Interview with JD Greear on Running for SBC President

JD Greear, pastor of Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC, is running for President of the SBC at our Annual Meeting in Dallas in June. As is tradition here at SBCVoices, we like to interview presidential candidates with a few questions to get a deeper perspective on why they are running and what their hopes for the present and future of the SBC might be. Since the wheels went into motion on this interview, Dr. Ken Hemphill has also decided to run for SBC president. We hope to interview him as well.

JD Greear Interview

1. Tell us why you sense this is the right season for you to serve as SBC President. You ran in 2016, so this is clearly something that God has put on your heart during this time period. Why do you sense He is calling you to this?

When I was approached a couple of years ago to allow my name to be placed in nomination, I was quite surprised. But I loved and respected the leaders talking to me—older leaders with proven track records of commitment to the SBC. Our elders and family wrestled with the issue for several months and perceived God placing several strong burdens on our heart. At the time, I explained those here. At the end of our season of prayer, we believed we should at least make ourselves available for that if it’s what God wanted.

The passions God put in my heart two years ago remain, stronger than ever. They are (1) to keep the gospel above all as our unifying factor, (2) to see us continue growing in cultural and racial diversity, (3) to turn up the temperature in our churches with more intentional, personal evangelism, (4) to plant and revitalize hundreds of churches, (5) to mobilize college students and recent graduates into the mission, and (6) to engage the next generation in cooperative mission. There’s a lot of talk now about who stands where on “the five points.” Those are the “six points” I want to see propel our Convention forward in mission.

2. The vast majority of SBC churches are small churches and many have bivocational pastors. While megachurches get much of attention, the backbone of the SBC is still the small church. How can we encourage strength and mission/discipleship effectiveness for small churches? How can larger churches help smaller churches?

You are right—smaller churches have always been the heart of the SBC and will remain such for the foreseeable future. The vast majority of kingdom work does not take place on a platform once a year. It happens the other 51 weeks of the year through regional networks of pastors and through organizations like Baptist Men—even more so, through “ordinary” members doing the work of discipleship and evangelism in their local communities. The vast majority of Southern Baptist believers attend “smaller” churches, so it just makes sense that a lot of our effort be focused there.

In fact, one of the dangers of a large church is that people are liable to lose the commitment to intentional evangelism. When it comes to equipping members for the work of the ministry, many of our so-called smaller churches are leading the way.

I don’t think the strategy is any deep secret; it is simply disciple-makers raising up new disciple-makers to go start new works, just like in the New Testament. Most of the churches in the New Testament were quite small, but the impact they made for the Great Commission was nothing short of miraculous. I see many parallels among the numerous smaller churches in the SBC today, whose members are making an enormous impact for the gospel.

3. As SBC President, you will make appointments to Committees like the Committee on Committees and the Resolutions Committee. What will guide you in that process? How will you make those decisions?

The SBC intentionally has a “wide tent,” but sometimes we let our rather minor differences obscure the urgent mission that unites us. We need gospel-loving Baptists of all kinds to be engaged in that mission—traditional as well as younger; men as well as women; black, white, Latino, and Asian. It’s all of our Convention. The BFM 2000 is our doctrinal rallying point. I believe the BFM 2000 is an ideal confession of faith, narrow enough to keep us unified on the essentials and broad enough to encompass all gospel-loving, scripturally faithful Baptists. For the sake of the mission, that kind of unity is absolutely crucial. Every time we fight about a non-essential, evangelism loses and the Enemy wins.

So when I think about the sorts of ideals that would guide me in making appointments, it’s pretty simple: someone who has a love for the Great Commission, a passion for local churches, a commitment to evangelism, and a disposition toward a “wide tent” of SBC life. They need to be from small churches, big churches, and medium-sized churches, young and old, traditional and more modern, and of varying ethnic backgrounds. As I stated with my six objectives above, I think it is time for us to recognize and put into positions of influence brothers and sisters of color. This should have happened a long time ago, but in this new era we desperately need their wisdom and influence.

4. What is your vision for the Annual Meeting? What would you like to see happen differently than has been happening in the past?

A lot of good progress has already been made, for which I am grateful. I’m grateful for Ronnie Floyd’s leadership in making prayer a distinct emphasis at the 2016 meeting and anticipate that again this year. He has also prioritized racial diversity by encouraging different leaders to speak and lead in times of worship. Leading the people of the SBC to trust God in prayer and to follow him in racial diversity are huge steps forward, and we want to keep taking those steps. And while the lion’s share of those changes will happen in individual churches, the annual meeting gives us a chance to demonstrate what we value. You replicate what you celebrate.

