A history of racial reconciliation in the SBC (Luke Holmes/SBCHistory.com)

Originally posted at SBC History

The recent conference marking the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission has sparked many conversations across the SBC about race and racism.  Sermons by Matt Chandler, Russell Moore, and David Platt and other in and out of SBC life have all been called simply products of current social justice trends or meant to please men and not God.  Discussions online and in person have been heated as people discuss how much churches and the SBC should push for racial reconciliation today.

One of the most common responses to those calling for racial reconciliation is that we just need to focus on the gospel and that the rest will take care of itself.  The application of the gospel in the area of racial reconciliation has been called cultural Marxism, social justice, or obscuring the gospel. 

This article will share a short history of racial reconciliation in the SBC, sharing people and institutions who have worked to do more than just acknowledge and repent of the legacy of the SBC but have pushed for racial equality on the basis of the gospel. The goal is to show that those who speak for racial reconciliation today are continuing a long line of Baptist leaders who have stood for the same things. 

This is not meant in any way to make light of the past of the SBC, which has been well documented elsewhere. We need to acknowledge the past of the SBC and repent of it.  But repentance is not enough.   Al Mohler writes clearly on this topic.

“The Southern Baptist Convention was not only founded by slaveholders; it was founded by men who held to an ideology of racial superiority and who bathed that ideology in scandalous theological argument. … We bear the burden of that history to this day. …It is not enough to repent of slavery. We must repent and seek to confront and remove every strain of racial superiority that remains and seek with all our strength to be the kind of churches of which Jesus would be proud — the kind of churches that will look like the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

As segregation and Jim Crow loomed large in America in the first half of the 20th century, Southern Baptists did little to stop it. The majority of SBC members and leaders were at the least complicit in racism, and others led out in it freely. Of those who spoke against it, Dr. TB Maston was the most vocal.  As early as 1927 he challenged the racial prejudices of the South. Using the biblical premise that “God is no respecter of persons” Maston urged Southern Baptist’s to accept all races as equal.  Maston’s book “The Bible and Race” takes eight different passages from the Bible and considers the impact these passages should have on our understanding of race.  Maston dispels such heretical views as the “Curse of Ham.” A professor at SWBTS, he wrote many books that touched on the subject of race, but The Bible and Race was his most influential book.  

In 1949 EW Perry was the first African American to address the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting.  When the convention met in Oklahoma City that year Perry was pastor of Oklahoma City’s historic Tabernacle Baptist Church, where he served from 1915 to 1969. At the time of his address, he was serving as President of the National Baptist Convention and was called a brother in Christ by SBC President RG Lee.

The Home Mission Board made concerted efforts to reach out to Black Baptists in America and hired Emmanuel McCall as the first African American employee at the Home Mission Board in 1968. Other SBC leaders worked to promote a biblical view of race as well, like Henlee Barnette, who invited Martin Luther King Jr to preach at SBTS in 1961.  Foy Valentine at the Christian Life Commission worked to give the SBC a biblical understanding of race, often too much pushback from members and churches in the SBC. 

As time passed SBC individual and entities continued to buck against racism in the SBC. 

SBCLIFE writes

Some of the earliest racial barrier breaking occurred in the six SBC seminaries. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, began teaching black students on its campus in 1942 in a “Negro Extension Department.” Initially, they received instruction from professors and graduate students in vacant faculty offices since a Kentucky law prohibited educational institutions from teaching both white and African American students as pupils.

Garland Offutt earned the number of credits necessary for the master of theology, and the faculty granted him a degree in 1944, making him the first black graduate of any Southern Baptist seminary. During the mid-1940s, Southern began allowing black students to sit in classrooms with white students in violation of state law. The seminary officially admitted black students in 1951.

As president Duke McCall explained, “We decided to ignore the law. We thought we had moral ground—and probably the legal ground as well—to ignore it.”

