NASHVILLE (FBW)—When the nation last month marked the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for civil rights, Fred Luter, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, noted while the SBC has made progress, there’s still a ways to go.
Luter, the first black president of the 16-million member denomination, reflecting on the historic march when 250,000 people including Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders converged on the Capitol together, said he was thankful to see “more cultures worshipping together in SBC churches than previously.”
“Yes, we have come a long way since 1963, but as the saying goes we still have a long way to go,” Luter said in Baptist Press. “Pastors, leaders, and members of SBC churches need to continue to be intentional in our efforts to reach people regardless of their skin color.”
Talk of intentional integration may be confusing to some, considering decades of building up of ministries which have encouraged strengthening African American churches and African American leadership.
James Dixon, pastor of El-Bethel Baptist Church in Fort Washington, Md., in BP said nearly 50 years after the assassination of civil rights leader and pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., that Sunday worship is still the most segregated hour in America.
|The Florida Baptist Convention has been long recognized as a leader in the ministry of racial reconciliation, calling Sid Smith as director of what was the African American ministries division in 1994. Before his death in 2009, Smith led a staff of 18 people and was credited with more than 600 African American church starts during his 11 year tenure. More than 40,000 people were trained in black church development strategies, according to the Florida Baptist Convention. Smith is also credited with the establishment of the National African American Fellowship in 1992 and was a founding member of the Black Southern Baptist Denominational Servants Network in 1997. The Florida Baptist State Convention has 246 churches which are predominantly African American.|
“I don’t think we’ve made a lot of progress in that area,” Dixon said. “But I’m a firm believer that if change is going to take place in the Southern Baptist Convention or in the body of Christ, period, it’s going to take place among the multiethnic community.”
What may be surprising to some is that the SBC took a public stand on the issue of equality nearly two decades before the 1963 March on Washington. Messengers to the 1947 SBC annual meeting adopted a report authored by the SBC Christian Life Commission (now the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission), “Race Relations: A Charter of Principles.” The report clearly embraced equality, but stopped short of promoting integration.
It was nearly 100 years since members at a regional convention in Augusta, Ga., created the SBC following a split from northern Baptists over the issue of forbidding Southern slave-owners from becoming ordained missionaries.
“We shall think of the Negro as a person and treat him accordingly,” the 1947 charter reads, and, “We shall be willing for the Negro to enjoy the rights granted to him under the Constitution of the United States, including the right to vote, to serve on juries, to receive justice in the courts, to be free from mob violence, to secure a just share of the benefits of educational and other funds, and to receive equal service for equal payment on public carriers and conveniences.”
But in a tone most recognize having more in common with the Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate but equal” principle, its final clause states, “We shall actively cooperate with Negro Baptists in the building up of their churches, the education of their ministers and the promotion of their missions and evangelistic programs.”
In 1961, King was invited to speak at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. The oldest of Southern Baptists’ six seminaries, it was integrated in 1951, according to statistics housed in the Southern
Baptist Historical Library and Archives which show that all SBC seminaries were racially integrated by 1963.
In all, by the time King gave his “I have a Dream,” speech in 1963 in Washington, 22 of the 70 seminaries, universities, junior colleges, academies, and Bible schools affiliated with the SBC were integrated.
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