As far as procedural practices, I’m open to thinking through the annual meeting. The Convention meeting was designed a long time ago, and many of its procedures and rituals were designed to meet needs of a bygone era. We should always be humble and open enough to rethink what we’re doing in light of a new generation.

And, at times, the annual meeting feels more like an entity-led infomercial for why they need our money and approval. We need to lay the Convention meeting, along with many other things, on the table and ask what the objectives are and what the best ways are to accomplish them. We should ask how we can make it (1) more efficient, (2) more spiritually enriching, and (3) a better representation of the SBC people as a whole. Obviously, change of this kind never happens overnight. But we should always be asking the question. Anything less is unfaithfulness to the mission.

5. The majority of SBC churches are in the South, which is an area that is rapidly growing and diversifying ethnically. Last year, 37% of all new immigrants to America found their home in the South. Since 2000, the South has grown by 22 million people while the SBC has lost 1 million people. Our churches are positioned in the part of the country with the most new growth of all kinds, yet we are in decline. What does this mean, why are we struggling, and how do we address this?

A lot of this is simpler than we think. We need to get back to an emphasis on personal soul-winning. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus said that he came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Soul-winning was Jesus’ main thing, and if we follow Jesus, it will be our main thing, too. By God’s grace, evangelism has always been a Southern Baptist essential, and I pray it continues to form the core of our mission strategy for the future.

Keeping an emphasis on personal evangelism takes intentionality, however, not good intentions. Institutional inertia always carries us away from evangelism. That’s why, recently, at The Summit Church, we asked the members of our congregation to identify one person they could pray for and seek to bring to Christ over the year. The phrase we kept repeating was, “Who’s your one?” This emphasis led to our most evangelistically effective year to date. What would it look like if every Southern Baptist asked God to let them lead one person to Christ next year and our agencies worked with pastors and church leaders to make that a possibility?

Reaching our family members, neighbors, and co-workers is not all, however. We also need to engage the growing communities of immigrants and refugees that God is placing at various locations around the country. The SBC has always prioritized reaching the nations, and many of us need to seize the opportunity we now have to reach the nations literally next door.

I’ve loved seeing the people of the Summit catch a vision for this. We have almost 300 people who have done training with World Relief and now are going into neighborhoods and apartment complexes weekly with the Word of God and the love of Christ. Largely because of the major universities in Raleigh-Durham, our area is more diverse than most American cities. We also have an enormous refugee population. We’ve seen this as a field “white for harvest,” for instance, by planting Waypoint Church, an intentionally international church that reaches out to the immigrants in our local neighborhoods.

And we can’t forget church planting—in unreached cities and rural areas in the North and West, and even in the Southeast where the SBC has historically been stronger. Statistically speaking, the church is shrinking fastest in the “Bible-belt” South, which simply means that we need to be planting and revitalizing everywhere and taking nothing for granted. At the Summit, for instance, two of the leaders we sent out from our last church planting cohort were actually revitalization/replant efforts in southern states. And one of our long-term goals is to plant (or revitalize) a vibrant church in every college town in North Carolina—right here in the Bible belt.

The statistics may not look good, but we should recognize in them an opportunity to steward the churches God has already placed in key areas. God’s best days are still ahead of us.

6. What do you hope for the SBC? What do you hope the present and future holds? If you are elected president of the SBC, what difference do you hope it makes?

As I said above, I have six key passions that God has placed on my heart for the SBC, whether I help lead in them or not. Let me unpack them a little more here:

First, I want to see us reinforce our identity as a gospel people, putting the gospel above all. The gospel is the basis of our unity, so as a Convention, we should be neither defined nor characterized by a certain church style, method of ministry, political affiliation, or cultural and racial distinctive. We are a gospel people; the gospel is, as Paul said, “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). We must avoid the temptation to let smaller doctrinal issues or any personal preferences replace the centrality of the gospel as our unifying standard.

Second, I would love to see the church declare the diversity of the kingdom and reflect the diversity of its community. We need to recognize the leadership gifts of brothers and sisters of color that God has placed in our midst and embrace their wisdom and influence. Pursuing diversity benefits everyone as we manifest the unity that God has already declared over us in Christ.

Third, as I mentioned above, we’ve got to recover, in every arm of the SBC and in every church, an emphasis on intentional, personal evangelism. Church planting is great. Church programs have their place. But nothing can or should ever replace the one-on-one soul-winning that Jesus expects of every believer.

Fourth, I would love to see the recent surge in church planting and revitalization continue. Personal evangelism is our fuel, and church planting is the vehicle that the fuel propels into God’s mission. Just think: What would it look like if every Southern Baptist church committed to help in the planting or revitalizing of just one domestic church next year?

