Tue04152014

Opinion

New church officer signals another step away from slavery for Southern Baptists

One hundred and sixty-six years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention, strongly opposed to its northern colleagues’ desire to abolish slavery, established its own presence.
 
 Judge Greg Mathis

One hundred and sixty-six years ago, the Southern Baptist Convention, strongly opposed to its northern colleagues’ desire to abolish slavery, established its own presence. In the years following, the church spoke out in favor of preserving slavery and, during the civil rights movement, firmly planted against itself on the side that supported racial segregation.

Knowing the Convention’s history, it’s no understatement to say that Fred Luter Jr.’s election to first vice president represents a new era for the church: he is the first African-American elected to the church’s high office.

The Southern Baptist Convention is 16 million members strong and is the country’s largest Protestant denomination. And although Luter’s election symbolizes a real change in the Church’s behavior towards people of color, getting to this point didn’t happen overnight. As recently as 30 years ago, the church was – intentionally – a predominantly all white religious organization. In 1995, however, the church publicly apologized for its racists and oppressive past. It also sought to aggressively diversify its membership and leadership. African Americans, Hispanics and Asians now account for 19 percent of the Convention’s churches.

Luter’s election is a total and complete departure from the Southern Baptist Convention of the past. The church has confessed to its sins…in this case, racism…and is working proactively to redeem itself in an organization.

Over the years, we’ve seen many American institutions – from big name companies that grew their profits on the backs of slaves, to government agencies that discriminated against black workers – try to move away from their racist pasts. The Southern Baptist Convention’s change is especially important because it’s a religious organization, one that bases its very actions on theology and the laws of God.

As the people of the United States have learned, simply electing a black man to high office won’t wipe away generations of oppression, but it is a sign that minds and hearts are opening up. Only time will tell if the Southern Baptist Convention is truly committed to diversity and cultural acceptance. It seems as if they are on the right track.

(To contact Judge Greg Mathis, visit www.askjudgemathis.com.)

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