Racism, Church Autonomy, and the Future


Within Southern Baptist life this past week there was a startling news story that was revealed.  A couple and their family who happened to have black colored skin were preparing the sanctuary of the church for their wedding the next day.  The pastor of the church was going to officiate the wedding.  While the pastor was away, a small group of men and women who held some power within the congregation entered the church and declared that this wedding would not take place there, and that if they did “there would be trouble”.  They made it specifically clear that the reason was the color of the couple’s skin.  The couple contacted the pastor of that church, whom they had been meeting with as part of premarital counseling, and the pastor, in his “wisdom” decided not to have the wedding at the church, and had the couple move to another location, where he preformed the ceremony.
Now rightfully so, as this story broke, many within the SBC universe became outraged.  The SBC has for nearly 3 decades now fought to distance itself from its racist past.  We have passed a resolution apologizing for our slavery roots, and just this year for the first time, the SBC elected an man with black skin, to be President of our Convention.  Churches like this are a step back, not forward, in true unity within our churches, regardless of the color of skin.  Many people, myself included, believe that apart from complete, total, and transparent repentance from such views, churches who clearly express such racism in their congregations should be removed from the SBC, state conventions, and local associations; until they truly repent.


Yet as such calls began to emerge, another group began to speak out.  This group, while seemingly claiming to oppose racism, says that “local church autonomy” means that we as the SBC, state conventions, or local associations, CANNOT remove such a church, as that would violate their autonomy.  I find such arguments to be severely in error in regards to interpretation of scripture, and further, in my opinion, a masquerade for latent racism in many of these proponents’ hearts.


First, such an argument on autonomy leads to the logical conclusion that a church that say, believes in animal mutilation as part of its service, must be allowed to be a part of the SBC, as the SBC has no authority to remove such a church because of the churches “autonomy”.  Animal mutilation may be an exaggeration; but seeing as the SBC, its state conventions, and local associations have removed churches for things such as, but not limited to the support for homosexuality and women pastors.  Why even in my state of Missouri, the MBC several years ago removed church plants who were fully SBC, but also partnered with a reformed network of churches called Acts29.  In all of these cases, the case for local church autonomy is never mentioned.  But yet in this cases it is?
It is my contention that the reason why “local church autonomy” is brought up here, is that the majority of the SBC are mimicking the ostrich, sticking our heads in the sand pretending that racism is not alive and well among us.  When such racism is brought up, many resist stamping it out, because deep down they know that many more churches would have to be removed, including possibly their own.  Again, I do believe that some of the loudest “local church autonomy” yellers in this fight are indeed guilty of racism themselves though they would never claim so.


Racism, in my opinion manifests itself today in two forms; confessional and cultural.  The confessional racist is easy to spot.  These are the KKK folk, the Neo-Nazi’s, the small group in this church I mentioned that said there would be trouble, if a black couple was married in their church.  These people openly believe that their skin color is better than any other.  The cultural racist however, is not so overt.  These people may likely have “black” friends whom they frequently cite when asked.  They have no resistance to saying that people of all colors are equal, and in church contexts, all can be saved.  Yet in their cultural actions, they are racist and fight to keep racism.  These are the people, who would not force a black couple to leave their church, but they would go up to them and say “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable at this other church down the street?”  They fight against removing truly racist churches because while “THEY” are not racist, they have friend and family who are, and they do not want to upset them.  The status quo for them is key, and removing ungodly, unrepentant churches that participate in clear racism upsets the status quo.


The simple truth is that racism of any form has no role to play in the SBC, or any Christian denomination for that matter.  It may be a shocker, but with the possible exceptions of any of the gentile Christians mentioned in the New Testament, no one within Scripture would be considered “white” today.  Jesus, Paul, the apostles, David, ect…All Jews, all had brown and tan colored skin.  Indeed, it is my theological position that Adam and Eve, had black skin, and that if anything, that was the color of “perfection” when God made the first human male and female.  With these theological truths, how can we allow churches that would take such repugnant actions to remain in fellowship with us?  The answer is we cannot and should not allow it.  We cannot tell this church what to do or believe, but we can prevent them from associating with us, and we with them.  If we, as both Baptists and as Christians on whole, then the steps we have tried to take to repent from our racist past is all for nothing.