Fifth, I would love to see Southern Baptists mobilize a generation of college students to give the first and best of their careers to living strategically on mission. We have asked college students at The Summit Church to spend their first two years after graduation pursuing their careers in a place where we are planting a church. We tell them, “You have to get a job somewhere. Why not get one in a place where you can be part of a strategic work of God?” Every year we see dozens of college graduates accept that challenge and plant their lives in a place where we are planting a church. What would it look like if Southern Baptist college students all across the country did that—pursuing careers in places that NAMB or IMB are facilitating church plants? Can you imagine the catalyst that would be for our church planting?

Sixth, we need to continue engaging the next generation in cooperative mission. Cooperation between churches for the sake of mission is what created the SBC. Cooperation is what has led to Southern Baptists continuing to produce more church planters, more missionaries, and more seminary graduates than any other group in America. We need to do everything we can to get the next generation engaged in cooperative mission.

This is the vision that I have been praying to see in the SBC, and I will continue to pour my passion and energy into these efforts, whether or not I’m president.

Why Don’t “Dreamers” Just Get Legal?

“Why Don’t Dreamers Just Get Legal?”

I hear this question a lot. It often comes from those opposed to legislation benefitting young Immigrant Dreamers who were brought here illegally as children. The insinuation (sometimes blatantly), is that if the Dreamers are too careless, lazy, and unconcerned to apply for legal status and citizenship after all this time, then why should we help them now? The question really doesn’t make sense, but I’ve seen many use it as a “gotcha” type question, as though no one ever thought, “Hmmm, why don’t I just go to the Post Office and apply for legal residency status?”

Honestly, that is what I thought they were able to do. Prior to around 2011 or so, my whole perspective on any illegal immigrants who were here in America was that they just needed to go home. God love them and all, and we will pray for them and share Jesus with them as they leave, but they need to get right with the law and go home. I had given that perspective around 30 seconds of thought, but I was rock solid in it. It just made sense at the time with my limited understanding of what was happening.

But, in the back of my mind, I just assumed there was a way for people to apply for legal status (a Green Card), if they really wanted to. The Dreamers who were brought here as babies could probably just go to the Post Office or Probate Office and apply for legal status when they turned 18, right? I mean, they were brought here as kids and didn’t choose to come here. THEY weren’t guilty of breaking any laws because they were kids, so, surely there was a way for them to get legal if they would take it. Right?

Nope. I was wrong.

If a baby is brought in to this country at 2 months 0ld and he grows up here, there is basically no way for him to apply for legal permanent residency (LPR) status unless there is an extreme circumstance, because he came here illegally. Without the President Obama-era program initiated via Executive Action in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA (that was discontinued last September 5th), young people like my friend and fellow Southern Baptist, Jose Ocampo, would not be able to work, go to school, or create a prosperous future. DACA gave work authorization and deferred deportation, but it did not provide legal status. On March 5th, the protections begin to run out and thousands of people a week will lose their DACA ability to work and the protection from deportation.

But, the question was, “Why don’t they just get legal?” The answer is, “They can’t.”

There’s a lot of stuff online explaining this. Just Google the question. But, one well written article is by the Minnesota reporter, Heather Brown, entitled, “Why Can’t Dreamers Just Apply for Citizenship?” She explains the process well:

There are three ways to get permanent resident status in the U.S.:

  • A person can be admitted as a refugee or apply for asylum.
  • An eligible employer can sponsor a person.
  • A close family member seeks permission to bring someone in (the most common way).

But, these options rarely apply to Dreamers. And, if you ever entered the country illegally – even if you were brought here by others as a one year old – then you have to leave America for 10 years before you can return with a proper visa, IF you can get one. There is no exception for those brought here as young children. Their unlawful entry is treated the same as a 25 year old making a conscious decision.

In Mexico, the legal line to come to America is 25-40 years long now. So, there effectively IS no line for Dreamers to get into and no way for them to “get legal” unless they were to leave the only country they know where they grew up and go to a foreign country where they were born and perhaps have few resources. It wasn’t always this way, by the way. The 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act changed all of that and made it virtually impossible for immigrants who had been here illegally to “get right with the law” without having to self-deport first. For some, this might be the correct response. But, for those who were brought here, grew up here, married, and now have U.S. citizen children who were born here, that option becomes incredibly difficult. Many have nowhere to go.