Theology professor Wayne Ward recalled an incident when a police officer arrived at his class to issue a warning about violating the law. When the officer showed some hesitation to enter the class, Ward told him God would punish him if he arrested anyone.

Similar activities took place at SWBTS, which enrolled black preachers in 1942.  The other SBC seminaries integrated long before was required by law. In 1968 Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, California, claimed it had more black students than any other seminary on the west coast and more foreign students than all other west coast seminaries combined.

It was not all good news though. Southern Baptists remained bitterly divided on how to approach the issue of racial reconciliation.  Racism still abounded in the SBC. It was the official or unofficial policy of many churches to deny membership to African Americans.  Foy Valentine and the CLC wanted to put an end to that practice. 

During the 1964 annual meeting in Atlantic City, the Christian Life Commission put forward a resolution that recommended that the SBC approve an open door policy for churches, regardless of race, and pledge to support laws designed to guarantee the legal rights of African Americans. The resolution also urged Southern Baptist to “give themselves to the decisive defeat of racism.” The resolution was defeated in a close vote.  In response, a 90-year-old retired pastor put forward a resolution, sent to committee, that called forced integration of schools unbiblical and only got more racist after that.  At that same meeting, the SBC refused to be part of a joint committee of various national Baptist groups, in part because of their unwillingness to join hands with black churches. 

That year’s outgoing President K Owen White said that the SBC had made strides in race relations, but that Baptist ecclesiology did not allow the SBC to institute reform on its churches. 

“We are making progress–good progress–but by the very nature of our democratic, New Testament way of life we shall do more by proceeding prayerfully, lovingly, and courageously upon the local level than by making great, sweeping pronouncements.” (5/20/64 BP)

In 1965 the Home Mission Board and the Christian Life Commission sponsored “Race Relations Sunday” across the SBC.   Baptist Press reported that “Some said “Praise the Lord” but others regarded it as evil when the Southern Baptist Convention observed its first Race Relations Sunday,” showing that there was still great tension among churches over the issue.  (2/24/65 BP)

Later in 1965, Baptist Press reported that

Thirteen of the 29 state conventions affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention either adopted resolutions on race relations, accepted African American churches into the convention fellowship, or commended the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission for its leadership in the area of race relations(11/24/65) BP

At the Sunday School Board in Nashville, Executive Secretary-Treasurer James Sullivan worked hard to bring about racial equality.  In 1953 Sullivan integrated the cafeteria at the SSB making it the first integrated company cafeteria in Nashville.  In 1967 the SSB helped organize a group of businesses to promote job equality for women and minorities.  In that article from BP Sullivan stated that “Since 1953 the board has made no distinction in its salary structure between men and women, Caucasian and non-Caucasian. Fringe benefits and other such matters have been the same. Employees are paid by job description regardless of sex or ethnic background.”(10/17/67 BP)

Through the years the SBC passed various resolutions against individual and systemic forms of racism and urging members to follow the teachings of Christ regarding the value of all mankind.

The 1978 “Resolution on Racism” noted that racism existed “in both individuals and the structure of society” (emphasis added) and that “racism continues to deprive minority persons of practical means of advancement.”

In 1989 in Las Vegas, the “Resolution on Racism” urged “That our agencies and institutions seek diligently to bring about greater racial and ethnic representation at every level of Southern Baptist institutional life.”  http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/897/resolution-on-racism

Among these resolutions, the 1995 “Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention” stands out the most.  In it, the SBC apologized for it’s role in perpetuating slavery in the past, and opposition to secure civil rights for all.  This resolution was a landmark decision in the SBC but was preceded by other calls for racial healing.  In 1993, Southern Baptist spokesman Richard Land, director of the Christian Life Commission, called for white Christians to initiate racial reconciliation. (4/29/93 BP)

The SBC has continued to speak for racial reconciliation.  In 1996 they spoke against the recent rash of arson at African American churches. In 2009 they voiced joy at “our nation’s pride in our continuing progress toward racial reconciliation signaled by the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.” In 2007 they spoke against the Dredd Scott decision on its 150th Anniversary, in 2015 they urged SBC churches to “increase racial and ethnic diversity in church staff roles, leadership positions, and church membership.  Most recently, they passed resolutions against the use of the Confederate flag in 2016 and against the Alt-Right in 2017. 

