I belong to that part of the Baptist family — American Baptist Churches USA (ABC-USA) — which takes great pride in its denominational racial ethnic diversity. Our denomination, with almost 1.5 million people and around 5,700 churches, is said to be the most racially inclusive Protestant body in the USA. No one racial/ethnic group in ABC-USA comprises more than 49 percent of the American Baptist family. I praise God for that, and salute the hard work of generations of American Baptists who have made this denominational “diversity” a reality.
Nevertheless, I do not think that God is fully satisfied with the racial reconciliation and racial justice efforts of ABC-USA. In fact, I do not think that God is ecstatic about what the 30 or so other denominations who call themselves Baptists have accomplished in this area.
It was 56 years ago (December 18, 1963) when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his oft repeated observation that “the most segregated hour in this nation” is Sunday at 11:00 am. Sadly, that is still the case.
I cannot call to mind a single Baptist Church within a 15-mile radius of my home that is as racially diverse as my neighborhood, my local public schools, the private university in our town or the employment demographics of the four or five major corporations that economically fuels my county.
For far too long, the reason so many of our individual congregations have remained so white (and I would add, so black, brown, red, yellow, etc.) is basically a theological problem, not a sociological one. We have failed to declare racism, and the ideological systems on which it is based, white supremacy and white Christian nationalism, a sin. Failing to call it a sin keeps the racist structures in place most formidably in our congregations, and most dramatically on our premier day of worship, Sunday morning.
Recently, I was pleased to be engaged with two churches that are demonstrating the courage of their convictions by taking concrete steps to reconcile and then transform our fractured Fellowship. The stories of the First Baptist Church and the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga., are the stories of two churches changing the narrative about race in Bibb County. Through their Covenant of Action with each other, they are slowly, yet deliberately, dismantling white supremacy in their neighborhood. After reading about their story in this newsletter, I pray that more churches will say, “Let us go and do likewise.”