Sanford Pastors Want Reconciliation
It only slowly dawned on Charisma Media publisher Steve Strang that the Trayvon Martin story had gone national, even though Charisma’s offices are located “less than three miles” from where Martin was killed, Strang said in an op-ed published Friday. He organized a clergy press conference after meeting with with local pastors for two days last week and with Special Prosecutor Angela Corey. He said Sanford’s ministerium wants “reconciliation and healing—not marches and protests” and the June issue of Charisma will include an article on “The Church’s Response to Racism.”
Transcending Racial Division Is Everyone’s Responsibility
In another Charisma op-ed, the Revs. Joel C. Hunter and Nelson Rivers III said, “The fact that Trayvon’s family and George Zimmerman lived in the same gated community in the South is a mark of how far we’ve come as a nation. The fact that Trayvon was presumed to be a threat, followed and shot to death is a testament to how far we have to go.” They also said, “The slow, ambivalent reaction to this tragedy by many in the white Christian community demonstrates the need to break down stereotypes and fear, and to build closer relationships across racial lines. Transcending this division is a responsibility for people of all races and creeds.”
Land’s Comments Don’t Help Southern Baptist Efforts
Meanwhile, the Revs. Fred Luter and Dwight McKissic have expressed disappointment in Southern Baptist leader Richard Land for for comments he made condemning President Obama for speaking out in support of Martin’s family, the Associated Press reported. “When asked about the concern that Land’s comments hurt the effort to attract non-white members, Luter said, ‘It doesn’t help. That’s for sure.'” McKissic said he thinks Land’s remarks “will reverse any gains from the rightful election of Fred Luter.” He intends to “submit a resolution at the SBC’s annual meeting asking the convention to repudiate Land’s remarks.” Land told the AP that he stands by his controversial remarks, but he’s now been accused of plagiarizing them from a Washington Times column, The Tennessean reported.
Zimmerman May Apologize
Land may be immovable, but George Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara told ABC News that his client may apologize to Martin’s family for the shooting. “What I want to happen is for that conversation to occur directly to the family rather than …in the media through me,” he said. (O’Mara also told Florida’s WFTV that he will file a motion today to have the presiding judge in the case, Jessica Recksiedler, removed [at her own suggestion] because Zimmerman had contacted an associate of Recksiedler’s husband to represent him prior to hiring O’Mara.)
Central Florida’s ‘Dark, Violent’ Race History
At The Nation, Mark I. Pinksy pondered why white clergy in Sanford have been so slow to engage the issue and concluded that the “main impediment” has been the involvement of the Rev. Al Sharpton. More importantly, Pinksy outlined a troubling racial history in Central Florida as a backdrop for the story.
“In separate events in the 1920s, an attempt by two black men to vote in the town of Ocoee led to a race riot that spread to Apopka, Orlando and Winter Springs. Three years later, a white mob attacked the black community of Rosewood, burning the town to the ground and scattering its residents forever.
In the spring of 1947 … Jackie Robinson came to Sanford with one of the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league teams. Although Robinson kept a low profile, a mob of town residents effectively ran him out of town, forcing him to stay miles away in Daytona Beach….
On Christmas Day, 1951, Harry T. Moore, Florida’s NAACP executive director and an anti-lynching activist, and his wife were blown up in their wood frame home. Local law enforcement officers were widely thought to have been among the Klansmen responsible. Harry Moore died en route to a Sanford hospital, where his wife died nine days later.
In 2007, an all-white jury acquitted seven prison guards and a nurse of beating to death a 14-year-old African American boot camp inmate, a killing caught on videotape.”
Who Cares About Trayvon and Who Doesn’t
Strang may have been late to the story and Land may decry it, but they’re not alone. This morning The New York Times published an insightful article about why this story has blown up and with whom it has gained a hearing. “Opinion polls show high interest in the case, with blacks far more likely than whites and Democrats more likely than Republicans to identify it as a ‘top story’ in their minds, according to the Pew Research Center.”