The recent calls for racial reconciliation are only the latest in a long line of voices within the SBC calling for repentance for the past, and positive steps for the future.  Those who spoke up in the past did so at great risk. Sadly, those who speak up today face some of the same obstacles. The SBC has not always made the right decisions regarding race and slavery and has apologized for those decisions. But as Mohler, points out, “repentance is not enough” in our day and age. We must seek to remove every strain and thought of racial superiority in the SBC.   Racism still exists in America and it is our duty as citizens of another kingdom to speak against it.  The history of racial reconciliation shows that while the SBC has a tainted past, there is also have a long line of leaders who have pointed us towards the gospel and towards reconciliation.

What To Do When Your Sin Makes Enemies Pounce

“It is a marvel that any man escapes ruin, the dangers which beset even the best being many and terrible.” –W.S. Plumer

Have you noticed 90% of news stories necessitate a person being ruined? Occasionally the ruin is not a result of a bone-headed decision or immoral choice. But more often than not, it is because sin has caught up with someone. And if you and I are being honest we’d have to admit that our absence from the front page isn’t for lack of opportunity but rather because of grace.

Psalm 38 is a painful Psalm. David is the guy on the front page whose life is ruined because of a personal transgression. And his whole world is coming apart. His relationship with God feels strained, his friends are keeping him at a distance, and his enemies are using this as an opportunity to pounce. The worst part is that David isn’t an innocent victim, he’s a guilty sinner. His conscience is not on his side.

Thankfully, I have not had an experience which totally fits King David’s scenario. I have said and done things which are dumb and/or sinful. I have had to endure consequences of my mistakes, but I do not believe I have experienced fully what David is going through in Psalm 38, at least not to this depth. And I hope I never do.

Of the many lessons we could learn from Psalm 38, one I’d like to consider is what to do when you’ve legitimately blown it as a leader and now your enemies are using this to pounce on you. This could be applied when you’ve front-page-of-the-paper blown it and when you’ve messed up and you’ve given those who are enemies a bit of fodder for their cannons. I see at least five things to take from this passage on that topic:

  1. Don’t try to spin your sin, own it. David’s response in verses 13-14 is the correct posture for being in this position. He doesn’t give excuses. He doesn’t, at least at this stage, try to plead his cause against those who “seek his heart” and “speak of ruin”. He doesn’t attempt to save face or launch a PR campaign. He becomes as one who is mute, even while his enemies are laying snares for him.
  2. Repent where necessary. Not all the accusations the enemy threw at David had merit. But some of them did. Where he was actually guilty David pleaded with God for mercy. He confessed his sin (v18). It’s tempting when folks are lying about us to move from the position of sinner to that of victim and ignore our very real guilt and sin. Let the Lord deal with the lies and repent of the truth in their fodder.
  3. Acknowledge you are overwhelmed and cannot get yourself out. David’s sin was over his head. His friends weren’t able to help, and his enemies certainly weren’t going to be there for him. Dealing with actual sin is difficult enough, when those who are against you pile on unreasonable accusations, and often with violence, it becomes too much to bear. David became as a “deaf and mute man”. He was so overwhelmed that words escaped him, so he turned to prayer. When you’ve dug a hole you cannot get yourself out of it’s time to cry out for a hand of rescue.
  4. Wait upon the Lord to vindicate you. It’s generally a good principle to let the Lord plead your cause. How much more is this the case when your sin has brought reproach upon you? You’ll sound like a real schmuck if you say, “I’m guilty of this, but I’m hurt that you’d accuse me of that”. Pray that God will allow the full truth to come out.
  5. Rest in God’s character. In verse 9, David takes great comfort in the fact that God knows every bit of his crying. Though God also knows the depth of his sin, David is comforted by the truth of God’s omniscience. It also helps to know that God is merciful. As one has said, “It is both an affliction and a comfort to a good man to see the hand of God in all his troubles—an affliction, inasmuch as it shows us how vile we must be to need such sore corrections from the loving One:—a comfort, because we may be assured that mercy shall order everything.

