Some Black Southern Baptists really feel excluded from white leaders

(AP) – A student in college and seminary, then a pastor in Texas, Dwight McKissic has been a member of the Southern Baptist Convention for more than 45 years. Now he is wondering if he and his church should separate.

“It would feel like a divorce,” McKissic said. “I’ve never had that, but that’s what it would feel like.”

In doing so, he would be following in the footsteps of several other black pastors who have recently stepped out in dismay at what they see as the racial insensitivity of some leaders of the predominantly white SBC. Tensions are high after an election year in which racism was a central issue and after a provocative statement by the SBC seminar presidents in late 2020 that a fundamental concept in the fight against racial injustice goes against church doctrine.

Questions and answers: Southern Baptist Dwight McKissic leaves the Texas group because of a critical attitude towards race theory

A pivotal moment for McKissic and other black pastors could come in June at the SBC’s national meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, when delegates reject their views on systemic racism in the US and Rev. Albert Mohler, a high-profile Conservative, takes the lead Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is elected SBC President.

Last year, the seminar leadership refused to change the names of the buildings in its seminary, named after slave owners, despite the announcement of new scholarships for black students. More recently, Mohler has played a key role in seminar presidents’ rejection of critical race theory – a broad term used in academic and activist circles to describe criticism of systemic racism.

Presidents later apologized for not consulting the black pastors before issuing that denial, but Mohler told The Associated Press that the presidents likely would have made the same decision in any case.

The seminar leaders’ stance on critical racial theory, as well as Mohler’s public support for Donald Trump in the 2020 election, should “expel him from the SBC president,” said McKissic, who has become one of the SBC’s most prominent black pastors since it founded Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington , Texas, in 1983.

Some of the pastors who cut ties with the SBC in the past few months also share negative views about Mohler. The Rev. Ralph West, whose walled church in Houston claims 9,000 attendance per week, called him “a polarizing figure” who would worsen divisions within the SBC.

Mohler suggested that his critics do not reflect the opinion of most Southern Baptists, white or black.
“I think I represent the vast mainstream conservative Southern Baptists on these issues,” he said. “I think I only polarize at the extremes.”

Regarding Trump, who received overwhelming support from white evangelicals, Mohler said he had consistently pointed out the former president’s shortcomings but chose to support him because of his stance against abortion and defending religious freedoms.

The SBC, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. was founded in 1845 with Northern Baptists for slavery and became the Church of the Southern Slaveholders. The membership of around 14.5 million is still overwhelmingly white – the predominantly black churches together claim around 400,000 members.

While the SBC officially apologized for its slave-friendly past in 1995 and later condemned the supremacy of whites, tensions arose again on November 30, following a statement by six seminary presidents, all of whom were white. They stated that critical racial theory was “inconsistent” with the central tenets of the SBC’s scriptural theology.

The declaration quickly caused friction well beyond the realm of SBC science, particularly due to the lack of black participation in the drafting.

Virginia Pastor Marshal Ausberry, president of the organization representing the SBC’s black pastors, wrote to the presidents saying that concepts such as critical racial theory “help us see and account for otherwise undiscovered systemic racism in institutions and in ourselves discover.”

“The look of six Anglo brothers meeting in 2020 to discuss racism and other related issues without having ethnic representation in the room – in the worst case it looks like paternalism, at best like insensitivity,” said Ausberry, first vice president the SBC, in an interview with Baptist Press, the official SBC news agency.

The presidents apologized for not consulting the black pastors and met with some of them on January 6, but did not hesitate in their rejection of critical racial theory.

McKissic, who attended the January 6 meeting, said the conversation was polite, “but the outcome was not respectful of the blacks in our history.”

He is likely to stay at the SBC until the June meeting, but is ready to step out if delegates confirm the presidents’ stance on critical racial theory as official policy.

“If they accept that statement in June, I would feel like people you trust are slapping you in the face with a baseball bat,” McKissic said.

Another possible trigger for him would be if delegates overturn a 2019 resolution that contains a positive reference to critical racial theory, suggesting that it could be useful as an “analytical tool” so long as it is subordinate to Scripture.

Rev. Charlie Dates of Chicago’s Progressive Baptist Church, one of the pastors who have already severed the bond, said the November statement was “the last straw.”

“When did the theological architects of American slavery develop the moral character to tell the church how to discuss and recognize racism?” Dates wrote in a comment for Religion News Service. “The harsh reality of the statement made by the presidents of the seminary is that blacks in the Southern Baptist Convention will never achieve full equality.”

CONNECTED:Alabama pastor Ed Litton, known for his racial reconciliation work, takes part in the SBC presidential race

Other black pastors who have cut ties include Rev. Seth Martin, whose mixed-race Brook Community Church in Minneapolis received funding from the Southern Baptist Association in Minnesota, and Rev. Joel Bowman, who abandoned plans to move his temple of faith Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, into the SBC fold.

“I really think the SBC is going in the wrong direction,” Bowman said. “White evangelicals went to bed with the Republican Party.”

Some SBC white pastors are also concerned, such as Rev. Ed Litton of Mobile, Alabama, who is one of Mohler’s rivals for the SBC presidency. McKissic has approved Litton’s candidacy.

Litton co-signed a statement by a multiethnic group of Southern Baptists last month claiming that “some recent events have left many brothers and sisters of color feeling betrayed and wondering if the SBC is in favor of reconciliation sets in between races. “
The Associated Press’s coverage of religion is supported by the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation US. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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