Update: Richard Land has apologized for failing to give verbal attribution in radio broadcasts and for offending people in his public discussions of the Trayvon Martin case, USA Today reported this afternoon. “I am grieved that anyone would feel my comments have retarded in any way the Southern Baptists’ march toward racial reconciliation, which I have been committed to for the entirety of my ministry, since 1962,” said Land.
What do you think?
Has this story gotten too much media attention, not enough, or the right amount?
Luter Says SBC Is ‘Walking This Thing’
Last summer, when UrbanFaith talked to New Orleans pastor Rev. Fred Luter, he had just been elected to the first vice presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention. No other African American has ever risen as high as Luter in SBC leadership. Now Luter tells NPR that if he is elected to the presidency this year (he announced his intention to run in January), it will send a message that the denomination is serious about its efforts to diversify. “It will say something to the country and to the world that the Southern Baptist Convention is not just talking this thing, we’re actually walking this thing,” said Luter.
SBC Wants to Hear From Black/Hispanic Churches
Luter’s rise coincides with other SBC diversity efforts. The denomination has also created a three-year African American Advisory Council “to communicate the perspectives of black churches and their leaders to Southern Baptist Convention entity leaders” and a Hispanic Advisory Council “held its inaugural meeting in early February in Fort Worth, Texas,” with other “ethnically-oriented advisory groups” possibly coming in the future, Baptist Press reported.
McKissic Says More Black Leaders Needed
The Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Church in Arlington, Texas, first suggested Luter for the presidency in 2010, according to Associated Baptist Press. ABP quoted McKissic as saying on his blog that he didn’t believe “any serious additions of black churches joining the SBC” would be forthcoming until there are “at least two-to-three minority entity heads.” ABP also noted that “McKissic has spoken widely about his experience visiting the SBC headquarters in Nashville in 2007, when he asked to meet the highest ranking African American there and was informed it was the head custodian.”
Moody Publishers Increases Offerings for People of Color
As UrbanFaith previously reported, the SBC isn’t the only majority white denomination that is actively pursuing racial and ethnic diversity. Now, at least one Christian publisher is following this trend. Moody Publishers has announced that it “plans to develop products for urban communities by expanding its offerings for African-Americans, Latinos and urban influencers,” Christian Retailing reported. This effort is part of a restructuring that strengthens its collaborations with the radio and education ministries of Moody Bible Institute and its new “across the globe, cultures and generations” vision, according to CR.
“Brother White” Preaches Church Integration Message
Racial reconciliation seems to be a growing trend in Christian entertainment as well. Now comes “Brother White,” a television movie that tells the story of a white Southern California mega-church pastor’s awkward efforts to fit in at a small black church in inner-city Atlanta after he accepts a position there as senior pastor. “Evening Shade” alum David A.R. White stars in the film, “Sister, Sister” and “227” star Jackée Harry plays the church’s former first lady, and gospel music artist BeBe Winans guest stars as himself. Eurweb.com reports that Harry told a group of television critics her work in the film is some of the best she’s done “in a long time.” “Brother White” airs tonight at 9 p.m. EST on GMC.
What do you think?
Is pursuing ethnic and racial diversity a hot new trend or the only logical response to demographic realities?
The Southern Baptist Convention is the latest majority-white denomination to publicly reaffirm its efforts to pursue racial and ethnic diversity in its leadership ranks. Earlier this month, the SBC’s North American Mission Board (NAMB) announced that Ken Weathersby, an African American, would fill the newly created role of Presidential Ambassador for Ethnic Church Relations. Weathersby will work to facilitate diversity in the SBC’s executive leadership circles, as well as in the convention’s local churches.
The SBC’s efforts are bold, especially in light of its complicated history with race relations. But it’s far from the first predominantly white evangelical denomination to get serious about racial and ethnic diversity. The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) and the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) have been at it for a long time, too. And, despite inevitable challenges, both are making headway.
A Long Road Ahead
“I definitely celebrate the progress that is being made in terms of Christ centered multi-ethnic development within evangelicalism, but I also would say we have a long way to go,” said Rev. Efrem Smith, Superintendent of the Evangelical Covenant Church’s Pacific Southwest Conference.