I pray that I’m never in the depth of a Psalm 38 situation, but I know I’m not above it. Though our situation might not rise to the magnitude of Psalm 38 we can find help for our lesser trials. Because of the gospel we know that even if our sin puts us on the front page, the greater news story is that Jesus washes us clean.

From the Voice that Matters Most: Ephesians Overview

We share our opinions and insights at SBC Voices, but we believe that the Voice that matters most is the one that comes from God’s Word. We present these daily expositional devotions, beginning with a tour of Ephesians called, “Walk Worthy,” in hopes of encouraging our readers to remember to Voice above every voice.


Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received. Ephesians 4:1  CSB

Expositional Devotion:

We have all likely experienced something similar, meeting with the family of one recently deceased. “He lived a rough life, had no time for church, but when he was 8 he went forward at a revival meeting and got baptized. And, you know, once saved always saved, right? So we know Uncle Buford is in heaven.” It is natural for us to hold on to any hope we can when we lose a loved one, but such thinking evidences a failure to understand the message of Paul in Ephesians.

The amazing salvation that Jesus wrought for us by grace through faith without works requires from us a walk that reflects the transforming power of Christ in us.

It is common to divide Ephesians between the first three chapters of the book an the last three – the doctrinal and the practical. Chapters 1-3 tell us how God saved us and chapters 4-6 tell us how to walk in the light of that salvation. While that is an accurate basic outline of the book it misses the unified flow. Ephesians 4:1 ties it all together.

…live worthy of the calling you have received.

The “calling” Paul speaks of is the salvation he detailed in the first half of the book. After the introductory review of the blessings we have in Christ (1:1-14) and Paul’s prayer for insight for the Ephesian readers of his letter (1:15-19), Paul lays out the glories of the salvation of Christ (1:20-3:21). Chapter 2 explores two great aspects of our salvation – one we Baptists have grasped and loved and the other we have often not accepted so well. Ephesians 2:1-10 reveals the human condition – dead in sins, given over to living by the ways of the world, and by our very nature under the wrath of God. But God intervened to give us life according to the immeasurable riches of his grace. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone with no mixture of our works or merit.

Of course, we sometimes stop at Ephesians 2:9 and forget verse 10, that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do.

We have done much better at preaching the first half of Ephesians 2 than we have the second half. We preach individual salvation of sinners by grace through faith with the best of them. But we sometimes overlook verses 11-22, that messy section about Jesus shedding his blood not only to save individuals but also to bring people from different races and backgrounds together in one Body. Jesus died to “make the two one” and to destroy human hostility racial hostility. Paul continues, in chapter 3, to explain his ministry to the Gentiles.

Considering the greatness of God’s salvation in redeeming sinners and uniting them in one Body leads Paul to break out in a doxology – much as he does at the end of Romans 11.

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

But salvation by grace through faith is about more than “going to heaven when I die.” It leaves us obliged to live a certain way, to “walk worthy” of that salvation that Jesus worked in us at the cross. As the first three chapters explain the “calling we have received” the next three chapters explain what a worthy walk looks like.

We cannot earn God’s favor but as recipients of grace we are obligated to walk as Christ walked.

Where does the “worthy walk” begin? Unity! We must walk with humility, gentleness, and seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We do not have to build unity. We have unity in Christ is we do not tear it apart. We must simply maintain what Christ is creating – one eternal united church.