So, my friends Liz, Jose, Alonzo, Lisbeth, Eric, and Diana did not just ignore the Law or were too lazy to apply to “get legal.” They were brought here as children (one was 2 months old when his parents brought him) and there is no way for them to get legal (unless there are extreme circumstances) – short of leaving the United States for at least a decade and applying from the country listed on their birth certificate. That is not a solution. This state of affairs is why so many are pushing for a permanent legislative solution for the DACA/Dreamer situation. Ultimately, it is Congress’ job to solve this and millions are asking them to.

Whatever your opinion on the issue, we should at least try to deal with the real situation. That situation is that unless Dreamer legislation is passed, these young immigrants who benefitted from DACA will lose their work authorization, many will have to drop out of school, and all of them will be subject to deportation. They didn’t choose to come to this country, but now that they have grown up here, many have nowhere to go. How they are treated now reflects on who we are as a people. As we make that decision, let’s work to understand the reality of the problem before us.

For further reading:

A significant number of SBC and Evangelical pastors and leaders put out a statement last Fall called the Evangelical Leader Statement on Dreamers. It is a remarkable document signed by SBC pastors and leaders like Jack Graham, Ronnie Floyd, and Russell Moore. I suggest a thorough reading. But, one part that stood out was this paragraph:

We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category of immigrants because they broke no law and committed no offense. How we treat this category of immigrants is therefore not just a policy or political issue—it is a moral issue. Subjecting Dreamers to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to the rule of law and to the purpose of government, which is for the good of people.

I’d agree with that statement.

Would You Have Stood With Dr. King? Or Been Silent?

Monday is the day we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s life and legacy. I thought I’d post a section of his writings.

An excerpt from “A Letter From the Birmingham Jail”

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

His words ring true for the church even today. Where will we stand? Where do we stand? Something to think about this weekend as we celebrate Dr. King’s life and memory.

SBC State Conventions and Leaders Denounce Racism, White Nationalism, and the Alt-Right and Promote Gospel Ministry to All Peoples, Including Immigrants/Refugees

I’ve been meaning to write about this for over a week, but life events have slowed me down. At least 8 state conventions issued resolutions condemning racism, white nationalism and white supremacy, and the Alt-Right and calling upon gospel unity at their annual meetings. With strong statements from Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the SBC went beyond the Alt-Right Resolution in Phoenix at the national convention and applied this sentiment on the state level as well. I wonder if local associations will continue to make these statements as well?

Baptist Press had a great article on the developments. Read it to get a summary of most of the state resolutions.

Their write-up on the Alabama resolution is of particular interest to me, as I minister and live in Alabama:

– The Alabama convention, meeting Nov. 14-15 in Huntsville, resolved to “condemn every form of racism, including and specifically alt-right white supremacy and white nationalism, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

It also said, “That as a witness to the sacrificial love of Christ for all people, we will oppose persecution and harassment of all racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, and anyone else targeted by these white supremacist/nationalist groups.”

The messengers called for Baptist churches to “seek racial reconciliation in our respective communities across Alabama to show the power of the Gospel and to give respect, honor and love to one another and thus make known that we are His disciples.”

In addition, the resolution urged opponents of the “alt-right” — a movement that advocates white nationalism and/or supremacy — to use only “peaceful, non-violent means” in their protests.

The Virginia resolution also drew my eye, especially considering the events in Charlottesville in August:

— The SBCV, meeting Nov. 12-14 in Colonial Heights, addressed the August rally organized by the “alt-right” in Charlottesville, Va. Opponents of “alt-right” ideology gathered to counter protest, and violence ensued between the groups. One woman died when an “alt-right” protester drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters. The messengers extended their “love and compassion of those in Charlottesville devastated by these events.”

The messengers also denounced “every form of nationalism that violates the biblical teachings with respect to race, justice, and ordered liberty.”

“[W]e will stand with ethnic minorities and anyone else targeted for intimidation so that the attempt to devalue our fellow image bearers results in a bold witness of the sacrificial love to which Christ calls us,” the SBCV said.

In addition, the resolution encouraged SBCV churches “to prayerfully consider increasing diversity among local church and denominational leadership.”

Tennessee Baptists recently took a strong stand against White Nationalists who gathered in Shelbyville, TN to protest immigrants and refugees who had come to the Middle Tennessee area. Their subsequent resolution should be deeply considered as well:

The resolution noted that:

— “God is bringing the nations to Tennessee and is making Tennessee home to more than 145 different global people groups” and that the TBC is “comprised of racially and ethnically diverse churches.”

— the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 affirms “Christ died for man; therefore, every person of every race possesses full dignity and is worthy of respect and Christian love.”