Smith’s sentiments were echoed by three other African American leaders that we talked to in the weeks since the Southern Baptists’ NAMB announced its appointment of Weathersby to his new executive role.
Southern Baptists Working, Not Talking
NAMB’s move follows closely behind the SBC’s election of Rev. Fred Luter as its first African American first vice president. UrbanFaith emailed Weathersby as soon as the news broke to request an interview as we had done after Luter’s election. This time, however, NAMB’s vice president for Communications Mike Ebert replied saying Weathersby needs time to settle into the job before granting interviews. Several other SBC pastors, including Luter, either didn’t return calls requesting an interview or declined to talk about the SBC’s diversity push.
Smith and other leaders in the ECC and the EFCA did agree to talk to us about the trend and wished the SBC well in their pursuit of change.
“The real progress in the Southern Baptist or any evangelical denomination will be when the president of Southern Seminary is a person of color, when the district superintendent in the Southern Baptist Church, when the president of the Southern Baptist Church is a person of color,” said Smith.
Evangelical Covenant Church Takes Holistic Approach
“Instead of one reconciling ethnic staff person who focuses on diversity, our president [Gary Walter] has said, ‘We need at all levels of leadership in this denomination to have a commitment to diversity,” said Smith.
“I’m a 41-year-old African American who is leading the largest conference in our denomination. A few years ago, I would have never dreamed that would have been a possibility for me, not because I’m saying the denomination is racist, but it’s not every day that an evangelical denomination elects an African American superintendent. … Out of 11 superintendents, we have three that are African American and one who’s a native Alaskan,” he said.
Executive Vice President at Covenant Ministries of Benevolence Harold Spooner worked with Walter and others to create a Five-fold Test for multi-ethnic ministry instead of hiring a point person.
“One of the things that we discovered in the process is churches and organizations will hire a person and give that person that title, then what tends to happen is that everything ethnic goes to that person and so the buy-in wasn’t necessarily whole and complete,” said Spooner.
With a little over 800 churches and 200,000 or less members nationally, the vitality of the denomination has depended upon ethnic growth, Spooner said. Twenty-four to 25 percent of ECC churches are now ethnic or multi-ethnic, he said.
“One of the things that we strongly believe is that God is a God of cultures. Yes, we’re created equal. Yes, we’re all human beings. But we also have various ethnic backgrounds that when you don’t deny the ethnic realities and embrace those, you become more whole as people,” said Spooner.
Reformed Church in America Follows ECC Lead
Spooner grew up in a predominantly black Harlem church in the majority white Reformed Church in America (RCA) denomination and worked for the RCA in the late 1970s. He recalls, at the time, his Reformed brethren would joke that “if you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much.”
“The Reformed Church had a long way to go at the time. The interesting thing in the Reformed Church is that they are now looking at some of the things that we have done,” he said.
In a 2010 report, RCA general secretary Wesley Granberg-Michaelson said he is encouraged that more than one-third of its 249 new congregations are “racially or ethnically different than the RCA Anglo majority.” He warned, however, that a “relationship gap” between traditional and new congregations poses “the greatest threat to the RCA’s life together as a whole.” RCA created a Multi-Racial Strategy Coalition to guide its efforts toward diversity and has adopted its own Five-fold Test that mirrors the ECC’s.
Evangelical Free’s ‘Big Passion’ for Diversity
Dr. Alvin Sanders is Executive Director of Reconciliation for the EFCA. In collaboration with EFCA’s President, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Development Officer, and Vice Presidents of National and International Ministry, Sanders helps determine the direction of his denomination, he said.
“Our mission statement is to glorify God by multiplying healthy churches among all people. I’m the chief architect of the ‘all people,’” said Sanders. He was hired four years ago in response to an EFCA reorganization and said diversity has been “a big passion” for EFCA’s president Dr. William J. Hamel, who created a task force on the issue in the 1990s.