We must walk a new life in Christ, putting off the old ways of the flesh and putting on the new life of Christ. (4:17-32) We must imitate Christ and walk in moral and spiritual purity unstained by the filth and darkness of the world. (5:1-14)  We must live carefully, redeeming the time, and walk in the fullness of the Holy Spirit. (5:15-21) A worthy walk affects all our relationships, including husband and wife (5:22-33), parents and children (6:1-4) and slaves and masters (6:5-9). We must also be strong and face down our enemy in the full armor of God.

When we share the gospel it is often about heaven and hell – what happens when you die. But Jesus saved us for much more than that. Ephesians is about how God’s great salvation affects how your life today. As we explore the amazing grace of God it is our hope that you will be inspired to do as Paul commanded and live a life worthy of the calling you have received.



There is clearly soteriological heresy in the SBC

The long lament of SBC leaders concerns declining baptisms. The weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth was intensified last June when the lowest number of baptisms was reported since 1946, when Georgia’s Louie Newton was SBC president. The drop was called a “freefall.” Thom Ranier, LifeWay head said that “evangelism and discipleship are waining” in the SBC. Frank Page said that we should all “lament the poor state of our churches, our lack of evangelistic fervor, and our increasingly irrelevant programs.”

Indeed. We are accustomed to the June swoon of SBC leaders when the baptism figures are released.

So, we should all be pleased to have J. D. Greear as a nominee for SBC president, since his church has baptized 4,326 over the past six years, an average of 721 per year. Shouldn’t we?

Apparently not, since anti-Greear voices have found creative ways to diminish the success of The Summit in reaching people for Christ and seeing that they are baptized.

The first line of complaint is that Greear’s church is a multi-site mega-church but dividing the baptism totals up among the various church sites or even generating a ratio of baptisms to membership still shows The Summit as far above the SBC average.

So, the approach is to say that Greear has a soteriological problem. This, of course, flows from the anti-Calvinist zealots who are then faced with the problem of someone they label a Calvinist who does stellar and exemplary work in the area of evangelism. Thus, the talking point for the anti-Greear crowd is that his evangelism is fine but his soteriology is flawed.

Consider this hacker and plodder to be puzzled as to how one can have flawed soteriology and yet have authentic evangelism at the same time. Are those baptized not saved? Did they receive a false Gospel? Is an equivalience being made between The Summit’s evangelism and that of the Latter Day Saints or Jehovah’s Witnesses where there are converts and baptisms but they aren’t saved?

Let’s be honest, though, and acknowledge that we clearly have soteriological heresy in the SBC. That heresy is an old one and has been labeled “functional universalism.” It abounds. It is the unspoken but clearly practiced belief that somehow, some way, everyone will end up in heaven with Jesus.

I wish Adrian Rogers, the most outstanding SBCer in the last half of the 20th century, was still around. He’s not but one can usually find a key quote on most problems facing the SBC. How about this (and I may be slightly paraphrasing it):

“In doctrine you can be just as straight as a gunbarrel and just as empty.”

The baptisteries of  a good portion of the 47,272 SBC churches will be empty as well this year.

Here is an expression of J. D. Greer’s soteriology, in his own words:

For the record, I believe Jesus died for all people, that every person can and should be called to repent and believe, and that you haven’t fully preached the gospel if you haven’t called for that response. #GospelAboveAll

                                                                                                                                           — J.D. Greear (@jdgreear) February 6, 2018

I often come back to the prophet Isaiah’s words: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Isa 59:1). In other words, the hesitation is not in God; it’s in us. God has not changed.  He still desires to extend his salvation to the ends of the earth, he still has the power to do it, and he still plans to use us. The question is, are we prepared for him to move? How We Can Reverse Our Downward Trend of Baptisms

Realistically, the office of SBC president has little to do with baptisms. All SBC presidents are in favor of increased evangelism and baptisms and all of the SBC presidents in my memory pastored churches with outstanding records in this area.

There is soteriological heresy afoot in the Grand Old SBC. Thousands of SBC pastors are guilty of it. Some of these are Calvinists. Some of them are Traditionalists.

J. D. Greear is not one of them.