Southern Baptists are a religious sect that finds themselves stickily entangled with a racially charged history. The SBC, or Southern Baptist Convention, was first formed in 1845 when it split from the traditional northern Baptists over a polemic disagreement about whether or not slave owners could still be ordained as missionaries, according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions.
Since then, Southern Baptists have made great strides when it comes to combating racial segregation. In fact, the convention elected its first African-American president, Fred Luter, Jr., in 2012. Now another member of the organization, the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission chairman Rev. Russell Moore, is saying that Southern Baptist congregations across the nation need to make a concentrated effort to shake racially segregated church bodies. Moore says that’s necessary in order to overcome more violence in the aftermath of situations like the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, reported The Associated Press.
“In the church, a black Christian and a white Christian are brothers and sisters. We care what happens to the other, because when one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body hurts…. When we know one another as brothers and sisters, we will start to stand up and speak up for one another.”
Moore might be facing an significant opposition to his directive for racial diversification. A phone survey of 1,000 churchgoers found that a 37 percent felt that their congregation needed to focus on fighting racial segregation their church body. Nearly 80 percent of churches across the country, reported Lifeway Research, remain composed of a single race. That’s something Southern Baptist leadership is actively working against, said Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary President Danny Akin.
“My grief is we’re late to this party. We should have been leading the way. The Christian church should be the first to speak to issues of discrimination and injustice… not sitting back.”
Although Southern Baptists are still the nation’s largest Christian denomination after Catholics with around 15.7 million members, those numbers have been slipping steadily for nearly a decade now. Leaders within the SBC spoke out for the necessity of a campaign to bring those numbers back up, Lifeway President and CEO Thom S. Rainer told The Huffington Post.
“I am grieved we are clearly losing our evangelistic effectiveness.”
The Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting this year will be held June 6 and 7 in Columbus, Ohio, where the topic of racial integration is sure to be on the agenda.
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