“I believe this is an emerging paradigm. I see within some Christian colleges and universities my type of position, but other denominations or para-church organizations are going at this at a different rate. To be quite honest, I don’t know anybody else who has my exact same position. That doesn’t mean they’re not out there. I definitely know within denominational circles, they’re not plentiful,” said Sanders.
“Christian organizations need to wake up. If we’re going to really reach the mission field of the United States, and fulfill the mandate of the Scriptures, we need to be more diverse. … It’s simply a matter of practicing transformative leadership and changing policies, practices and procedures so that the organizational culture becomes one where ethnics will self-select to be a part of what you’re doing,” he said.
Sanders advocates a “two-pronged” approach of helping white churches to realize that pursuing diversity should be a priority and working with ethnic churches and leaders to address historical distrust between the races. “Their major question is: why should we be joined with you all? It’s a different paradigm depending on which group you’re dealing with,” said Sanders.
About 15 percent of EFCA’s 1500 churches are now ethnic or multi-ethnic and 35 percent of new church plants are, he said. But EFCA wants 20 percent of its churches to be ethnic or multi-ethnic by the year 2020. When 20 percent of “the other” is incorporated, the fabric of an organization changes, he said.
Building Bridges of Loyalty and Trust
In 2004, the EFCA hired Rev. Dante Upshaw to serve as its first Director of African American Ministries. He had been a youth pastor and elder in a Chicago EFCA church, but said that like many members of urban and ethnic churches, he was only “marginally connected” to the denomination and felt no sense of loyalty to it.
“For ethnic and urban leaders, it really takes effort to have someone to be a bridge between the denomination and local leaders. That’s primarily my role, to be a bridge builder,” said Upshaw. With 15-to-20 African American pastors identified in 2004, EFCA’s prayer was to grow to 100 active and involved leaders by 2010, he said. “We reached that in 2009.”
African Americans are also serving on national and district boards, so they’re not just increasing in numbers, but having an impact, Upshaw added.
SBC Reports Its Progress
Although SBC pastors declined to talk to UrbanFaith for this article, last week the denomination’s own Baptist Press published an article about the change.
“African Americans comprise 6.5 percent of the 16 million members of the Southern Baptist Convention, according to 2009 figures. Whites comprise 81 percent; other ethnicities 12.5 percent,” Baptist Press reported.
“Luter’s election comes as the convention is focused heavily on multiethnic inclusion. At this year’s annual meeting in Phoenix, the Executive Committee and other convention leaders signed an Affirmation of Unity and Cooperation, pledging ‘to embrace our brothers and sisters of every ethnicity, race and language as equal partners in our collecttive ministries to engage all people groups with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,’” the article stated. Luter recently said he’s 80 percent sure he will run for the SBC presidency next year.
A Vocal Critic in the SBC
Among the SBC pastors who were unavailable for comment was Rev. Dwight McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. McKissic has been perhaps the most vocal internal critic of his denomination’s record on race.
In two blog posts last spring, McKissic outlined accusations of egregious racism within SBC’s churches. The Associated Baptist Press took note.
“The SBC must repent of systemic, institutionalized and historic negative attitudes toward women, race and dissenters. … When we repent of our sins and turn from our wicked ways, then God will forgive our sins and heal our convention and anoint us to go forth with power in carrying out the Great Commission,” McKissic is quoted as saying.
McKissic also started floating the name of Fred Luter as a candidate for SBC president back in 2010, more than a year before Luter’s rise to the position of SBC first vice president.
A Painful, Rewarding Process
As the SBC and other denominations attempt to more fully reflect and embrace the beauty and diversity God intended for his church, the process is sure to be painful.
“I’ve got to really understand God’s love for me,” said Upshaw. “That’s a challenge. When I’m struggling with that, it makes it really hard to love other folks, [especially] someone who is very different from me, be it culturally or whatever.”
He added, “What has to keep me getting up each morning and pressing through the disappointment is that this is a step of obedience in reflecting the kingdom. The family of God is a beautiful tapestry of all kinds of people: men and women, poor, wealthy, Hispanic, African American. When our local church or denomination doesn’t reflect that, we’re missing something.”