and otherwise.
The one place where racial unity is largely not found—the one place, if there were only one, where it should be found—is the church. With the consequences so grave, with such a clear mandate, and with the enormous power of the Holy Spirit available to us, we have thus far chosen to ignore it.
Are we serious about Matthew 28:18-20? Do we believe John 3:16? Of course, the answer to those questions is a resounding yes. Then John 17:23 must be equally important to us. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
We will close with the way we began; with the words of our beloved Billy Graham. Remember it was he who said, “Though the race question has important social implications, it is fundamentally a moral and spiritual issue. Only moral and spiritual approaches can provide a solution.” (Emphasis ours)
Will we answer the call? We can. We should. We must. It is our responsibility and our calling. May we not be found shirking our duty any longer.
Unity Committee Members
Stuart Bell, pastor, First Baptist Church,Centerton
David Cabriales, Hispanic missionary, North Pulaski Baptist Association
Peter Dang, pastor, Vietnamese Baptist Church, Fort Smith
Ray Higgins, pastor, Second Baptist Church, Little Rock
June Johnston, North Pulaski Baptist Association
Jim Lagrone, ABSC president; pastor, First Southern Baptist Church, Bryant
Richard McKeown, president, InSight Communications
Quinton Moss, pastor, Unity Baptist Bible Church, Little Rock
Larry Page, executive director, Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council
Dwayne Tanton, associational missionary, Harmony Baptist Association
Andy Westmoreland, president, Ouachita Baptist University
Ross Woodbury, pastor, First Baptist Church, Dumas
Jimmie Sheffield, associate executive director, Arkansas Baptist State Convention
Emil Turner, executive director, Arkansas Baptist State Convention