— Tennessee Baptists “are categorically opposed to all ideologies and movements of any race that diminish the dignity of any human being” and that they believe “one cannot be a devoted follower of Christ and harbor racism of any kind in one’s heart.”

— Tennessee Baptists “embrace Tennessee as a diverse mission field that God has called to reach through the fervent preaching of the gospel and acts of service to others, regardless of race or ethnicity,” pledging to “intensify our efforts to pray, give, and advance the Great Commission across the street to our closest neighbors and to the ends of the earth.”

The resolution exhorted Tennessee Baptists “to pray for the salvation of our neighbors regardless of race or ethnicity” and to pray “for our leaders and all who are in authority” as they make policy decisions related to issues of race (1 Timothy 2:2).

And the resolution called for Tennessee Baptists “to earnestly pray, both for those who advocate racist ideologies and those who are thereby deceived, that they may see their error through the light of the gospel, repent of these hatreds, and come to know the peace and love of Christ through the redeemed fellowship in the kingdom of God, which is established from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

These resolutions are not just about black/white racism. They also recognize that White Nationalists are opposing immigrants and refugees and are fostering hate and division to be stirred up against ethnic minorities across the country. The Tennessee resolution did a great job of connecting the denunciation of White Nationalists to the positive affirmation of taking the gospel to the nations among us.

Recently, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary hosted the second annual Reaching the Nations in North America Conference. The focus was on how churches could reach immigrants and refugees who have come to live among us with the gospel. It was not lost on conference participants (I was there) that the same weekend that Tennessee Christians, including Southern Baptists, were standing against white supremacists who were marching against immigrants and refugees, in Shelbyville, TN, hundreds of other Southern Baptists were gathered at SEBTS to learn more about how to reach the nations who have come to dwell among us.

In addition, in October, the ERLC recently published a letter supporting the hundreds of thousands of  Immigrant Dreamers whose DACA protection was revoked. The letter asks for legislation that would make a way for them to be able to earn legal status. They called this letter the Evangelical Leader Statement of Principles on Dreamers. One of the most powerful parts of the statement involves the concept of justice in regard to those brought here illegally as children and who have grown up here and have nowhere to go:

We believe it is unjust to punish children for offenses they did not commit. We recognize that Dreamers are a special category of immigrants because they broke no law and committed no offense. How we treat this category of immigrants is therefore not just a policy or political issue—it is a moral issue. Subjecting Dreamers to deportation or lives of perpetual insecurity in the shadows of our communities is an offense to the rule of law and to the purpose of government, which is for the good of people.

This is significant because it places the fate of Dreamers into the realm of a moral issue and a biblical justice issue and it declares that the rule of law is actually violated if these young people are deported or if they are not granted a pathway to citizenship. This is significant. The letter goes on to call for secure borders, for family stability, and for a pathway to legalized status and/or citizenship for Dreamers.

The letter is signed by a who’s who of Southern Baptist and Evangelical leaders. You can also sign your name to it, if you desire.

The issues of racism, white nationalism, white supremacy, the Alt-Right, and anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment are all connected to fear of the “other.” Across the country, a growing number of people are fearful of the future and fearful of people of different cultures and ethnicities affecting their “way of life.” For most of my life, I lived under the idea that race relations were getting better and that America is a place that welcomes the immigrant and refugee. In the past few years, that illusion has been shattered and we are seeing division, anger, and fear grow.

In a speech in October, former president George W. Bush said, “We’ve seen nationalism distorted into nativism … Bigotry seems emboldened. Our politics seems more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and outright fabrication.” All over America, people of goodwill are recognizing that racial strife is growing instead of getting better. But, this is also a prophetic moment where the church can lead and point the way to the Cross of Christ and sacrificial love for neighbor and even enemy, or we can shrink back and grasp at protecting our own “way of life” over and against others.

The opportunity for gospel witness to the reconciling power of the Cross and the incredible love of Christ is greater than it has been in my lifetime. Our country is trying to figure out how to live together and get along, in the midst of our differences. The church can show the way. I’m proud that Southern Baptists have been doing just that, as this post demonstrates. With our tragic and shameful past regarding slavery and race relations, what if God displayed His incredible grace and mercy and redemption by using the Southern Baptist Convention to point the way to racial and ethnic healing and gospel welcoming of the immigrant, refugee, and the stranger?

What if God is using Southern Baptists to tell a better story? I think that is happening and I am glad.


Alan Cross is a long-time SBC pastor in Alabama who now serves as a Missional Strategist with the Montgomery Baptist Association and an advocate for ministry to immigrants and refugees across the Southeast. He is the author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals, and the Better Way of Jesus (New South Books, 2014).