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Ark. Baptists showed race relations resolve

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (BP)–With the 50th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School Sept. 23, race relations in Arkansas have been in the nation’s spotlight for several weeks.

The Arkansas Baptist State Convention, in 2002, created a “unity committee” to examine the convention’s race relations track record and make recommendations. The report found that a “good deal of progress” has been made in race relations, although more work needs to be done. Excerpts from the report, adopted by the convention in 2003, follow:

First, racial prejudice is wrong, it is sin, and it should have no quarter in the hearts of any persons, particularly those of believers. We all should abhor it and denounce it in the strongest of terms whenever and wherever given the opportunity.

Second, while racism may have a part to play and be an inhibitor in the lack of multiethnic congregations among Southern Baptist Churches, our honest belief is that it is not the predominate factor preventing the formation of churches with diversity in membership….

But have Southern Baptists really progressed in the matter of race relations? The answer to that question is an unqualified yes…. And some say no improvements in racial matters have occurred. There have been many. Have there been nearly enough? No. Should there — can there — be more? Yes; if we believers make it happen….

The perception of some, a perception not grounded in any factual basis, is that our dearth of mixed, ethnically diverse congregations is clear and convincing evidence that Southern Baptists are largely composed of racists who care little or none at all for “others.” The only thing wrong with that conclusion is that it is just plain wrong….

If Southern Baptists were nothing more than stealth versions of racists of past generations, would they have invested so heavily by committing resources and exerting great effort in starting churches for members of other ethnic groups? …

After now acknowledging that we have made a good deal of progress in race relations, even if sometimes at a glacial pace, we must again refocus on a very glaring omission in our efforts. There are far too few multiethnic congregations among Southern Baptist churches….

Some ask why we should make this a priority or an objective at all -— why must unity become something we need to achieve -— won’t it distract from a proper focus on the gospel? …

Perhaps nowhere is the imperative of real unity expressed more forcefully than in our Lord’s words as recorded in the Gospel of John…. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23) …

As Jesus prayed for us and all who would believe in Him prior to His return, He focused like a laser beam on one characteristic we must exhibit. Although, He could have chosen any number of Christian traits, He selected unity -— “complete unity” -— to be the one we should manifest in order to best reflect a characteristic of God that the world would sit up and take notice of and one that would be certain to impact that world….

God’s clarion call in John 17:23 is not unlike reveille. Achieving unity for us is not optional. It is not something extra that would be nice if we happen to feel like doing it. We need to heed the call, get up, and get busy….

If we can achieve that kind of oneness, it will grab an old carnal world, shake it, and wake it up to the realization that these bedraggled followers of this Jesus must be the “real deal”….
Compiled by Brent Thompson, a freelance writer based in Fort Worth, Texas. For a copy of the 16-page report by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention’s unity committee, e-mail the committee chairman Larry Page at [email protected]

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